Opinion | Sen. Dylan Roberts: Protecting Colorado’s water future
This year’s legislative session was one of the most important and impactful for water — our state’s most precious resource — in recent history
Water is the lifeblood of the Western Slope, as it powers our agriculture, tourism and recreation industries and sustains the health and well-being of our communities. Yet, even with the great moisture we’ve had this year, the Colorado River and our water sources still face sustained drought and overuse. We need to take meaningful action to conserve and protect our water, and I was proud to lead bipartisan efforts this year to take on this pressing challenge.
With the Colorado River region undergoing drought for over 20 years, the crisis has recently reached a critical point. The hotter and drier conditions, coupled with increasing water use, has led to dangerously low water levels. This last winter, the Colorado River’s two major reservoirs (Lake Powell and Lake Mead) held only one quarter of the water they had in pre-drought conditions and were close to below the water levels necessary to power the turbines that generate electricity. While this winter and spring’s excellent precipitation helps, the Colorado River will still face serious challenges with the demands of the seven U.S. and two Mexican states that rely upon it for agriculture, municipal and energy needs. The situation has become so dire that the federal government has even threatened to enforce unprecedented water cuts if the states cannot agree on a substantive course of action.
Even though Colorado has already been a leader among the upper and lower basin states in our conservation efforts, we still have a responsibility to engage in thoughtful planning to secure our strength in interstate negotiations. All of the residents, communities and businesses that depend on our water supply deserve to have their interests represented. If we sit back, we could give the federal government and other states the ability to impact or even determine Colorado’s water management.
For these reasons, I worked on a number of bills this year that invest in our short and long-term water future. Recognizing that Colorado will face immense challenges with water in the coming years, my legislation sought to both immediately improve the efficiency of our watercourses and infrastructure and set the groundwork for Colorado to responsibly cut back water use in the future.
First, my SB23-177 invests $95 million dollars — the largest single-year investment in Colorado history — into water infrastructure, conservation efforts and funding our Colorado Water Plan. In addition to expanding funding for impactful conservation projects, my SB23-270 removes red tape and administrative barriers for projects to restore streams and rivers to natural, healthy conditions. These restoration efforts are invaluable because they improve water quality and enhance resilience against drought and wildfire, with proven success across the state. With these barriers now removed, we can expect to see many more conservation projects get underway.
At the same time, we recognized that we are at risk of never-before-seen water scarcity and need bold and novel action to address worsening long-term drought conditions. For this reason, I worked with a bipartisan team to author and pass SB23-295, which creates the 2023 Colorado River Drought Security Task Force. This task force will be composed of 17 stakeholders that together represent all of Colorado’s water interests, including municipal and agricultural water users, tribal groups and conservancy districts on the Western Slope. With this broad perspective, the task force will meet 12 times between July and December of this year to have the difficult yet necessary conversations about what to do within our state lines to protect the Colorado River and those who depend on it. At the end of their work, they will prepare a report with recommendations that could be considered by the legislature in 2024.
While news about the Colorado River and our water future can be alarming, I believe that our state is up to the challenge of working together to identify fair and meaningful solutions. I’m proud of the work we accomplished in the 2023 legislative session and am committed to continuing to lead thoughtful measures to protect our water future as a member of the interim Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee and in next year’s legislative session and beyond. As always, I welcome your thoughts so please feel free to attend one of our upcoming town hall meetings or contact me directly at SenatorDylanRoberts@gmail.com or on my cell: 970-846-3054.
Dylan Roberts is the State Senator for Clear Creek, Eagle, Garfield, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties.
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