It is no great mystery that Colorado is facing an impending water shortage, owed to statewide population growth projections – heavily weighted to Front Range communities, and a limited statewide water supply – heavily weighted to the Western Slope. That geographical imbalance between supply and demand is further complicated by the fact that quenching Colorado’s collective thirst will require transferring water currently earmarked for agriculture purposes to that cleared for human use. That can lead to dramatic physical re-routing of water flows, as well as implications for the state’s economic diversity and the agriculture sector in particular. This is a large issue, and our ability to solve it to the entire state’s satisfaction is directly proportional to our ability to use water wisely. Conservation is key.
In order to underscore how important water conservation is to the state’s water equation, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, has introduced Senate Bill 8: “Concerning the promotion of water conservation in the land-use planning process.” The bill, which passed out of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Wednesday, would give local governments access to free training on water-conservation practices. The Colorado Water Conservation Board would develop the trainings, and work with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to implement them.
The trainings would not be compulsory, but perhaps they should be. In addition to guiding local governments on how to minimize their own water use and demand, the bill would connect land-use planners with best management practices on addressing water demand and conservation. Further, it would compel the CWCB to make recommendations, along with DOLA, on how to incorporate water conservation strategies and practices into land-use planning policy. Communities can only benefit from this information.
While local governments would not be required to avail themselves of the conservation trainings and methods, the bill gives the CWCB significant leverage to encourage participation. The board, under the measure, must factor whether a local entity is using the conservation trainings and practices into financial assistance decisions for water projects. That is as it should be. If a community is seeking help from the CWCB for water-supply projects, conservation must underlie the effort.
In fact, it must underlie all state water efforts, and Roberts is right to emphasize conservation in such a fundamental manner – and for a low cost. The bill is estimated to cost the state $50,000 for developing introductory and advanced courses, as well as refresher trainings. That is a bargain considering the savings – in dollars and gallons – water conservation can yield.
Senate Bill 8 made it out of committee Wednesday thanks to support from Democrats. Roberts’ party criticized the measure, saying it unduly infringed on local control. That is a somewhat mystifying argument, given the training is voluntary. Regardless, water supply is a statewide concern and some level of collective cooperation on how to wisely use it is essential. Further, Republicans’ snubbing of SB 8 based on their undying commitment to local control would be more convincing if they applied it more consistently – for instance, to various communities’ efforts to limit fracking.
SB 8 makes good sense and is reinforced by its bipartisan support in both chambers. In the Senate, Roberts’ co-sponsors are Democrats Mary Hodge and Matt Jones. Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, is the primary House sponsor; Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose is a co-sponsor. The Legislature should invest in educating local governments on water conservation and pass Senate Bill 8.