By Gail H. Klapper
Last December, Coloradans got their first look at a draft of the Colorado Water Plan, which Gov. John Hickenlooper requested by executive order in May 2013. The draft plan represents Hickenlooper’s proactive attempt to confront the state’s growing water demands, which are compounded by climate variability, drought, multi-state river compacts and an ever-increasing state population. It is a worthy undertaking; we must secure a water future that keeps Colorado a world class place to live, visit, work and play.
Hickenlooper’s order directed the State Water Plan to support vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture as well as robust recreation and tourism industries.
He also said it should include efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use, and a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams in addition to wildlife.
The current draft represents a significant milestone on this journey to a sustainable water future. The State Water Plan, in its current form, takes stock of where we are but hasn’t set the course to achieve this future. As a final Water Plan is developed for release in December, it needs a clearer roadmap with specific proposals in order to achieve this goal.
The process, to date, has been remarkable in its level of public engagement, incorporating more than 800 public meetings. This depth of involvement by our citizens and business and agricultural sectors is essential to the completion of a final draft. However, in order to be meaningful, the final draft must be strengthened.
As a group of business and civic leaders committed to achieving an outstanding future for our state, we have reflected on some opportunities we see to strengthen the final version of the State Water Plan:
Create an action plan
The Colorado Water Plan must articulate priorities, including specific metrics and proposed legislation to achieve Colorado’s water goals.
Set bold but achievable goals for water efficiency across the state and across all sectors with a goal of reducing water diversions statewide 20 percent by 2030, compared against use in 2010. The governor began the conversation with conservation; many businesses, utilities and individuals are making great strides in reducing water use. However, the action plan should reach beyond the traditional idea of “conservation,” implementing strategies to use water most efficiently everywhere – in cities, industries, recreation and on farms and ranches. Efficiency efforts should include maximizing the use of water available locally, including reuse, rainwater recapture and storm water capture and management.
In order to use our water resources to their greatest advantage, the plan should set goals and incentives that enable us to achieve the necessary infrastructure and policy changes.
Modernize infrastructure and management of agricultural water use
Our agricultural sector uses and reuses the great majority of the state’s water to fuel a vibrant agricultural economy. Unfortunately, however, current Colorado water law discourages innovation, efficiency and conservation practices. Legal and political obstacles exist that prevent streamlined implementation of alternative water-sharing practices and investments in agricultural water efficiency projects. The plan should specify ways to overcome these obstacles. It should encourage flexible market-driven sharing and transfer mechanisms that can support the long-term viability of both cities and agricultural communities.
Strengthen Colorado’s world class rivers and recreation economy
By ensuring that the Water Plan helps keep water in our rivers, we are helping to protect our state’s treasured wildlife and preserve recreational opportunities that attract tourists and support jobs. Using water efficiently and implementing water sharing among sectors will allow for this to happen.
Prioritize projects and set parameters for funding and implementation
Some estimates put the current price tag of implementing the State Water Plan at $20 billion. Obviously, we cannot do everything at once. Cognizant that this plan will require substantial investment in our state, the plan must prioritize projects by cost effectiveness, starting by promoting projects that benefit multiple users. It should also prioritize the completion of existing planned projects that are already years into the permitting process.
Make no mistake; how we manage water will determine Colorado’s future. The challenges are real and urgent. With innovation and a spirit of cooperation and agility, we can meet these challenges and find solutions. Business and civic leaders across the state are prepared to support these bold steps to create a successful Colorado Water Plan.
Gail H. Klapper is the member/director of the Colorado Forum, a nonpartisan organization of CEOs and civic leaders committed to building consensus on issues of critical importance to all Coloradans. Reach her at email@example.com.