DENVER – Surrounded by a large, jovial crowd of Colorado water stakeholders, Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday unveiled a final plan that the administration hopes will map the future of water across the state.
Colorado’s Water Plan aims at achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation by 2050. To get there, the plan encourages a shift in philosophy.
“Now is the time when you rethink how you can be more efficient in the water you use,” Hickenlooper said during a ceremony at History Colorado, which was chosen as a location to highlight the historical significance of the water plan.
“I do think the cultural shift is underway, and I think those conversations, and everyone looking at how they can use water more efficiently, is critical,” the governor said.
The roughly 480-page document is more than 10 years in the making, and had input from eight separate water basins, including the Southwest Basin Roundtable. The collaborative process was a departure from some of the usual fights that often pit Western Slope interests against the Front Range in a battle of urban versus rural water needs.
Even with the collaboration, fights emerged, with a group of Western Slope officials recently expressing concerns that the plan would lead to transmountain diversion, in which water from western Colorado is used for municipalities along the Front Range. But the governor said the plan would actually minimize a need to divert water from rural Colorado, which is critical to agricultural needs.
“There ought to be ways to make sure we have sufficient water to satisfy the growth along the Front Range without diverting the water across the mountains,” Hickenlooper said. “If we are successful in going through this water plan, it will not be necessary.”
April Montgomery, a member of the Water Conservation Board representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers in Southwest Colorado, who attended the ceremony, said a process has now been established in the hopes of avoiding transmountain diversion. Steps must first be taken before diversions are agreed upon, including considering protecting future growth, development and the environment.
Supply shortfalls are expected by 2050 or sooner, with results that could lead to agricultural dry-up and fish and wildlife extinction, as well as increased demands and pressure on municipalities.
In some ways, the work of the plan begins now. Officials must pursue projects that meet the municipal water gap, provide safe drinking water, prioritize conservation and promote reuse strategies. Ideas include reducing lawn watering and evaluating storage options.
But with a $20 billion price tag, crossing the finish line will be difficult. State lawmakers this year have been encouraged to get the ball rolling with funding and outlining projects. The Hickenlooper administration has been careful not to prescribe too much in the plan, instead creating a vision for policymakers to act on.
Sinjin Eberle, with Durango-based American Rivers, also attended the ceremony, expressing optimism the water plan will help agricultural interests in Southwest Colorado.
“Keeping more water in the rivers keeps more security and more predictability for agriculture and making agriculture more sustainable,” he said.