Colorado's Water Plan Update — Where Are We?
In 2015, under direction from then-Governor John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Water Conservation Board created the first-ever Colorado Water Plan — a document designed to address increasing water scarcity and secure a sustainable water future. Now, that original plan is undergoing a scheduled update to ensure it reflects contemporary water concerns.
Our Coalition’s first goal was to participate in and influence the development of the water plan to ensure that conservation and the environment were top priorities. In doing so, the Coalition helped gather 30,000 public comments from every state Basin during the 2015 creation. It was the largest and most celebrated civic engagement process in state history.
This summer, we did it again. A draft of the updated Colorado Water Plan was released for a 90-day public comment period, beginning June 30th and ending September 30. The Coalition and its partner organizations generated 5,000+ signatures on petitions regarding key priorities such as healthy watersheds, equity, accountability, and funding.
While the comment public period has now closed, the work is far from done. The Colorado Water Conservation Board team is now in the process of reviewing submitted comments and the final Water Plan is set to be released in January 2023. Once it’s released, it will be time to come together to implement the bold steps it sets forth. Check back for more opportunities to engage.
What Does the Water Plan Update Need?
The urgency, scale and pace of the actions in the plan do not meet the moment; it is not bold enough for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and does not provide enough clarity for where we need to be. The 2015 plan detailed a “water gap” by 2050. This update doesn’t adequately lay out a strategy to bridge that gap.
We are concerned that there aren’t enough specifics and accountability in this plan. What are the metrics? How much do we need to conserve? How much storage do we really need (if we’ve mostly met the measurable objective from 2015)? How do we balance competing needs while protecting rivers to support fish, wildlife, and recreation? What are the goals and objectives? How do we measure progress? How do we hold our leaders and ourselves accountable for the actions we must take? The 2015 plan included concise,measurable objectives. This draft abandons those when it should build on them and update them with specifics on what we need to achieve by 2030.
Funding is passively referenced throughout the Plan but more needs to be done to ensure that existing and future funding streams are spent strategically to meet river needs, and close the supply and demand gap. CWCB will likely need to manage more funding in the future to meet the challenges we face,and needs more human capacity to do that. Additionally, billions of dollars in federal funds for western water are available, competitively via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the water plan should address how to capitalize on those funds.
Throughout the plan, there’s too much emphasis on traditional storage. Although the description of storage as a “tool” (p. 5-21) is fairly nuanced, the Update leans heavily elsewhere on new dams and reservoirs. Building dams to hold water that doesn’t exist is not a feasible solution to the water crisis. Rather, we need balanced strategies for innovative storage, efficiency and water savings, water recycling, and creativity to complement storage with nature-based solutions. We need to increase prioritization of forest health and naturally-distributed storage to help nature help itself, increase recreational opportunities, and increase river health and flows benefiting fish and wildlife.
Prioritized river health:
The Update (and Technical Appendix) focus heavily on “gaps” or risks for municipal and agricultural use, but lack a clear sense of the related “gap” on instream uses.
- The plan does not adequately address the importance of ecologically healthy rivers. The plan should include specific strategies — like enhanced water sharing agreements — for protecting and improving flows that support the health of rivers and lakes benefiting fish, wildlife, and recreation.
- There’s not enough focus on recreation and tourism which are a central part of Colorado’s economy. The update should be more specific about protecting flows that enable recreational experiences; we can’t sacrifice fishing, rafting, and other water sports which are a key economic driver and help to diversify rural communities across the state.
Equity language is used throughout, but the plan doesn’t actually specify who is leading this work or how it will be done. The plan needs to include how they plan to bring in a larger range of voices and work towards creating greater resilience to climate driven drought, floods, and wildfires for the most vulnerable communities.
OpEd in Colorado Politics
PODIUM: Bold action required on state water woes
The long-awaited release of the revised Colorado Water Plan has finally arrived. Just days ago, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) announced that the draft update of the Water Plan is open for a 90-day public comment period [ending Sept. 30]. The plan, originally developed in 2015, is meant to address growing water scarcity in Colorado and ensure the state has a sustainable water future that meets the needs of all Coloradans. The revised draft could not have come at a more critical time as we head into another summer of record-breaking high temperatures and forecast worsening of ongoing drought throughout the state.
One thing is clear however: though the Water Plan is an important tool in financing and advancing the policies needed to address many of the challenges we face, it alone will not be sufficient to address the myriad water woes that we face basin-wide.
Press Release: Water for Colorado Coalition Celebrates the Release of Updated Colorado Water Plan – Anticipates Detailed Review and Engagement during Public Comment Period
the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) released the draft update of the Colorado Water Plan for a 90-day public comment period. The plan, originally developed in 2015 under the direction of Governor John Hickenlooper, is meant to address growing water scarcity in Colorado and ensure the state has a sustainable water future that meets the needs of a wide range of water uses by all Coloradans. In response to the release of the updated plan, Water for Colorado has issued the following statement.
“We appreciate all of the hard work by CWBC staff and board members and Department of Natural Resources to prepare a draft update to the Colorado Water Plan. We have already begun our thorough and detailed review and we look forward to providing comments. Our coalition was founded seven years ago to help influence the development of the 2015 Water Plan through providing technical review and driving civic engagement. We will submit comments and engage in a robust conversation with stakeholders on how we can best protect Colorado’s watersheds and rivers for all Coloradans and for future generations. We look to this Water Plan update to improve water security throughout the state by equitably addressing many of our watershed and water conservation needs.