Water for Colorado

About Us

The Water for Colorado Coalition

Water connects us and everything we doit is essential for our health and survival, for recreation and wildlife habitat, for businesses that operate in our state, and for productive farms and ranches. Healthy rivers also help safeguard our most vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change. But with a drying climate, growing population, and increasing demands on our water, our rivers can’t meet all of our needs without help. Our coalition recognizes the importance and urgency of working together to keep our rivers healthy and flowing to support Colorado’s diverse needs. 

The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

Coalition Partners

Organizational support is provided by results-oriented groups, including American Rivers, Audubon, Business for Water Stewardship, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and Western Resource Advocates.

The Story of the Coalition

 

The Water Plan

Our partner organizations came together in 2015 with a shared objective: to build a coalition to address Colorado’s increasing water scarcity and secure its sustainable water future. The Water for Colorado Coalition’s first goal was to participate in and influence the development of Colorado’s first state water plan to ensure that conservation and the environment were top priorities.


The Water Plan

Our partner organizations came together in 2015 with a shared objective: to build a coalition to address Colorado’s increasing water scarcity and secure its sustainable water future. The Water for Colorado Coalition’s first goal was to participate in and influence the development of Colorado’s first state water plan to ensure that conservation and the environment were top priorities.


The call to create a water plan for Colorado came from former Governor John Hickenlooper by executive order in 2013. After the initial order, the Colorado Water Conservation Board got to work gathering ideas from across the state to develop the plan, including holding over 800 public meetings and collecting more than 30,000 public comments, which our organizations helped gather. It was the largest and most celebrated civic engagement process in state history.


The call to create a water plan for Colorado came from former Governor John Hickenlooper by executive order in 2013. After the initial order, the Colorado Water Conservation Board got to work gathering ideas from across the state to develop the plan, including holding over 800 public meetings and collecting more than 30,000 public comments, which our organizations helped gather. It was the largest and most celebrated civic engagement process in state history.


Colorado’s Water Plan, issued in 2015 and currently in the process of a scheduled seven-year update outlines solutions to address the gap between water supply and demand. The plan estimated that implementation of the projects and strategies necessary to close our water supply gap would require a $20 billion investment over 30 years. The State covers a portion of that annually with state funding, but there remains a funding gap–or no identified source of funding– for $3 billion total, which equals $100 million annually. Our coalition is working to fix that and ensure that our rivers get the funding they need to stay healthy and flowing. 


Colorado’s Water Plan, issued in 2015 and currently in the process of a scheduled seven-year update outlines solutions to address the gap between water supply and demand. The plan estimated that implementation of the projects and strategies necessary to close our water supply gap would require a $20 billion investment over 30 years. The State covers a portion of that annually with state funding, but there remains a funding gap–or no identified source of funding– for $3 billion total, which equals $100 million annually. Our coalition is working to fix that and ensure that our rivers get the funding they need to stay healthy and flowing. 


Five years later, the plan still lacks an adequate and sustainable long-term funding source. In November 2019, voters approved Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting and will devote most of its tax revenue to the water plan. The Colorado Water Plan was also the recipient of $50 million from the Colorado Recovery Act and $20 million from the general fund during the 2021 legislative session. At a local level, two ballot measures in the Colorado River District and the Left Hand-St. Vrain Valley District will bring in additional funding from tax revenue. However, even if sports betting ultimately generates the annual maximum revenue, the state Water Plan will need additional sources of funding beyond even legislative appropriations to support the myriad grant projects already being identified statewide. 


Five years later, the plan still lacks an adequate and sustainable long-term funding source. In November 2019, voters approved Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting and will devote most of its tax revenue to the water plan. The Colorado Water Plan was also the recipient of $50 million from the Colorado Recovery Act and $20 million from the general fund during the 2021 legislative session. At a local level, two ballot measures in the Colorado River District and the Left Hand-St. Vrain Valley District will bring in additional funding from tax revenue. However, even if sports betting ultimately generates the annual maximum revenue, the state Water Plan will need additional sources of funding beyond even legislative appropriations to support the myriad grant projects already being identified statewide. 


That’s where we come in. We are working with strategic partners across the state, advocating for water smart policy, and helping on-the-ground partners develop grant proposals. Our Coalition is dedicated to working alongside state agencies and local communities to ensure projects that sustain healthy rivers are well-funded and water conservation needs are continually prioritized.


That’s where we come in. We are working with strategic partners across the state, advocating for water smart policy, and helping on-the-ground partners develop grant proposals. Our Coalition is dedicated to working alongside state agencies and local communities to ensure projects that sustain healthy rivers are well-funded and water conservation needs are continually prioritized.


HOW WILL THE COALITION PARTICIPATE IN THE COLORADO WATER PLAN REVISION PROCESS?

As part of the process of drafting Colorado’s Water Plan, the Basin Roundtables — nine regional work groups created by the state Legislature in 2005, each composed of water managers and stakeholders —  across the state completed Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) in 2015 to address local water needs. Those plans are now being revised, and the projects identified in these revisions will influence the broader process of updating Colorado’s Water Plan, which is expected to be completed in November 2022. We are working to ensure these plans represent conservation priorities, such as increased water efficiency, advancement of recycled water, improved wildlife habitat, and enhanced recreation opportunities.

2021

→ The Coalition will work together with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to influence its direction and approach to the Basin Roundtables in an effort to ensure that each Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) update includes appropriate coverage of, and commitment to, conservation, environment and recreation goals.

→ The Coalition will continue to engage directly with Basin Roundtables to offer guidance and technical support on environment and recreation needs.

→ The Coalition will encourage public participation in the CWCB’s “engage” survey and in the public comment period for the revised Water Plan, guiding the revision process through strategic recommendations laid out in the Coalition’s White Paper.

2022

→ The Coalition will focus on the Water Plan revision and ensure the full integration of top BIP projects and conservation action steps into the Water Plan.

The Water for Colorado Coalition will always keep you informed of upcoming opportunities to participate and ways to take action to protect Colorado’s rivers. Sign up for our email list to be the first to know when your voice is needed for our rivers.

Governor Polis and the Colorado General Assembly have since advanced their commitment to funding the water plan by allocating additional funding to ensure its implementation—in addition to supporting water conservation efforts throughout the state.

Ongoing Coalition Efforts: Beyond the Water Plan

The Water for Colorado Coalition is dedicated not only to finding sustainable revenue sources that will fully fund Colorado’s Water Plan implementation, but also to improving the health of Colorado’s rivers and streams, and as a result, Colorado’s economic well-being beyond the Water Plan. Our work ranges from safeguarding critical protections guaranteed by the Clean Water Act are re-implemented in the state to helping local campaigns develop ballot measures that will benefit water projects in their area. You can learn more about the issues we work on here.  

The Coalition collects and shares insights and expertise from our partner organizations’ work to research, study, and promote water conservation efforts to support healthy rivers and communities. Coalition partner organizations advocate for smart water policy at the state level that supports healthy rivers and communities. The Coalition also works with communities, businesses, local governments, water agencies, and local organizations to improve water conservation and the health of local waterways, as well as with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Basin Roundtables.

Coalition Achievements

These examples highlight what YOU have helped US accomplish by being part of this movement!

2015: Colorado’s Water Plan is finalized

We gathered 28,000 signatures from committed citizens like you, encouraging conservation priorities to be included in the state’s first-ever water plan. This public outreach effort enabled thousands of Coloradans to have their voices heard. They sent emails, petitions, phone calls, and shared stories to protect their favorite  rivers. This grassroots engagement ensured that Colorado’s Water Plan supported healthy rivers and thriving ecosystems, outdoor recreation, and abundant wildlife, in addition to growing cities, prosperous businesses, and productive agriculture.

2018: Funding is established

Water for Colorado members took action to encourage former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to help fund protections for rivers outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan, resulting in a bill signed by the Governor that allocated over $4 million for increased water conservation to benefit our rivers, communities, recreation, and wildlife. Specifically, this money funded projects to:

  • Increase water flowing down Colorado rivers;
  • Clean up streams;
  • Restore habitat for fish and other wildlife;
  • Improve recreational opportunities for anglers, boaters, and all who recreate;
  • Help communities conserve water, taking the pressure off of rivers.

2018: New Governor commits to funding the Water Plan

During Jared Polis’s campaign for governor, he promised to put Colorado’s Water Plan back at the top of the state’s priorities and work toward fully funding it — ensuring the plan was more than just a collection of ideas and intentions. The Water for Colorado Coalition activated members to sign a petition encouraging Governor-elect Polis to uphold his commitment to prioritize fully funding the Water Plan. 

 

2018 – 2019: Funding is allocated to the Water Plan

Water for Colorado Coalition members supported successful efforts to increase local funding sources to improve river health.

 

2019: Sports betting is legalized—tax revenue goes to Water Plan implementation

Colorado voters passed Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and use the resulting taxes to fund the state Water Plan. This was only the third statewide tax increase approved by voters in 27 years and it marks the first voter-approved effort to fund the 2015 Water Plan. Coalition partners worked hard to pass DD. 

Proposition DD places a 10% tax on casinos’ profits from sports wagers, up to $29 million annually. The majority of the revenue will contribute to the Water Plan’s implementation.

The passing of this measure showed that Coloradans value water and planning for their water future. Coalition partners were proud to support these efforts.

2019-2020: Governor Polis expresses support for the Water Plan

Water for Colorado raised awareness among the public and elected officials about the importance of funding and implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. These efforts led Governor Polis to emphasize the need to prioritize the plan and water conservation efforts to ensure a secure water future for Colorado. 

>  2019: Governor Polis allocates an additional $10 million to Colorado’s Water Plan to support water projects

2020: Colorado Water Plan Grant Projects Map is launched

Water for Colorado launched a new multimedia tool to demonstrate the benefits of state-funded local water projects along our rivers and to show elected officials the ongoing need for more funding for these types of projects that benefit rivers and enhance the surrounding communities. The Colorado Water Plan Grant Projects Map is an interactive map with dynamic storytelling components, beautiful videos, photos, and blog posts.

2020: Water smart policy is passed

Governor Jared Polis signed two bills into law that will help Coloradans conserve water and ensure our rivers can support everyone who depends on them.

  • HB20-1157 extends Colorado’s successful instream flow program to allow farmers, ranchers, and other water rights holders to temporarily and voluntarily choose to allow water to stay in rivers to help sustain them during dry periods.
  • HB20-1095 authorizes local governments to include a water element in their master plans. This enables Colorado municipalities to pursue growth strategies that conserve limited water supplies and lead to more water efficient development. It also provides an opportunity for local residents to have a say in decisions regarding water and growth, as developing and updating master plans involves input and buy-in from residents.

2020: 7A campaigns bring additional local funding to water

Two local ballot initiatives — one in the Colorado River District and another in the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, encompassing parts of Boulder, Weld, and Larimer Counties — were passed with strong voter approval. The measures will generate over $8 million for water projects. Coalition partners played an integral role in supporting the campaigns around these initiatives, communicating to voters how the money from the proposed tax increases would ultimately benefit water and their communities. Learn more about Water for Colorado’s involvement in the process by checking out our Water Funding Playbook.

2021: Legislature approves additional funding for water

2021: The Colorado Recovery Act includes $50 million for water-specific projects, including watershed restoration, drought recovery and management, and additional support for projects outlined in the state’s water plan.

2021: HB21-1260 is unanimously passed by the Colorado General Assembly, allocating $20 million to implementation of the Colorado Water Plan. Coalition partners played an important role supporting the bill as it made its way through the Legislature.

Coalition partners retain the option of deciding whether to participate in specific programs, policies, and activities. Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director for Western Resource Advocates, and Matt Rice, Director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, are the co-chairs of the Coalition.