Where are we now in the water plan process?
The governor recently signed Executive Order D2013-005, "Directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to Commence Work on the Colorado Water Plan." The draft plan is due in December 2014, and the final is due in December 2015. While many people in Colorado and the water business know about this directive, and understand what to expect over the next two years, many others have yet to hear about the Colorado Water Plan process or know how to get more information about it.
Would you explain the process and the role of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in the state's water planning?
The CWCB was created in 1937 "for the purpose of aiding in the protection and development of the waters of the state, for the benefit of the present and future inhabitants of the state."
Under House Bill 05-1177, the CWCB instituted the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and the Basin Roundtables to develop a grassroots level effort of data collection, decision support tools, and processes for collaborative discussions and decision-making.
As the director of the IBCC for the past 2½ years, I am responsible for helping to work toward consensus to implement and advocate for a statewide water policy. Through this process, the state has ensured that water users and providers have a seat at the table in all discussions about future water use, protection and planning. But because the IBCC/Roundtable process has been in place for eight years, the governor has determined that a Colorado Water Plan is an important next step to focusing these conversations in order to secure a sustainable water supply.
What are some of the major issues at hand?
Some of the big issues are funding for implementation, permitting and streamlining the process if and where possible. Of course we have to continue to comply with the terms of interstate river compacts such as the Colorado River Compact.
Other issues the Colorado Water Plan will hopefully address include:
• Building projects that benefit multiple uses of tourism, agriculture, municipal, environmental and industrial.
• Looking at the interface between water quality and water quantity, which has not been the practice heretofore.
• Completing long-awaited Basin implementation plans and studies to help prioritize funding.
• Aligning future projects with Colorado values consistent with our prior appropriation system of water administration.
Each of these is a monumental effort in itself, but the CWCB and the Basin Roundtables will be tackling all of these issues during the preparation of the Colorado Water Plan and with hundreds of stakeholders.
That is quite a list. Can it be done?
Yes, this is possibly one of the biggest challenges that Colorado has faced in decades. Having worked through various portfolios and scenarios, the Basin Roundtables will prepare Basin Implementation Plans. The "No/Low Regrets" strategy means that we look at a large number of possible options and alternatives. The strategies that will help meet any future scenario include increasing conservation, minimizing agricultural dry-up, pursuing alternative agriculture transfers, minimizing impacts to recreation and the environment, completing a high percentage of currently identified projects and enhancing storage.
In 2015, the draft Colorado Water Plan will go to the citizens of Colorado through a series of public meetings, town hall events and invitational forums to gain a broad base of support for what promises to be a significant turning point in Colorado's water future.