Enviros keeping eye on water plan follow-up
Nine months after the much-heralded release of the Colorado Water Plan, conservation groups are watching closely to see that the plan’s water conservation goals are being adequately funded and implemented.
“The plan is only as good as how it gets put into place and gets applied throughout the different basins,” Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director for Western Resource Advocates, said in a recent interview with the Post Independent.
A key step in that process comes this week as the Colorado Water Conservation Board holds its bimonthly meeting in Edwards at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.
Today, the Board Finance Committee meets to take a look at the finances for CWCB activities over the coming year, including implementation of the various elements of the water plan through the remainder of this year. Board members will also be taking a tour of Deep Creek near Dotsero, which has been deemed suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation.
On the agenda for the regular board meeting Wednesday and Thursday will be a range of topics including a strategic planning session, reports from the directors of the nine river basins and, to start things off at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, a progress report on the steps taken since last November when the water plan was first presented to the CWCB. Included as part of that discussion will be an update on the “vision, timeline and status” of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which is a key aspect of the water plan.
“The urgency for having this plan in place for Colorado is every bit as strong as when the plan was written,” Miller said of the multi-year planning effort that led to the release of the water plan by Gov. John Hickenlooper last December.
Already, the state population has grown by another 100,000 people over the past year and is expected to double to nearly 10 million people by 2050, Miller noted.
“Drought remains an issue in Colorado and around the west, and some of the very reasons for the plan coming into being are even more pronounced,” he said.
Among the key conservation provisions in the plan was to achieve a savings in Front Range urban water usage of 400,000 acre feet of water and establishing stream management plans for most of the priority rivers in the state.
“In particular streams, the objective was to identify what the problems are with that stream, and to lay out options,” Miller said. “That’s an important first step in figuring out what the rivers need for long-term health.”
Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado said it comes down to securing implementation funding for those stream management plans to be developed.
Initial funding for the water plan was the “darling bill” of the last state legislative session, but it was just the beginning, Conley said.
The state Legislature earlier this year allocated $5 million for plan implementation in 2016. But it’s estimated some $175 million will be needed over the next five years to truly implement different aspects of the water plan, she emphasized. Especially as drought conditions worsen in the Colorado River Basin downstream from Colorado, the conservation measures built into the water plan intended to stave off more Front Range water diversion projects become even more critical, Conley said.
“There has been some progress with implementation, but there’s not a lot happening yet with the conservation goals,” Conley said. “It has not moved forward with the gusto that we would like to see.
“The more we plan now, the better off we will be able to respond to crises,” she said.
Local measures such as water sharing between different types of users and water recycling projects go a long way toward that effort, she added.
Miller also added that much work still needs to be done regarding the conceptual framework for new transmountain diversion projects that was a big part of the water plan.
“There needs to be a lot more scrutiny for those types of proposals, and criteria for when the state would fund any project proposals,” he said. “A lot of this will be decided very soon, and it could end up being a very good year for the plan next year if the budget gets approved, and if certain criteria get applied to that funding.”
Live audio streaming of CWCB meetings is available on YouTube by going to the website at http://www.cwcb.state.co.us and clicking on the “Listen to the meeting LIVE!” link. The link will be posted just prior to the start of the meeting.
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