Guest opinion: Accountability, transparency key to advancing Colorado Water Plan |

Guest opinion: Accountability, transparency key to advancing Colorado Water Plan

David Nickum

Gov. John Hickenlooper has said many times that government should always strive to be transparent and accountable and has commendably followed through and exercised that value in policy decisions.

The value of transparency particularly applies to advancing the Colorado Water Plan, the blueprint for our state’s sustainable water future. And the best way to ensure transparency for how money is spent and what water projects can and will get funded is by using the criteria clearly spelled out in the plan to approve state funding for any new water projects. Coloradans can have confidence in the state’s decisions if they follow the plan’s clear criteria for state funding and support: collaboration, sustainability, fulfillment of a real water need and cost-effectiveness.

The subject of funding water projects is before the General Assembly right now, as lawmakers consider the Colorado Water Conservation Board Projects Bill — where the CWCB’s Water Plan budget request is housed.

The funding requested — $25 million for watershed programs, general “plan implementation,” and the Water Supply Reserve Account grant program, plus $30 million for a state loan guarantee program to help smaller districts and communities secure financing for water projects — is a solid start. More will be needed to achieve the full scope of conservation and collaboration laid out in the plan itself.

We have a well thought out water plan in place that provides us with measurable objectives and guidance. We do not have to guess about what direction we take.

We urge the administration to keep moving forward to implement the plan’s numerous recommendations — starting but not ending with the 2017 funding request within the projects bill. And when funding all of these efforts, the state should use the plan criteria to guide what specific projects are supported. Currently, the criteria are only explicitly applied for the Water Supply Reserve Account grants.

With more than 10,000 members and 24 chapters across the state, Colorado Trout Unlimited is deeply involved in protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams, which sustain our state’s valued fisheries. Along with many groups, we were very pleased when the final Colorado Water Plan was released in 2015, with its emphasis on collaboration and recognition that the health of our rivers and watersheds is a key component of Colorado’s economy and quality of life.

We strongly support funding for the plan to implement “stream management plans” where diverse stakeholders can come together to develop locally grounded plans for understanding and addressing streamflow needs in a manner that fits their community. We look forward to plan funding helping to support irrigation modernization that can make operations more efficient and reliable while also benefiting streams.

The state funding can also play an important role in encouraging and funding multibenefit projects — those that can help meet a variety of municipal, agricultural, environmental and recreational water needs.

While the $55 million proposed this year is an important start, the plan proposed a larger commitment for the state to sustainably fund implementation, specifically to investigate options that would raise additional revenue in the amount of $100 million annually beginning in 2020. This larger role for the state than ever before in the financing and construction of water development projects bodes well for the plan’s success.

But as we expand our state’s investment in our water future, let’s stick to the plan and the governor’s ideals of transparency and accountability by making sure before any actions are taken that new water projects meet the plan’s criteria. Following the blueprint and working collaboratively, we can most effectively meet Colorado’s water needs and at the same time protect our state’s rivers and agricultural heritage.

David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. Colorado TU works to conserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.

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