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Guest opinion: Water plan on track to aid streams

Drew Peternell
Drew Peternell
Staff Photo |

The Colorado Water Conservation Board recently released a draft of Colorado’s Water Plan. Mandated by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013, the final water plan, which is due by the end of the year, will shape Colorado’s water future. The recently released draft suggests that the CWCB is on the right path in preparing the plan.

Healthy rivers and streams are critical for Colorado’s quality of life and our $9 billion per year outdoor recreation economy. The draft plan acknowledges that protecting and restoring the health of our rivers and streams will require an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion, and the plan proposes several mechanisms for generating those dollars. Trout Unlimited (TU) looks forward to helping to implement those mechanisms in the near future.

But what do rivers need to remain healthy? For 130 years, the needs of municipal, industrial and agricultural water users have been studied and quantified. By comparison, our knowledge is lagging when it comes to the flow levels necessary to maintain stream health or support recreational uses of rivers, like fishing and rafting. TU is grateful, then, that the draft water plan calls for stream management plans (SMPs) to assess the health of our rivers and provide better information on the flows required for environmental and recreational water uses.

While the CWCB has some funding for SMPs, the $1 million currently earmarked is not nearly enough to accomplish this task statewide. The CWCB should plan for additional appropriations for this important goal in coming years.

Like recreation and the environment, agriculture is a pillar of Colorado’s economy. It is the backbone of rural Colorado, and it provides valuable open space. Across Colorado, TU is partnering with agricultural groups on cooperative projects that help farmers and ranchers stay productive while also improving conditions for fish and wildlife. We’re pleased that the draft water plan calls for significant funding for agricultural conservation and efficiency projects.

Currently, Colorado diverts approximately 600,000 acre-feet of water annually from the West Slope to population centers on the Front Range. These transmountain diversions of water can cause severe economic and environmental damage to the area of origin. The draft water plan provides a fair framework for evaluating future transmountain diversions and their impacts. What’s still needed, though, is a more detailed set of criteria for determining whether a proposed water project is eligible for state funding. The state should not provide financial support for projects that cause economic or environmental damage.

Moreover, the plan sets forth reasonable ideas for streamlining the permitting process for new water projects. If done right, without jeopardizing the statutory authority of local, state and federal agencies, streamlined permitting could save time and money not only for project proponents, but also for concerned stakeholders. As long as the underlying statutory authorities are maintained and the public is afforded ample opportunity for involvement, TU supports permit streamlining.

Overall, the draft Colorado Water Plan offers balanced solutions that point the state in the right direction. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be accepting public comment on the plan until Sept. 17. And Garfield County commissioners held a Summit on the Colorado Water Plan on Saturday in Rifle. (See Page One.)

Coloradans who value rivers, wildlife and outdoor opportunities should speak up during the current public comment period. Thank the CWCB for the hard work that has gone into the draft water plan thus far and urge our leaders to reaffirm Colorado’s commitment to keeping its rivers and streams healthy and flowing.

Drew Peternell is director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project.


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