State water plan must include recreation economy |

State water plan must include recreation economy

Nathan Fey
Staff Photo |

The Colorado State Water Plan isn’t final yet, but it’s kicking up a lot of resistance here on the Western Slope. And for good reason. The plan, still in its draft stage, could spell trouble for the vibrant recreation economy of many Western Slope communities. Here along the Colorado River, that’s especially so.

Much of the plan continues to rely on outdated and, frankly, extravagant uses of water in our arid state. Worse, some of the plan is focused on fast-tracking expensive trans-mountain water diversions that would siphon the last of our living rivers to Front Range cities. Beyond these bad ideas, the plan doesn’t include enough real protections for the waters that support important river recreation, like kayaking, rafting and fishing.

That just doesn’t make sense.

Here in Glenwood we have an opportunity to let state decision-makers know that rivers are the lifeblood of the Western Slope and that we can do better with the state water plan. The Colorado Water Conservation Board meets today and Friday at the Hotel Colorado and is taking public testimony this afternoon on the state water plan. The CWCB can show leadership by rejecting expensive and wasteful recommendations and instead focusing on ways to manage Colorado’s long-term growth without harming rivers. That’s essential, because the state’s population is projected to double by 2050. We have to do more with less, and that is possible.

Step one is to keep Colorado’s rivers flowing. The Colorado River basin alone supports more than 80,000 recreation-based jobs, and a $9.6 billion economy in Colorado. River recreation is a significant economic driver for Colorado, and the final water plan, due to be released next year, must reflect that reality. All of us, not just whitewater paddlers, value our healthy and active lifestyle, and the rivers that make it possible to get out and enjoy the majesty of our state.

Yes, most of the state’s residents live in Front Range cities, but the reason so many of us are here is because recreation a way of life for Coloradoans. One simple way to make sure the new water plan prioritizes recreation is for the state to actually look at the reality on the ground, and on the rivers. What river reaches are important for recreation, and how much water do they need to keep our recreation opportunities diverse and enticing? Then the state plan should build in protections for those needs.

The state needs to pursue more cooperative agreements, like the Colorado River System Conservation Program announced last month, or the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Partnership is the only sure way to scale up innovative solutions for agriculture, cities and recreation. We just have to scale the partnerships themselves up, and fast, so we get to a place where smart water management is the rule, rather than the exception.

Our state is blessed with incredible rivers, and many residents and visitors leave behind their desks, cars and city streets and take to the wild every day. Colorado without that wouldn’t be a Colorado for me, and that’s why I’ll be at the CWCB this week, urging the board to keep our rivers flowing for future generations.

Nathan Fey is the Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, and a fifth-generation Coloradan.

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