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Colorado Water Plan Meets Milestone with Release of the Second Draft

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) released the Second Draft Colorado Water Plan in early July. The Second Draft incorporates the work of CWCB partners and stakeholders and the comments submitted in response to the First Draft, which was released in December 2014.

CWCB notes a number of accomplishments represented by the Second Draft hinging primarily on collaboration and forward momentum.  Specifically, CWCB says the plan incorporates the work of varied water interests across the state, the public is engaged in the process, the various levels of government and the private sector are collaborating to develop a plan that will adapt to changing conditions, some of the Basin Roundtables are already starting to implement their Basin Implementation Plans, and the plan is coming together as “a clear path forward and actionable next steps are apparent.”

In the Second Draft, CWCB expanded many areas—such as Land and Water Use and Funding—based on new legislation, public input or committee work. However, the most substantive change comes in the form of an action plan. Chapter 10, which was originally to be a list of legislative recommendations, is now a Critical Action Plan that can stand alone to guide implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.  The chapter summarizes all critical actions and notes the steps needed (e.g. legislation, changes to agency policies, etc.) to achieve those actions.

One feature of the plan has garnered concern on the West Slope. Chapter 8—which covers Interbasin Projects and Agreements—includes an Interbasin Compact Committee (“IBCC”) Draft Conceptual Framework known as the Seven Principles. The Seven Principles are designed to guide the development of any new transmountain diversions (“TMDs”) from the Colorado River System so that West Slope interests are protected. However, some on the West Slope stand firmly opposed to any new TMDs.  The Seven Principles are:

Principle 1: East Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new TMD and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project. 

Principle 2: A new TMD would be used conjunctively with East Slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver Basin Aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings, and other non-West Slope water sources.

Principle 3: In order to manage when a new TMD would be able to divert, triggers are needed. 

Principle 4: A collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River System, but it will not cover a new TMD.

Principle 5: Future West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.

Principle 6: Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.

Principle 7: Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.

The Colorado Water Plan is being developed to address a gap between projected water demands and supplies in the state. Specific problems that the plan seeks to address include:

* the rapid pace at which agricultural lands are being taken out of production to provide water for municipal uses (colloquially known as “buy and dry”)

* mining of groundwater supplies

* increased difficulty in resisting federal intervention in state water management

* high transactional costs hindering “efficient and effective water sharing”

* lack of funding for water infrastructure projects

* water laws and administration that do not line up with current needs

* perceptions that lead to the blind hope that more diversions are sustainable, that the water-intensive landscapes of the Eastern U.S. are desirable, and that the State of Colorado is the only obstacle to water use changes.

The public comment period for the Second Draft closes September 17th, and the Final Colorado Water Plan will be delivered to the governor on or before December 10th.


Written by Marta L. Weismann