Jay Gallagher: Protecting Colorado’s water future

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Water is essential to what makes Colorado special. Whether you live on the Western Slope or the Front Range, water shapes our land and our economy. It is what makes Colorado’s productive farms and ranches, our thriving recreational industry, our beautiful environment and our vibrant cities possible.

As our state economy grows, our water needs will grow. However, in the coming decades, we now anticipate a substantial shortfall of water supplies to meet our needs. Unless we do something to manage our water future, more and more agricultural water, particularly in eastern Colorado, will be bought up to supply our growing cities, drying up hundreds of thousands of acres of productive farm land and jeopardizing our economy. Northeast Colorado alone is expected to lose approximately 20 percent of agricultural land currently under production.

This future is unacceptable. We must have a plan that provides a secure water future for all Coloradans.

This past May, the governor issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the Colorado Water Plan — a plan to support the aspirations of all Coloradans. The CWCB will submit a draft plan to the governor’s office by December 2014 and then will work with the governor’s office to complete the plan by the end of 2015. This is an unprecedented undertaking for Colorado, but fortunately, the citizen work groups to develop the plan are in place and their work is underway.

During the drought of 2002 to 2003, the state commissioned the most comprehensive study ever done of Colorado’s current and future water needs and water resources: the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. The SWSI study continually is being updated.

In addition, in 2005, the state Legislature created the Interbasin Compact Committee, a group of 27 water leaders representing every major river basin and water constituency in Colorado. It also created nine basin roundtables, groups of water leaders in our major river basins who have been meeting bimonthly to assess their basin’s water resources and future needs and considering Colorado’s water challenges and how to address them.

Colorado’s Water Plan will not be a top-down plan full of state mandates and requirements. Instead, it will be built on the foundation of the work of the CWCB, the IBCC and the basin round tables. Through their work, these groups already have reached consensus on a variety of actions that will lead to a better water future, including support for conservation, new methods to improve efficiency and alternatives to the permanent buy-and-dry of agricultural lands.

We have a general outline of what elements we think should be included in the Colorado Water Plan; however, the plan will not begin to take shape until the nine basin round tables have completed their work of developing their own basin water plans. The plan will be balanced in that no one basin in Colorado will be called upon to bear the burden of meeting the needs of the other basins. The plan will be reflective of our shared values and vision for Colorado’s future in that the plan will promote “a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry; efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use; and a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams and wildlife.”

I encourage you to participate in this important process and to attend the next Yampa-White River Basin Roundtable meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the American Legion Shadow Mountain Clubhouse, 1055 Moffat County Road 7 in Craig.

To learn who the members of your roundtable are and when they meet, visit www.cwcb.state.co.us and go to the IBCC and Basin Roundtable link. You also can submit your comments to the CWCB at cowaterplan@state.co.us. For more information, visit Colorado’s Water Plan online at www.coloradowaterplan.com — a new website is planned for release Nov. 1.

Jay Gallagher serves as the Yampa-White River representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

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