Community Ag Alliance: You, water and the “Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act”

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— Water is critical to Colorado’s future and every Coloradan has a stake in our water future.

Community Agriculture Alliance

This weekly column about agriculture issues is written by area farmers, ranchers and policymakers. It publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

At first it may seem that the various water interests are competing with one another. But, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that these interests are interconnected and interdependent.

We all are connected by water. We drink it, wash with it, eat the food it grows, use the energy it helps extract, enjoy the environment it supports and share in the wealth it brings to Colorado’s economy.

As Colorado’s population continues to grow into the 21st century, the demands on its water supply will continue to increase. Current projections of these demands indicate that there will be a gap in the water supply. The “water supply gap” represents the short fall between the projected demand for water in the future and the actual supply available to meet that demand. The size of the gap will depend on how well we are able to cooperate to use our water supply effectively.

To address the water supply gap, Governor Hickenlooper issued an executive order in May of 2013 directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop a statewide water plan for the future water needs for Colorado. The statewide water plan will be finalized no later than Dec. 10, 2015.

The executive order is constructed to be inclusive of a wide range of organizations and the general public in the development of the statewide water plan. You can learn more about the statewide plan and how you can get involved in the process by visiting the statewide water plan web site, http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cowaterplan.

To broaden the water planning process, the Colorado Legislature passed House Bill 05-1177, known as the “Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act,” in 2005. The purpose of this legislation was to create a locally driven process where the decision-making power rests with those living in the state's eight major river basins.

Two new entities to help study future water needs and develop a statewide water plan for the future water needs of Coloradans were created by this legislation. The Inter Basin Compact Committee and the basin roundtables are the two entities that this legislation created.

There are nine basin roundtables, one for each of Colorado’s eight major river basins and one for the Denver Metro Area. The basin roundtables are designed to facilitate locally driven discussions and solutions on water issues that affect each basin.

Each basin roundtable is required to develop a basin-wide water needs assessment, consisting of four parts:

1) The evaluation of the basin's consumptive water needs for municipalities, industry, energy extraction and agriculture;

2) The evaluation of the non-consumptive water needs to maintain a healthy environment and meet the recreational needs of the basin;

3) To evaluate the available surface and ground water supplies and to identify any un-appropriated water within the basin; and

4) To propose solutions to meet the identified current and future needs within the basin and to achieve a sustainable water supply to meet those needs over time.

The Inter Basin Compact Committee (IBCC) was established to broaden the range of stakeholders actively engaged in the state’s water policy decisions and to encourage dialogue and cooperation between the stakeholders. The IBCC’s role in the development of a statewide plan is multi-faceted.

One facet of the IBCC’s role is to provide a forum to develop and disseminate information to create a statewide perspective on Colorado’s water future. The IBCC also serves as a forum to address the socio-economic, recreation and environmental impacts of water development and management along with the potential impacts of Colorado to use its entitlements and still meet its Interstate Compact requirements.

The IBCC is charged with providing information and resources to each basin roundtable to help enable them to develop their individual basin wide plans. The IBCC is also charged with helping guide the process of negotiating inter-basin compacts and agreements.

The basin roundtables and the IBCC have been at work since 2005 in developing the individual basin plans that will serve as a foundation for the statewide plan. 2014 will be a critical time for the public’s voice to be heard as the first draft of the statewide water plan is due to be submitted to the Governor’s office on Dec. 10, 2014.

As the individual basin planning process enters the new year, everyone is encouraged to participate in the planning process. You can learn more about the planning process and how your voice can be heard by visiting the CWCB web site, www.cwcb.state.co.us.

Bill Badaracca serves on the Community Agriculture Alliance Board of Advisors and the Upper Yampa Watershed Technical Committee.

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