Agribusiness  November 19, 2015

Reaction mostly positive to Colorado Water Plan

Water managers and conservation advocates on Thursday generally applauded the details of the $20 billion Colorado Water Plan, the result of a decade of negotiation that was approved unanimously by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The 480-page document presented Thursday to Gov. John Hickenlooper takes an “all of the above” approach to accommodate the state’s growth by advocating adding 130 billion gallons of new reservoir and aquifer storage while setting a target for cities and industry to develop ways to save that much water a year.

“It’s ambitious, and provides a road map for a better water future for Colorado,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “The plan makes it very clear our future has to include careful and thoughtful planning and management, including construction of additional infrastructure and more reservoir storage. It’s a wise investment in our future.”

Storage is top of mind at Northern Water, which has been involved in the federal permitting process for two proposed projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project and Northern Integrated Supply Project. NISP especially has been the source of intense debate in Northern Colorado, and its opponents expressed skepticism about the plan.

“The Colorado Water Plan has been a missed opportunity,” said Gary Wockner, director of Fort Collins-based Save The Poudre, which has led the opposition to the two reservoirs NISP would build along the Cache la Poudre River. “Instead of focusing on changing the system to be more sustainable — using conservation, growth management and sharing water with farmers — the plan also proposes to further drain and destroy the already degraded rivers of Colorado and even across state lines. In the climate-changed world we increasingly face, Colorado needs systemic change in its water policies to ensure river protection as well as water supplies for people.”

However, Brian Jackson, Boulder-based associate director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the plan’s spirit of cooperation is encouraging.

“Colorado is taking an historic step in the right direction with this first water plan,” Jackson said. “Meeting all of Colorado’s water needs moving forward will require implementation and action in the same spirit of collaboration, flexibility and innovation that was shown in producing the plan.”

Brian Werner, communications manager at Northern Water, called the plan a positive step from the state of Colorado simply by having a framework. Now we’ve got something to use.” But he noted that much work lies ahead. “How are we going to make this thing work — both the conservation and storage piece? We will spend some time going through it as well.”

The plan leaves it up to state and local governments, water utilities, irrigation districts and others to provide the money and work to implement it.

Among its provisions is a method by which farmers and ranchers could sell water to municipal utilities for a specific length of time but then resume using it themselves, avoiding the “buy and dry” practice which has taken land out of agricultural production.

Water managers and conservation advocates on Thursday generally applauded the details of the $20 billion Colorado Water Plan, the result of a decade of negotiation that was approved unanimously by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The 480-page document presented Thursday to Gov. John Hickenlooper takes an “all of the above” approach to accommodate the state’s growth by advocating adding 130 billion gallons of new reservoir and aquifer storage while setting a target for cities and industry to develop ways to save that much water a year.

“It’s ambitious, and provides a road map for a better water future for Colorado,” said Eric…

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