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Following the 2002-03 drought, Colorado got serious about water. It tried some top down water planning no one felt comfortable with. However, in 2006 Colorado adopted a bottom up approach, which utilized stream basin roundtables to start planning for both consumptive and non-consumptive projects and processes. Outcomes of this process have been significant, but the drought that started again in 2011 brought with it horrendous wildfires and costly damage to watersheds that most recently had a secondary impact — flooding. On top of what was happening in the state, a report released in December 2012, concluded the Colorado River Basin has a water supply shortfall in meeting demand that will only get worse in coming years.
Governor Hickenlooper took unprecedented action to address a critical problem before it becomes a crisis. On May 14, 2013, the governor issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to formulate a Colorado Water Plan. The various basin roundtables are on the frontlines of this effort. Here in the southwest part of the state, the roundtable has hired staff for the first time, gone from quarterly meetings to bi-montly meetings, and charged its members to solicit input from residents to assure this process is inclusive. This is a full court press, and a great deal hangs in the balance as this process moves forward.
The Southwest Roundtable consists of nine drainages that link up with the Colorado River. The San Juan River is a major contributor to the Colorado River. Throughout the coming year, roundtables will develop Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) to identify specific challenges to a secure water future, strategies it will pursue to address challenges, and the project and processes the basin needs to meet those needs. BIPs from each basin will be a large part of the Colorado Water Plan.
Water is a finite resource. Studies show there will be significant gaps between water supply and demand of more than half a million acre-feet of water in coming decades. Unless something is done now to manage and plan for water needs, agricultural water rights will be bought up for burgeoning urban populations. Although there appears to be consensus on a variety of actions to this “buy and dry” scenerio, far more needs to be done, including new storage, conservation and better management of water.
The work is well under way. The Southwest Roundtable hopes to complete its BIP late next summer, ahead of a deadline for completion of the draft plan by Dec. 14, 2014. Once the draft goes to the governor, further work will be done to complete the final plan by December 2015.
The San Juan Water Conservancy District hopes you make your opinion known. The Southwest Water Roundtable meets on Jan. 8 in Durango. Meetings are open to the public. You can make your opinion known to the state directly by e-mailing email@example.com. To learn more, go to www.coloradowaterplan.com. If you want to see the process in action, attend the next roundtable meeting in Durango. The location has not been set as of this writing, but you can find the information at www.cwcb.state.co.us.
Rodney B. Proffitt