Colorado Establishes Water Equity Task Force


By Chris Arend

Colorado Department

of Natural Resources

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Dan Gibbs, executive director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, announced recently the establishment of a Water Equity Task Force to better understand existing equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) challenges in Colorado water issues and inform the Colorado Water Plan.

“In Colorado, water is the lifeblood of our state and critical for our economy, agriculture, wildlife and environment. This Task Force is another important piece in creating a Colorado for all and will inform our Colorado Water Plan by ensuring that future efforts in planning for Colorado’s water future are increasingly inclusive,” said Polis. “I want to thank Director Gibbs and the Water Conservation Board for their leadership on these efforts and look forward to the work ahead.”

The 2005 Water for the 21st Century Act (HB 05-1177) ushered in a new area of regionally inclusive and collaborative water planning. That spirit was further codified in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, which ensured that all water uses in Colorado are interconnected and of equal value. At the same time, Colorado has a broad and diverse populace who are not always represented in local stakeholder groups and who need to be engaged in the forthcoming Colorado Water Plan update (set for completion in 2022).

“2020 has highlighted the need to fundamentally address deeper societal issues — including equity in water policy decisions,” Gibbs said. “This Task Force will build on the governor’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Executive Order and efforts to build a climate equity structure; it is time to similarly create a water equity framework that can inform the Water Plan update.”

The Water Equity Task Force, managed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will bring together a group of 20 diverse stakeholders to meet over the next year to draft a set of concepts for consideration in the Colorado Water Plan update by the end of March 2022. The group will plan and develop a public workshop tentatively set for late 2021 to incorporate additional partners and voices to this effort. Details will be posted on the Web page. 

“The Colorado Water Plan update will build on lessons learned, be more accessible and will identify bold actions. I strongly support including equity considerations into our water planning to ensure that our efforts become more inclusive, welcoming, and communicative on a range of issues,” added Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado Water Conservation Board director.

Members of the appointed task force (name, affiliation, seat) include:

• Mike Weber, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Roundtable.

• Victoria Obregon, CSU Pueblo, Community.

• Abby Burk, Audubon of the Rockies, Roundtable.

• Andrea Lopez, Ute Water, Community.

• Sonja Chavez, Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District, Roundtable.

• Dr. Alina Luna, Western Colorado University, Community.

• Barb Biggs, Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, Roundtable.

• Ernest House, Keystone Policy Center, Community.

• Barbara Vazquez, North Platte Roundtable, Roundtable.

• Dr. Lynette Telck, Jackson County Public Health, Community.

• Mike Roque, Community. Foundation of San Luis Valley, Community.

• Rio de la Vista, Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center at Adams State University, Roundtable.

• Fatuma Emmad, Front Line Farming, Community.

• Deb Daniel, Republican River Water Conservancy District, Roundtable.

• Manuel Heart, Ute Mountain Ute — chairman, Tribe.

• Mel Baker, Southern Ute — chairman, Tribe.

• Lee Bitsóí, Fort Lewis College, Community.

• Mely Whiting, Trout Unlimited, Roundtable.

• Jerry Hernandez, Integrated Community, Community.

• Kelly Romero-Heaney, city of Steamboat Springs, Roundtable.

The 20-person Water Equity Task Force geographically represents the legislatively defined nine basin regions across Colorado (representing each of the eight major river basins as well as the Denver metro area).

The membership includes nine water-experienced stakeholders with insights into Colorado’s current water planning efforts and basin roundtable structure, two members representing Colorado’s federally recognized Native American tribes, the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute tribes, and nine members representing community leaders not traditionally engaged in water issues.