Unlike most of its western neighbors, Colorado doesn't have a water plan.
And while a draft of one is underway and due on the governor's desk in December, officials say it's vital that the state's business community get involved in its …
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And while a draft of one is underway and due on the governor's desk in December, officials say it's vital that the state's business community get involved in its creation.
Several of them reiterated that message during a March 14 Colorado business leaders water policy briefing at the Lone Tree Arts Center.
“All but a handful of our neighboring states have water plans,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). “We're not on the leading edge of this effort.
“We're not going to walk into the Colorado water future we want. We're going to have to be intentional about it. The power of shared self-interest can overcome the rhetoric you often hear in the water discussion.”
The breakfast event was sponsored by Accelerate Colorado, a partnership of businesses and local governments that works with federal leaders on key state interests. None currently are more pressing than water.
Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the CWCB to begin work on a state water plan in May 2013. A final report is expected a year after the draft is due, in late 2015. The plan is intended to address a range of issues, including the gap between supply and demand, the impact of climate change, water quality and protection of water rights.
Colorado will add 5 million more people by 2050, a projection that underscores the concern about ensuring a secure supply.
“We need to partner together,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. “We're planning today for the next generation and the generation after that.”
A prime example of a collaborative water effort is Denver Water's WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership, which is made up of 17 entities. While not yet finalized, it would allow south metro water agencies to buy renewable water from Denver and Aurora entities.
Water is the one resource that could derail the state's dramatic growth forecast.
“Thousands of Colorado businesses depend on this growth and I am one of them,” said Phelps Engineering president Lonny Phelps. “We're in a dry climate. It's not going to change. We are in a water overuse area. It magnifies the need for a state water plan.
“If no changes occur, demand will outstrip supply creating shortages.”
Colorado's water issues are unique. In addition to being an arid climate with high growth, it and Hawaii are the only two states from which all water flows out of its borders.
Additionally, the state's water rights are administered according to an Appropriation Doctrine based on the principle of “first in time, first in right.” It allocates the right to a quantity of water to the first person who uses it for a beneficial purpose. Those users get top priority for water when supply is in question.
Established in 1879, the doctrine has proven itself time and again, Eklund said.
“We're seeing repeated attempts to do away with the doctrine of prior appropriation,” he said. “It's not some dead, stale doctrine we've outgrown somehow. Our system of local control and private property rights rest son that foundational doctrine.”
The CWCB seeks statewide input on the plan. Eklund urged the business owners in attendance not only to work together on water issues, but to involve others.
“Go to your neighbors that don't have access to this kind of presentation I gave this morning,” he said. “Have a conversation about why this is important to them. Engage them with a website that makes sense to people that aren't water wonks.”
To view one of those sites, visit www.coloradowaterplan.com
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