Never before has Colorado experienced this type of momentum regarding water issues.
We are galvanized by our challenges: drought, wildfire, flooding, climate change, and unprecedented growth. We are energized by our capability: hundreds of meetings, thousands of participants, tens of thousands of comments, and the political will of our Governor and our General Assembly.
If we are wise stewards of our water resources, Colorado has enough water to meet our state’s future needs.
This plan is a roadmap that leads to a productive economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment, and a robust recreation industry. It sets forth the measurable objectives, goals, and actions by which Colorado will address its projected future water needs and measure its progress—all built on our shared values.
People love Colorado. Our state’s population ballooned from 1 million in 1930 to more than 5 million today, and is projected to grow at even faster rates in the future. So how do we ensure that this population growth doesn’t change what we know and love about our state—including our precious natural resources, and particularly, our water resources? When it comes to our water, Colorado’s Water Plan has answers.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the regulatory framework that guides water management in Colorado. The doctrine of prior appropriation establishes much of the foundation of water law within the state. This chapter presents a brief explanation of this system along with an overview of how this resource is administered by state and federal agencies.
Chapter 3 examines the river basins in the context of the larger river systems they comprise. While Colorado is one state, each river basin is unique. An understanding and recognition of each basin’s particular landscape, historical context, and current challenges provide the necessary basis to explore Colorado’s complete water picture.
Chapter 4 examines Colorado’s water supply. Our state’s water supply consists of both surface water and groundwater sources, and these supplies are dependent upon complex interactions among geography, weather, and laws and regulations—all of which influence how much water is available for beneficial uses. In Colorado, groundwater accounts for approximately 17 percent of water use, while surface water supplies the remaining 83 percent. Colorado’s river and streamflows are highly variable, both seasonally and annually, and provide surface water and replenish alluvial groundwater supplies.
Chapter 5 provides an overview of Colorado’s current and projected municipal, industrial, agricultural, environmental, and recreational uses of water. To assess the road ahead, it is essential to understand the many ways in which Coloradans use water throughout the state and how these uses are connected. As M&I needs expand, pressure on agriculture, the environment, and water-based recreation rises. And as the state grows, associated municipal-supply needs will likely increase, more people will seek the outdoor opportunities Colorado offers, and Coloradans will continue to increase their consumption of a variety of locally grown agricultural products that ranches and farms across the state provide.
Chapter 6 discusses the dynamic strategy Colorado envisions to meet its future water needs—including the types of projects and methods Colorado needs, and the actions it requires, to implement them. Scenario planning provides the framework for this strategy, and indicates what Colorado must accomplish in the short term in order to best balance trade-offs among meeting future municipal needs, agricultural viability, and the health of Colorado’s rivers and streams.
Chapter 7 examines factors beyond supply and demand that affect water availability, such as natural hazards, watershed health, and water quality. Section 7.1 delves further into watershed health, including the effect of natural disasters on watershed health, management strategies, and the critical role watershed health plays in ensuring Colorado’s water future. In particular, this section, emphasizes the ways stakeholders can work together through collaboration and information-sharing. Section 7.2 provides an overview of natural hazards, which can result in serious consequences for our state’s watersheds, drive up demands for water, and influence water quality. Natural hazards and watershed health influence water quality, which is of utmost importance to water providers, and Colorado’s wildlife, which depends on healthy streams. Section 7.3 provides a detailed exploration of watershed management, watershed quality and quantity, and the organizations and regulations that are charged with watershed protection. Together, these three elements help to ensure that Colorado is adequately prepared to not only manage, but to protect, the water resources upon which all Coloradans rely.
People often refer to Colorado as “the headwaters state” because it is the only state in which every major river system starts within the state and exits to downstream states. Colorado stakeholders created intrastate agreements to help align key parties’ interests and understandings; as a result, Colorado has a united voice when dealing with interstate and federal negotiations and litigation about water exiting the state. This chapter describes some recent examples of intrastate agreements, including the basin roundtables and the IBCC process. This chapter also examines the next steps and a path forward for these critical agreements.
Chapter 9 explores the mechanisms by which the State of Colorado can help implement the BIPs and address Colorado’s critical water strategies discussed throughout Colorado’s Water Plan. As Section 9.1 describes, continuing to support the solid foundation of Colorado’s prior appropriation system, maintaining interstate agreements and compacts, and retaining local control are all critical to keeping Colorado whole. These systems are flexible enough to move forward with the actions Colorado’s Water Plan describes; however, many of the strategies this plan and the BIPs describe require additional or more coordinated funding. Section 9.2 explains imminent needs for project funding, along with options for new and existing funding mechanisms that will be necessary for meeting Colorado’s water future.
This chapter further describes each of Colorado’s water values, and sets forth the measurable objectives, goals, and critical actions needed to ensure that Colorado can maintain these values into the future. We define each of these terms on page 10-3. The high-impact actions included in Chapter 10 were culled from a broader set of actions found throughout the plan, and are also summarized in Appendix H.
Colorado’s Water Plan is dynamic by design. The plan addresses today’s water challenges with the understanding that our water landscape may change quickly. Colorado’s Water Plan will be agile in the face of future uncertainty regarding both water supply and demand, and will include advancements in water resource management to meet these changing conditions.