Storage, conservation are pillars of newly released Colorado Water Plan | TheFencePost.com

Storage, conservation are pillars of newly released Colorado Water Plan

Catherine Sweeney

The plan lays out the state's water policy goals: more conservation and more storage. Instead of legislating, the plan is designed to get leaders at all levels on the same page about Colorado's water future.

"Everybody's happy today," said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner. "This is a good thing."

Northern Water is a public agency that services about 880,000 people in northern Colorado and supplies irrigation water for 640,000 acres of farmland.

"The part that we're most pleased with is the piece about storage," Werner said.

Northern is involved in the federal permitting process for two proposed projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project and Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP. These two projects jointly include three new storage reservoirs in northern Colorado.

He said he's hoping the plan will encourage officials to work with the federal government to update the permitting process for projects such as NISP and Windy Gap. Now, the processes are expensive and time consuming.

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"We're going to be (spending) 12-15 years on these projects," he said.

Time is of the essence when it comes to water supply in the West.

With its growing population, Colorado faces a shortfall of about 182 billion gallons a year by 2050, according to state projections.

The plan will set specific goals for water storage and conservation, which environmental experts herald.

"Coloradans overwhelmingly support water conservation, and we are pleased to see this plan proposing our state's first ever urban conservation goal," Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado said in a news release. "The plan recognizes that to meet our future water needs we must change the status quo from focusing on new, large trans-mountain diversions to prioritizing conservation, reuse and recycling. We look forward to the governor moving forward and carrying out our state's water plan to better protect our rivers and wildlife."

It will also propose a way to let farmers and ranchers sell their water to municipal utilities for a specific length of time but allow them to resume using that water themselves in the future. That would avoid a practice called "buy and dry," where utilities buy farms and ranches to get their water, permanently taking the land out of agricultural production.

The plan encourages local governments to combine their water planning and land use planning to reduce outdoor uses such as lawn watering and encourage water recycling.

It also encourages management plans for rivers and streams to keep their ecosystems healthy.

Gov. John Hickenlooper started the process in spring 2013, according a release from his office. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado's Water Plan, a road map that would put the state and its eight major river basins on a more collaborative and cooperative path to manage water in the face of constrained supplies and growing population.

State government doesn't have the power to force the plan on anyone. Instead, it will depend on the help of local governments, water utilities and farmers and ranchers. The legislature also would have to pass laws and appropriate money, and the executive branch would have to steer some of the initiatives. ❖

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Want more?

Officials put together a website with loads of information about the Colorado Water Plan, including frequently asked questions, document downloads and an events calendar. Go to http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.