Governor orders state water plan

On May 14, Gov. Hickenlooper issued an executive order for the creation of a statewide water plan for Colorado to bridge the gap between developed water supplies and anticipated demands.

He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to present him with a draft plan by Dec. 10, 2014, which is to be finalized by Dec. 10, 2015.

Why does Colorado need a water plan?

The executive order lists several reasons why a plan is needed, which are summarized below:

• The gap between developed water supplies and growing demands could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050 (an acre foot is about enough for two or three families for a year). The biggest gap is anticipated in the South Platte River Basin, home to Colorado’s largest cities and most agricultural production.

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• Our continuing drought could hasten the impact of the water supply gap.

• It’s unacceptable to continue meeting growing urban water demands by “buying and drying” agricultural water rights at a breakneck pace.

• Colorado’s water quality and quantity questions need to be addressed conjunctively, rather than separately, as they normally are now.

The executive order notes that stakeholders organized into basin roundtables in each of the state’s major river basins have been working for eight years to understand and discuss water challenges, strategies and visions for the future. The executive order refers to that process in declaring that the water plan must incorporate:

• A productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry.

• Efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use.

• A strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams and wildlife.

The executive order directs the Colorado Water Conservation Board to “align state water projects, studies, funding and other efforts” as part of the plan, “to the greatest extent possible.”

It directs the Water Conservation Board to streamline and expedite permitting and review process for water projects, particularly those that “stress conservation, innovation, collaboration and other criteria as determined by the CWCB.”

It further directs the Water Conservation Board to consider prioritizing expedited permitting for projects that promote “efficient infrastructure promoting smart land use, healthy water sheds that support Colorado’s rivers and streams, and smart water conservation practices.”

The executive order directs the Water Conservation Board to draft the water plan in consultation with the basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee (which includes representatives from all the basin roundtables), and other state agencies involved with water such as the Department of Public Health and Environment, which houses the Water Quality Control Division.

The idea of developing a statewide water plan by 2015 isn’t new. The governor called for one in a speech more than a year ago, and the basin roundtables are already working with the Water Conservation Board toward that goal. The release of this executive order does, however, signal increasing urgency and puts the process on a very ambitious timeline. You can find the full text of the executive order on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website at Additional information will be available there as the planning process moves forward.

You can provide direct input into the process through the basin roundtables. Their meetings are open to the public, and notices are posted on the Water Conservation Board website.

The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is also tracking this process as part of the project described below.

To learn more information about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to

Hannah Holm is with the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

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