Guest column: A historic plan for water
Recent weeks marked a moment in Colorado’s water history by charting a path to the future with a comprehensive water plan being released to the public. The Colorado Water Plan was delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper and, with it, the thoughts and goals of months of work by the basin roundtables. Senate District 5 is home to the Colorado, Gunnison and Arkansas rivers. All three rivers are part of our identity in the high country, our lifestyle out west and making sure that we’re building an economy that gives everyone a fair shot at getting ahead. From rafting Brown’s Canyon to fishing the upper reaches of the Gunnison to turning on head gates on the Colorado, we know our rivers.
We also know that in order to maintain healthy and free-flowing rivers, we must keep the water in the basin it was born in. The Western Slope even bears the burden of delivering water across the border to the downstream states. The Upper Arkansas is burdened with downstream demands. We cannot also be expected to support population growth in arid areas with additional diversion that sends our water to the Front Range. We value agriculture, outdoor recreation and healthy streams that support a diverse ecology, but these values are challenged when anything but a whole-state approach is used to make water-policy decisions.
Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues in the state Legislature only think of the metro area when drafting bills dealing with the state’s water. When I was first running for the office of state senator, I promised to be a strong voice for the Gunnison, the Colorado and the Upper Arkansas. We have much that needs protecting.
The Colorado Water Plan is the result of years of bottom-up planning. While we have to cautiously approach any water plan and ensure that our water out west is protected, I’m encouraged that people who know the pebbles of the streams worked on this plan with an emphasis on honoring our water and our heritage.
Conservation has taken a front seat in the Colorado Water Plan, as has avoiding any new, large transmountain diversions. By emphasizing restoration of our rivers and implementing a serious plan to conserve our water, future generations have a chance at enjoying the rivers and streams that we do, and the Front Range will use less even while population booms in our metro areas.
To honor the work done to create the Colorado Water Plan, we in the state Legislature should honor the work of Colorado residents by not taking parts of the plan out of context to justify a pet project in a metro area. Through state water projects and increasing storage capacity of our water, and ensuring that conservation doesn’t negatively impact access to water for our farmers and ranchers, I will be a fierce advocate for making sure that our Western priorities are represented in any legislation related to the plan.
Much of our way of life is tied to the rivers, creeks and streams that cascade down our mountains or meander through our valleys. It’s time for Colorado to have a water plan that reflects our values and makes sure that we delicately balance conservation with protecting our water rights and fighting for our water to stay where it belongs — with us.
Kerry Donovan is the Colorado state senator for Senate District 5.
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