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Recognizing Colorado's growing population trend and the increasing scarcity of water brought about by climate change, Gov. Hickenlooper issued a 2013 executive order for development of the Colorado Water Plan. From this process, the idea of stream management plans came to the forefront.
According to Water Education for Colorado, "Two primary types of plans are emerging across the state — stream management plans and integrated water management plans. Stream management plans address environmental needs and recreational goals. Using scientific assessments to measure the ecological health of a particular stretch of water, these plans help communities figure out where and how their waterways are impaired, with a focus on streamflows, so they can develop strategies to preserve or improve their environmental and recreational assets. Integrated water management plans go one step further to factor in consumptive uses from the municipal, agricultural and industrial sectors."
"Integrated water management plans are all about securing water into the future to satisfy the collective needs of our communities while considering climate change and population growth," said Laurie Rink, Project Manager for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, in collaboration with the Mount Sopris, Bookcliff and South Side Conservation Districts, is stepping forward to develop an integrated water management plan for the middle section of the Colorado River from Glenwood Springs to De Beque. The council will focus on supporting healthy native fish populations and sustaining high levels of water quality, as well as the needs for recreational uses, such as whitewater and flatwater boating. The conservation districts are working with local ranchers and farmers to determine what is needed to sustain agriculture in the valley, alongside meeting the water needs of industry and municipalities.
"There is a fear expressed by some that water may be taken from one use to serve another or that there could be unintended consequences of these plans, but these water management plans are project identifiers, not regulation modifiers," Rink said. "Where could money best be invested into voluntary projects and processes to improve watershed health or to increase water use efficiency or storage?"
The Colorado Water Plan sets forth a lofty goal for 80 percent of Colorado's high priority streams and rivers to have a stream management plan by the year 2030. With the Colorado River being one of the state's highest priority rivers, the integrated water management plan will be a step toward that statewide goal and one of the earlier plans developed in the state, meaning that the council and the conservation districts are moving into some uncharted territory.
"Evaluating water needs for the environment is difficult," conceded Rink, "but applying science and generally accepted models will allow us to quantify those needs. For river-related recreation, we intend to work with municipalities, government agencies and outdoor outfitters and guides to get an idea of how many folks use the river, for what purposes and where additional needs exist. The question we will eventually be posing to our communities is what do we value around water and where should our efforts be directed?" The initial evaluation and planning efforts of the council and conservation districts, slated to go to 2020, will provide the public with data to inform conversations on where to prioritize future efforts. "As an outcome of the initial planning phase, we intend to identify projects that can benefit more than one use of water, for example benefit both agriculture and recreation, and finding the money to do it."
The strong public process behind the integrated water management plan is designed to raise water awareness, and that process needs your input: two different three-minute surveys can be found on midcowatershed.org/iwmp and on http://www.mountsopriscd.org/colorado-river-water-planning. You can also sign up for project-specific news, and receive notifications about public meetings and informational announcements. "No water-using sector, whether it's environment, recreation, agriculture, industry or municipal, stands to lose anything through thoughtful water management planning," said Rink.
Jon Nicolodi writes a monthly column for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which works to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the middle Colorado River watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. Join us for our 5th Annual Alpine Bank River Clean Up on October 20th, and a special thank you to Alpine Bank for being our Title Sponsor. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org. You can also find the Council on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.