by Lisa Cyriacks

A second draft of Colorado’s Water Plan was made available to the public earlier this month. The state’s first-ever water plan is a 479-page document that highlights how the state will meet the growing water needs of its population. Public comment on the second draft is open through Sept. 17.

The comment phase is the last step in an extensive development process for the plan. Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order for the creation of a statewide water plan in May 2013. The final draft is due to the governor by December 10.

Water shortfalls expected by 2050 or sooner in Colorado are the impetus for creating a statewide plan to manage water resources.  According to the state demographer, Colorado’s population is expected to double in the next 35 years. Most of that population will land on the Front Range, adding pressure to an already over-burdened water supply.

Conservation is at the heart of the statewide plan. Specifically, the plan calls for a reasonable statewide urban conservation goal of saving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050. This equates to an almost 1% per year reduction in water use in Colorado cities and towns. However, the plan needs to include the incentives, funding and technical support to get that done.

The plan also underscores the importance of healthy rivers and streams in Colorado and acknowledges that $2-3 billion is needed to protect them, but doesn’t yet commit funding to carry out that protection.

But some wonder if rural Colorado is over-accommodating metro areas with the plan. The Colorado Water Conservation Board and nine regional water basins have outlined an estimated $20 billion in projects needed to meet long-term water supply needs, mostly related to municipal water, a need which is largely growing because of Front Range expansion.

The most populated basins—the South Platte and Denver Metro—call for more water from the Colorado River. Currently, the Colorado River’s reserves are especially low and the seven states (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California) entitled to water from the Colorado River are claiming the same amount of water they have historically.

That increased demand is in addition to strategies like water conservation and reuse. In the Arkansas Basin, more water is important, along with fixing the area’s aging infrastructure.

The Rio Grande Basin focuses on agricultural water, which uses the majority of the water available, and environmental needs. In the plan the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable expresses a goal “to meet new demands for water, to the extent practicable, without impacting existing water rights and meeting historic compact obligations.” or