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TU: CO water plan provides support for healthy rivers.

November 19, 2015

(Denver)—Trout Unlimited praised the final Colorado Water Plan unveiled today by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, saying that it recognizes the key role that healthy rivers and streams play in sustaining the state’s economy and quality of life.

“We’re pleased that the Colorado Water Plan recognizes that healthy rivers are central to Colorado’s quality of life and help drive our booming, $13 billion recreation economy,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “If we want a future of Gold Medal trout rivers and outdoor opportunities, we need to plan for that future—and this plan is a step in the right direction.”

“Instead of fighting over a dwindling resource, with winners and losers, Coloradans should work together to find solutions that meet all of our diverse needs, from agriculture and industry to recreation and the environment. Collaboration is key,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project. “There are a number of concepts highlighted in the Water Plan that could lead Colorado to a better water future.”

Trout Unlimited pointed to three specific features of the Water Plan that, if adequately supported and funded by state lawmakers, will help protect Colorado’s rivers and sustain our economy:

  1. The Water Plan calls for irrigation modernization.

Across Colorado, TU is a leader in working with ranchers and farmers on innovative irrigation modernization projects that improve water delivery while protecting river flows and habitat. “We are pleased that the plan recognizes the benefit of modernizing irrigation infrastructure,” said Peternell.  “But ranchers and farmers need support and incentives to undertake these improvements.”

TU called on the Colorado General Assembly to provide increased funding for irrigation modernization and innovation projects and to enact substantive legislation to facilitate these projects.

Peternell noted that water rights are valuable property interests, and TU strongly believes that agricultural producers who use their water rights to improve stream flows should be compensated for doing so. “We look forward to working with state lawmakers, the CWCB and other stakeholders to promote irrigation modernization and innovation during the plan implementation,” said Peternell.

“We need to get money to the ground for good projects,” he added. “That’s the next challenge—moving from good ideas to on-the-ground action.”

  1. The Water Plan encourages local communities to create stream management plans.

TU also praised the plan for encouraging local communities to create stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs will help stakeholders gain a better understanding of the stream flows necessary to support river health and recreational uses of water, while continuing to meet other water uses. Healthy flow levels can be integrated into community-driven water plans that meet diverse water needs.

“Steam management plans bring local water users together to determine how best to use limited water resources,” Peternell said. “They are an exercise in collaboration.”

TU applauded the CWCB and General Assembly for setting aside funding for SMPs through the 2015 projects bill. However, the $1 million currently earmarked will not be sufficient for these important plans in coming years. TU calls on the CWCB and General Assembly to increase funding for SMPs in future years.

  1. The Water Plan establishes a framework for evaluating proposed trans-mountain diversions of water.

TU is also pleased that the Water Plan contains a “Conceptual Framework” for evaluating new proposed diversions of water from one basin to another.  TU believes that the Conceptual Framework should prevent unnecessary, river-damaging trans-mountain diversions (TMDs).

TU has argued that Colorado should reject all new TMDs unless the project proponent (1) is employing high levels of conservation; (2) demonstrates that water is available for the project; and (3) makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.

The Colorado Water Plan, requested by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2013, is the product of more than two years of public meetings, thousands of public comments and eight Basin Implementation Plans. Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers have been actively involved throughout the Colorado Water Plan process, submitting comments and helping shape Basin Implementation Plans. Through its Our Colorado River program, TU has helped unite tens of thousands of Coloradans around core water values such as collaboration, infrastructure modernization, and conserving healthy rivers and streams.

While the final plan contains a host of strong ideas, TU said that implementing these good ideas will be the true measure of success.

“The Final Water Plan is a beginning not an end,” said Nickum. “The key to Colorado’s water future will be actual on-the-ground collaboration to meet our water needs while protecting our state’s rivers and agricultural heritage.”

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