Colorado's first statewide water plan was introduced Thursday by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It's a $20 billion blueprint aimed at making sure the state has enough water for a population that's expected to double by 2050.
The plan includes increased reservoir and aquifer storage space, and efforts to reduce water usage by billions of gallons each year. Much of its funding will come from water providers. The Legislature will have to come up with the balance.
The challenge: Colorado's average annual precipitation leaves the state about 14 million acre-feet of water. About 70 - 80 percent of that falls west of the Continental Divide, while 80 to 90 percent of the state's population lives east. To move the water from where it is to where it's needed most, 24 tunnels and ditches move about 500,000 acre-feet of water from west to east.
Hickenlooper's administration encouraged water managers -- and users -- from around Colorado to formulate the plan over a two-year period. James Eklund, head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, led the effort. He told Colorado Matters on Wednesday the state favors more "carrot" and less "stick" in its approach to achieving the storage, conservation, distribution and management.
For example: The plan sets a specific conservation goal for cities but not for agriculture.
"The reason we don't set a conservation goal for agriculture is because the [agricultural] user has got to produce a crop," he said. "And if you're asking them to conserve water, that means they are fundamentally diverting less water and growing less crop. That is a private property right in Colorado."
"The challenges that we face as a state on water are so large that we have to really be hitting on all cylanders." Eklund said. That includes pushing for new legislation and executive rulemaking, starting with his request for more flexibility in how the Colorado Water Conservation Board can spend the money it gets in appropriations from lawmakers each year.
“This is a moment for Coloradans to be proud,” Eklund, said Thursday at the plan's unveiling. “For 150 years water has been a source of conflict in our state."