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The Colorado Water Conservation Board met for its September meeting at the Salida SteamPlant and assembled for a photo on the banks of the Arkansas River. Left to right: Gunnison Basin Director Steve Anderson, South Platte Director Robert Sakata, State Engineer Kevin Rein, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg, Rio Grande Director Nathan Coombs, North Platte Director Barbara Vasquez, Arkansas Basin Director and Board Chair Greg Felt, Yampa, White, Green Director Jackie Brown, CWCB Executive Director Lauren Ris, Denver Metro Director Jessica Brody, and Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs. Not pictured in the photo above: Colorado River Director Paul Bruchez, Southwest Basin Director Lorelei Cloud, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Jeff Davis, Colorado Water and Power Development Authority Executive Director Keith McLaughlin, and Colorado River Compact Commissioner Becky Mitchell. Photo by Jan Wondra.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is a powerful entity, so when it held its bi-monthly meeting in Salida recently, there were a lot of “heavy-hitters”, so to speak, on the ground to spend two days at the Salida SteamPlant on the banks of the Arkansas River.

Officially, the CWCB is part of the Department of Natural Resources led by DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs.

Their meetings are a veritable who’s-who of officials and representatives of the state’s various water boards, the state engineer, conservation districts, Colorado Forest Service, the Agricultural Commissioner, Parks and Wildlife, and the Water and Power Development Authority. All of them focused on their specific roles in responsible water use across the state.

Local Chaffee Commissioner and regional water expert Greg Felt not only sits on the CWCB board, this past year he has served as the Colorado Water Conservation Board Chair.

By way of overview, the CWCB is involved in an amazing number of activities.

It oversees the interstate compact compliance on water usage. It works on watershed protection, flood planning, and mitigation. It oversees stream and lake protection, as well as conservation and drought planning. The CWCB oversees water project loans and grants, water use modeling, and water supply planning focused on appropriate stewardship of the state’s water resources; which contrary to the public’s perceptions, is not an infinite resource.

The agendas for these every-other-month sessions are extensive. After moving through the director’s reports, it dived into 18 water plan grants. They ranged from a Colorado Cattlemen’s Association grant to scale up agriculture water education and funding outreach, to a San Luis Valley Rye Resurgence project, to the Blue River Watershed groups habitat restoration project to the Bernhardt Reservoir Water Storage Project for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Moving from water grants to water project loans, a big topic was a water supply reserve fund application from the Colorado Ag Water Alliance covering nine river basins: Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, South Platte, Southwest, and the Yampa/White/Green basin. Its purpose is to improve agricultural drought resilience and support innovative water conservation.

Near the end of the two-day meeting, the group moved into an executive session to dive into the critical  post-2026 Colorado River negotiations.  As a Colorado River Upper Basin state, the long-term division of this critical western water resource is becoming contentious, as Upper Basin states remind California, Nevada, and Arizona that they have been using far more than their share.