On Saturday afternoon, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed bipartisan legislation to create the Colorado River Drought Task Force, which will develop proposals to protect Colorado’s water future. It is a state-level action recognizing the realities of our changing climate.
“All of us on the Western Slope depend on a clean and reliable supply to power our economy and promote our way of life, but worsening drought conditions, exacerbated by climate change, are putting our water supply in jeopardy,” said Senator Dylan Roberts (D-Avon). “I am proud to sponsor this important legislation, which will bring us one step closer to addressing one of the most pressing issues our state has ever faced – the endangered Colorado River – and ensure every Colorado community has access to the water resources they need now and into the future.”
“The Colorado River captures the essence of the Colorado Way of Life,” said Speaker Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon). “We must be proactive to secure our water future, which is why we are creating a process that will bring every voice to the table to develop solutions to the devastating impacts of a hotter, drier climate. This collaborative approach will help communities in Colorado partner together to protect agriculture, outdoor recreation, and the freshwater we need, and create the foundation needed to proactively address the threats we face to our water and economic future.”
SB23-295, also sponsored by Senator Perry Will, (R-New Castle), and Representative Marc Catlin, (R-Montrose), creates the Colorado River Drought Task Force which will include representatives from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, regional water conservation districts, local governmental officials, agricultural producers, environmental nonprofit organizations, and others that have diverse experiences with complex water issues.
By December of 2023, after an extensive stakeholding process open to public comment, the task force will make policy recommendations to the General Assembly to:
- Proactively address the impact of droughts on the Colorado River and its tributaries,
- Avoid disproportionate economic and environmental impacts to any one region of the state,
- Ensure that any program related to the acquisition of agricultural water rights is voluntary, temporary, and compensated,
- Assure meaningful collaboration among the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, and the State of Colorado in the design and implementation of drought security programs, and
- Evaluate sources of revenue for the acquisition of program water.
A sub-task force consisting of representatives from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and the Department of Natural Resources will also provide policy recommendations to the General Assembly to address tribal needs. These recommendations will consider the unique nature of tribal water rights and tribal water use.
The Colorado River provides water to Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico. More than 40 million people rely on the Colorado River for their water supply, and record-breaking heatwaves and droughts in the Southwestern U.S. have only exacerbated water conservation issues.
SB23-295 will rely on water experts and relevant stakeholders to provide effective solutions to the General Assembly so our state can protect the Colorado River and its tributaries through meaningful collaboration with local voices and without disproportionate impacts on certain regions of the state.