Colorado Water Plan

The Colorado Water Plan is an adaptive water management framework for the state created by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), in collaboration with Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables. Colorado is facing increased demand and stress on its water supply - as its population is projected to double by 2050, while climate impacts such as higher temperatures, wide precipitation variability, and earlier and faster spring runoff are occurring across the state. The Colorado Water Plan aims to establish a path toward sustainable water security for the state while balancing the needs of communities and cities, the economy, agriculture, the recreation industry, and the environment. The comprehensive plan sets forth measurable objectives, goals, and actions to address the effects of climate change on Colorado’s water resources. These objectives include seeking and allocating funding for both implementation and monitoring of the Plan’s progress towards closing the water supply and demand gap by 2030. 

The first section of Chapter 6 is focused on the development of an "Adaptive Water Management Strategy." It describes the scenarios used to develop different solutions portfolios of the strategy, and highlights the critical need to implement the “No-and-Low-Regrets” portfolio of actions which are considered viable no matter which future pathway is chosen. Some of the “No-and-Low-Regrets” actions include to:

  • limit traditional permanent dry-up of agricultural lands by supporting lower-impact alternatives,
  • develop additional water supplies from unappropriated water on the western slope, and to
  • implement storage and other infrastructure to maximize flexibility and reliability, among others.

Section 6.2 describes the specific goals and measurable outcomes for each of the eight water basins, organized by water-related “gaps” or needs in various sectors. This chapter also addresses municipal, agricultural, and industrial water conservation, reuse, efficiencies, and infrastructure projects as well as discussions of water storage, land use, alternative transfer methods for agricultural water supply and use, and environmental and recreational projects.

Colorado’s Water Plan sets an objective of attaining 400,000 acre-feet of water storage by 2050. A number of extreme weather events and drought across the state precipitated this objective. Storage vessels are encouraged as they can meet a variety of needs beyond water conservation, including: Flood Control, Drought Mitigation and Crop Protection (stored water to be released throughout irrigation season). The CWCB intends to work with each water basin region, as requested, to incorporate the potential effects of climate change on municipal, industrial, and agricultural projects and methods.

Chapter 7 discusses impacts outside of supply and demand that affect water availability - such as natural hazards, watershed health, and water quality. Section 7.1 looks holistically at watershed health, including the impact of natural disasters on watershed health, management strategies, and how watershed health is vital to the state’s water supply in the future. Healthy watersheds support climate change resiliency and provide natural carbon sequestration. Climate change impacts to watersheds can result in increases in stream temperatures, increased pollutant concentrations, reduced quality of aquatic habitats, and loss of wetlands. 

Section 7.2 describes the effects of climate change on natural disasters - exacerbating the disastrous effects on watersheds. Drought, flooding, and wildfire are the focal impacts discussed, and the state will continue to implement the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan and utilize their Drought Planning Toolbox

Some of the adaptation strategies Colorado will engage include: 

  1. To continue to support and expand drought, flood, and wildfire-preparedness and response programs.
  2. To actively encourage local communities to develop drought preparedness plans by providing tools and resources for development and implementation.
  3. The CWCB and the Colorado Recovery and Resiliency Office will implement the actions identified in the Colorado Resiliency Framework to build communities that are more resilient to natural disasters.
  4. The CWCB and CDPHE will work with utilities, federal agencies, and others to proactively identify and address regulatory barriers to climate preparedness and adaptation.  

Updates on progress made towards implementing the Plan’s objectives in the two years following its publication are presented in the water plan progress report - Ripple Effects: Colorado’s Water Plan in Action 2017. 


Publication Date: 2015

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