(DENVER) - The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) would like to congratulate the Colorado River Drought Task Force, who voted today to recommend a number of drought mitigation concepts for consideration by the Colorado General Assembly for potential legislation.
“The 17 members of the task force, representing diverse interests throughout Colorado, worked diligently on a short timeline to come together and support thoughtful and impactful ideas on how we can protect Colorado’s most precious resource– our water,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Department of Natural Resources. “I want to thank the Task Force for their hard work and conscientious consideration of drought, water supply and infrastructure, and wildlife issues these past few months. I also want to thank the engagement and initiative of the Colorado legislators who formed the Task Force, particularly Senator Dylan Roberts and Speaker Julie McCluskie. Their leadership has elevated these critical issues and we look forward to working with them and continuing conversations on relevant legislative proposals in the upcoming 2024 legislative session.”
“The Colorado River Drought Task Force’s representation gave a voice to those who have and will be most directly affected by our challenges on the Colorado River,” said Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture. “The grim hydrologic reality that Colorado’s farmers and ranchers in particular have been living with for the past several decades has now reached a crisis point for others. The agricultural community will continue to lead the effort to live within the means of the river. Along with the recommendations of the task force, we hope that their example and efforts will see tangible, impactful results in the coming years for the Colorado River Basin.”
In addition, the Sub-Task Force on Tribal Matters has worked collaboratively to understand the barriers preventing the Southern Ute Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe from fully developing their water rights.
“I want to thank Letisha Yazzie with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Lisa Yellow Eagle with the Southern Ute Tribe for this valuable opportunity to identify solutions and funding that will undoubtedly benefit each Tribal Nation,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado’s full-time Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission, and member of the Sub-Task Force. “I look forward to when the Sub-Task Force finalizes its recommendations on Dec. 8.”
The work of the Drought Task Force comes at a time when the Colorado River faces significant challenges. Decades of unprecedented climate change-fueled drought, coupled with years of overuse in the Lower Basin States, means there’s now less water in the reservoirs. The Tribes and States that share this vital resource are confronted with the extraordinary challenge of creating new operating rules for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to sustain and share this dwindling resource.
Many final recommendations of the Drought Task Force align with the ongoing work of the Colorado Water Plan, which conserves and protects Colorado’s water for present and future generations. The Colorado Water Conservation Board oversees the Colorado Water Plan, and DNR is excited to see the Drought Task Force support items like prioritizing forest health and wildfire-ready watersheds, increasing funding for the state’s turf removal program, and expanding tools to support environmental streamflows.
The CWCB’s proposed 2024 Projects Bill, which makes recommendations to the legislature to support water projects and loans, includes more than $23.3 million for Water Plan Grants, $2 million for turf replacement efforts, $4 million for programs aimed at improving drought resiliency, and $1.8 million for high-tech water measurement.
For Rebecca Mitchell, it is clear that the responsibility to live within the means of the river, and to build healthy reservoirs to see us through dry years, starts with the states downstream of Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Last year, the three Lower Basin states used an estimated 10.3 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River. The four Upper Basin States only used an estimated 4 million acre-feet. It is obvious that any durable solution needs to begin with addressing this systemic overuse.
At this critical juncture, Commissioner Mitchell is focused on negotiating a sustainable path forward for the post-2026 operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, one that is protective of both Colorado’s significant interests in the Colorado River and the 40 million people who rely on it. Commissioner Mitchell has developed priorities that will serve as her North Star throughout these negotiations. One of them is that water users in the Upper Basin are just as important as those in the Lower Basin. The hard work of the Drought Task Force has made this clear.
One of DNR’s top priorities is to help Colorado build resiliency in the face of challenging hydrologic conditions in the Colorado River Basin so that we have vibrant communities, robust agriculture, and thriving watersheds. We are better able to make long-term, viable decisions when we work together. DNR and CDA appreciate the Task Forces and legislature's recognition that, to make this future a reality, we need to unite around consensus-based solutions that do not hinder Colorado’s ability to protect its interests in the Colorado River at this pivotal time.
DNR and CDA look forward to working with legislators, water providers, municipalities, agricultural interests, conservation organizations, and other stakeholders on drought resiliency solutions that provide for long-term sustainable solutions that benefit Colorado’s economy, communities, and environment.