Colorado River District Guiding Principles for 2023 Drought Task Force Participation

In preparation for participation in the Drought Task Force, the Colorado River District’s Board of Directions finalized its guiding principles for the District’s representative during their Third Quarterly Meeting on July 19, 2023.

Comprised of 17 voting members representing water users on both sides of the Continental Divide and one non-voting chairperson, the Task Force was created by the General Assembly in 2023 through the passage of Senate Bill 23-295. Along with the critical perspective provided by a Tribal Sub-Task Force, the group will develop actionable recommendations for the 2024 General Assembly on steps the state can take to protect the Colorado River and all who rely on its water.

The Board confirmed that the District’s  existing policies, Strategic Plan, and prior work on Demand Management, including but not limited to: the Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado, Phases 1-4 of the Colorado River Risk Study, The Colorado River District Demand Management Stakeholder Report, and the Conceptual Market Framework should serve as foundational guiding documents for the District’s involvement in the Task Force.

In addition to the prior work of the District in this arena, the Board stressed its position that any program designed to systematically create conserved consumptive use in the Colorado River within the state of Colorado, no matter what name it goes by, should follow the principles set forth in the 2018 Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Demand Management Policy Statement. Furthermore, if a program is ever implemented in the state, The District believes that it must be designed to protect the viability of productive, profitable, family-owned agriculture and the communities in Colorado that depend upon it. The program cannot and should not encourage and/or allow for the involvement of investors who seek to profit from the non-use of agricultural water.

In addition to the above-mentioned documents and positions, the River District Board confirmed the following eight guiding principles for the District’s representatives to follow:

  1. Systematic water conservation programs and reductions in conserved consumptive use are necessary currently in the Colorado River Basin due to the failure of parties, primarily in the Lower Basin, to reduce their use during times of diminished hydrological supply.
  2. While we firmly believe that the State of Colorado and the other Upper Basin states should not operate a SCPP or a Demand Management market until the Lower Basin commits to permanent reductions in consumptive use, it is important to recognize that a return to the horrendous hydrology of the last 23 years may require our state and the other Upper Basin states to systematically reduce our own consumptive use to preserve our own local food supply, our communities and our environment.
  3. The Task Force should openly evaluate what tools or programs, if any, may be needed in order to protect Colorado water users and our communities in continued drought conditions.
  4. Any water conservation program authorized or enabled by legislation in the state of Colorado should be consistent with the provisions of the DMSA related to keeping that water in the control of the Upper Basin States and only utilizing that water if, and when, it is needed for compact compliance purposes.
  5. While the state government of Colorado correctly retains the sole right to negotiate interstate agreements related to the use of the Colorado River on an interstate basis, it is imperative that legislation, if recommended by the Task Force, make it extremely clear that any programs aimed at reducing consumptive use within the boundaries of the Colorado River District must be implemented either solely by the Colorado River District or jointly by the Colorado River District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
  6. The Task Force should discuss the appropriate intra-state role of the UCRC with respect to contracting and running systematic water conservation programs.
  7. Authorization in a statute for the State Engineer to shepherd water both intra-state and to the state line is likely necessary to make a program of this nature work.
  8. Legislation authorizing systematic conservation of Colorado River water should codify the principles set forth in principle four of the conceptual framework found in the Colorado Water Plan.

To learn more about the Colorado River District’s involvement and participation in the Drought Task Force, or to read the complete Guiding Principles, please visit our Drought Task force website.