River District Board Welcomes CWCB Director Ris

On Wednesday, October 18, the Colorado River District welcomed newly appointed Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Director Lauren Ris for a discussion with the Board of Directors. Ris took the helm of CWCB in August during Colorado Water Congress after serving as Deputy Director for six years. CWCB Board Chair and Arkansas Basin representative Greg Felt also joined for the discussion, along with CWCB Board Member and Yampa/White River Basin Jackie Brown, who attended virtually.

Director Ris and Colorado River District representatives all vocalized appreciation for the face-to-face meeting and emphasized the importance of continued, meaningful relationship building. All also expressed optimism regarding the collaborative potential ahead for the benefit of Colorado water users.

In her introduction, Ris noted the 50 state actions CWCB has committed to implementing as a result of the January adoption of the Colorado Water Plan. “That’s really my priority, that’s not just my words on paper. We need to make good on our word,” she stated. “Coupled with that, we really need to tell the story of what we’re doing and what we’re learning by implementing those actions.”

As River District Directors introduced themselves in turn, many spoke about issues pressing for their representative counties, but all conveyed the import of the unique West Slope voice in these discussions. Tom Gray, Moffat County Director, stressed this as a pivotal point for Colorado water users.

“This is a watershed moment, pun intended,” he said as he referenced his 20-year background in Colorado’s water world. His concern, and desire to keep engaging in the work, centered on making sure this watershed moment doesn’t create “winners and losers.”

“I think on the Western Slope, we see all this change as threat more than opportunity. Acknowledging, though, that there has to be change – that’s the only thing that’s constant – [I’m] just concerned that we don’t become the short end of the stick over time.”

He then expressed gratitude for Director Ris’s attendance and her stated focus on the immediate future of Water Plan implementation.

“This is a great way to continue to build on River District-CWCB relationships moving forward,” added River District General Counsel Peter Fleming. “I think I can speak for everyone [here] that we’re all committed to doing that.”

Shared Priorities

General Manager Andy Mueller also echoed the sentiment of strength in partnership. “I think it’s our job to find a way to work together on really great projects,” he said. Though the two entities haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, the two organizations [were] formed in the same year by the legislature in order to work together.

A great recent example of this shared responsibility, he noted, centered on coordinated funding assistance, and helping Colorado water users leverage available federal funds for essential water projects. Between the CWCB’s state funding and the District’s Community Funding Partnership “Accelerator Grant” program, both entities have had a profound and positive impact on West Slope water users.

“The number of projects we’re jointly funding throughout our district is really important to the people behind them,” he said. “Lauren, you were key to that, so I just want to thank you and I look forward to more of that coordination with the CWCB.”

Director Ris and Colorado River District Directors also addressed past and potential conservation programs in their discussion. Ris stated she wanted to see forward momentum on ‘intrastate tools on drought resiliency.’

“We had a great water year this year,” she said, “but we all know the models show that’s not likely to continue into the future. We want to make sure we’re in a good position and have our house in order.”

She said that means, “doubling down on municipal conservation and seeing what we can do to help ag in the state.” Colorado needs to ensure efficiency she said, “while still being able to have a viable ag economy,” and establishing a position of resiliency for all water users.

Other Resources

To watch the full discussion between CWCB Director Lauren Ris, the Colorado River District Board, and CWCB Board Chair Greg Felt, view the meeting recording here or read this article from journalist Heather Sackett in Aspen Journalism.