The frequently-headlining Colorado River Drought Task Force came first in Andy Mueller’s General Manager’s Report of the 2023 Fourth Quarterly Board Meeting. Appointed by the board as the River District’s primary Drought Task Force representative, Andy Mueller provided an update on Task Force meetings to-date along with General Counsel Peter Fleming, who serves as the district’s alternate.

“The Task Force has held five of its required 12 meetings,” said Mueller. “The first three meetings were pretty narrowly focused on governance and process. But the last two meetings have been more substantive and focused on recommendations the Task Force might make to the General Assembly regarding intrastate tools.”

Potential intrastate tool discussions began at the October 19 meeting and will continue as the Task Force convenes in Towaoc at month’s end. On November 9, the River District will host Task Force members in Glenwood Springs. All Drought Task Force meetings and Sub-Task Force for Tribal Issues meetings are streamed virtually. More information is available HERE.

The Colorado River Drought Task Force was formed earlier in 2023 through the passing of Colorado Senate Bill 295. The 17-voting member Task Force is charged with making recommendations to next year’s General Assembly on how policy and legislation can best be used to mitigate the impacts of drought on the Colorado River and provide tools for the communities dependent on its diminishing water supply. SB23-295 passed with near-unanimous bipartisan support.

According to Mueller, the bill sponsors continue to be very interested in the potential recommendations of the Task Force and have encouraged speedy progress. Despite this, speed hasn’t been easy given the daunting task of creating meaningful recommendations to address the complex issues facing the Colorado River. Aware of both the pressure from the legislators and the complexity of the task, the Task Force members agreed to try to schedule at least one additional meeting before the year-end deadline.

“One frequently expressed opinion is that 12 meetings might not be enough,” Mueller stated to the board. “We haven’t voted on any ideas yet. We have lists of concepts, which are being collected at each meeting, and then we will bring them forward to a vote.”

Any recommendations made by the Task Force must receive majority support from the appointed members who represent a variety of water user interests and constituents from both sides of the Continental Divide.

To aid their representatives in the process, the Colorado River District Board of Directors established guidelines to use as criteria for supporting proposals. The full set of guidelines can be found HERE.

“Intrastate issues all share some really common elements that we all need to think about,” said Mueller. “All of them are aimed at reducing current consumptive use and having it available for a different purpose, whether it is a strategic water reserve, water banking, demand management, or system conservation. Our state has a demand management policy statement that talks about avoiding disproportionate harm to any area or user group within the state. I think that’s really critical in moving forward.”

General Counsel Peter Fleming also shared from his experience that “Do no harm is a common theme we hear, but that shouldn’t necessarily be ‘do nothing.’”

River District Director Tom Gray of Moffat County followed that with this statement: “There are those who are saying do nothing, but the reason for the Task Force, the legislative purpose, was to come up with specific recommendations for the legislature to manage drought. And when we’ve got three dry years in a row again, we can’t be back at the drawing board.”

After a discussion surrounding the necessity of including sovereign tribal voices in these discussions, as well as the concerns of industrial users who are being required to transition to more renewable energy sources, Mueller ended by saying, “It’s a good thing to be there, to hear from the public. Some interesting ideas are definitely coming up. The question is how do you flesh them out in the time period we have?”