The River District’s Strategic Plan outlines initiatives the Board and staff will focus on in the coming years in fulfillment of our mission. The plan also describes the background and policy setting of the District and identifies the outside forces that will likely influence our operations and priorities.
Mission Statement: To lead in the protection, conservation, use and development of the water resources of the Colorado River basin for the welfare of the District, and to safeguard for Colorado all waters of the Colorado River to which the state is entitled.
The Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado River Water Conservation District in 1937 to protect western Colorado’s water resources. From early in that century through today, water originating on the West Slope of the Rocky Mountains has been sought by Colorado’s Front Range for diversion to the east as well as by our downstream states to the southwest, generally more arid and more populous.
The Colorado River District’s mission is to protect the viability of the Colorado River for regional, beneficial use and the environmental and recreational values it represents. To this end, the District has, throughout its history, negotiated numerous intricate, multi-party water agreements and successfully litigated landmark water rights cases. Additionally, we advocate for federal and state laws, policies and regulations that aid the development and conservation of the water resources of the Colorado River. Fifteen counties in northwestern and west-central Colorado comprise the District’s boundaries.
Strategic Initiatives Moving Forward
• Colorado River Supplies: Colorado risks over-development of its Colorado River supplies to the detriment of existing water users. At some level of additional development, all existing uses junior to the Colorado River Compact of 1922 are at risk of curtailment. The District will pursue planning and management techniques to reduce that risk. The Colorado River is the river of statewide use; accordingly, the District will ensure that any compact compliance program includes shared risk and water contributions from all sectors and areas of the state.
• Transmountain Diversions (TMDs): The Colorado River District was created to protect West Slope interests in the face of TMDs that move water from water-rich western Colorado to the drier Front Range. The District will be a leader in evaluating any new TMD proposal. The Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant’s senior water rights are critical to maintaining West Slope supplies and limiting TMDs. The District will diligently investigate alternative, permanent means to protect the flows generated from the historical Shoshone water rights.
• Agricultural Water Use: Most West Slope agricultural water rights are senior to the Colorado River Compact. As Colorado nears full development of its Colorado River supplies, pressure increases for the temporary or permanent conversion of agricultural water rights to municipal uses. The Colorado River District will study voluntary and compensated water reductions as a means to support and preserve western Colorado agriculture. The District will explore methods that allow producers to derive economic benefit from their water rights without the permanent sale of those rights and the consequential loss of western Colorado’s vital agriculture.
• Water Needs/Project Development: The Colorado River District owns a large portfolio of conditional water rights that may be suitable for meeting some of the identified consumptive and non-consumptive water demands within the District. The District will work with constituents and the three Basin Roundtables that comprise the District to better quantify these demands and look for opportunities to help meet these water needs. Refurbishing and modernizing aging infrastructure is a priority to preserve existing water uses for existing needs.
• Colorado’s Water Plan: In 2015, Colorado’s Water Plan outlined broad concepts for meeting the State’s water needs. The Colorado River District will work with the Basin Roundtables in the District to refine, develop, and implement their Basin Implementation Plans, which are part of the state plan. The District will work to achieve a consistent West Slope and statewide perspective related to compact curtailment risk that would severely impact users on both sides of the Continental Divide.
• Public Engagement: Public support is required to carry out the Colorado River District’s mission. The District will expand public outreach and education to the general public as well as to community leaders and elected officials. Social media will be emphasized as a means of engaging younger generations.
• Water Quality: Maintaining healthy and safe water quality appropriate for regional uses is a priority for the Colorado River District and its constituents. The District will advocate for prevention or mitigation of those activities that adversely impact water quality whenever existing or future beneficial water uses, the ecological health of rivers and streams, or local economies dependent on certain water quality may be threatened. Due to nationwide exemptions under the Clean Water Act, agriculture has largely been spared from water quality regulation, but this may change. The District will advocate, as needed, for local solutions to address local and regional water quality concerns.
• Climate and Hydrologic Uncertainty: Hotter temperatures will increase agricultural and municipal water use due to longer and warmer growing seasons. Patterns of snowpack and runoff will change. These factors will stress water storage. The District will pursue options to increase storage while exploring appropriate efficiencies of use in all sectors.