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Hickenlooper Shows Off Colorado Water Plan Draft

Bente Birkeland

Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled a draft of the state's first ever water plan Wednesday. The goal of the plan - a decade in the making - is to create a comprehensive water strategy to protect rural farm economies and bring more water to millions of people along the Front Range.

"Water is too important for bickering and potential failure. It demands collaborations," said James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the proposal. "This plan sets the stage for us to take the necessary next steps."

The 400 page draft outlines several concerns including a growing gap between supply and demand, critical environmental issues such as a number of fish species that are at risk of endangerment, climate change, regulatory inefficiencies and the drying of agricultural lands.

Governor Hickenlooper spoke to some of the challenges, asking how we recognize growth but still "recognize how important agriculture is and that we don't want another acre to be dried up."

"I don't think anybody wants to see that continue in Colorado," Hickenlooper said.

The governor added that the draft strikes a good balance between so many different interests and upholds Colorado's values. Hickenlooper highlighted protecting the environment, vibrant cities, and promoting our recreational industry.

But it comes with a hefty price tag, $20 billion in water projects by the year 2050. The cost is something the Colorado Water Conservation Board is aware of.

"We're looking at options that are creative and innovative that would allow an agriculture producer to get into a transaction with a municipality that keeps the water tied to the land in perpetuity," said Director Eklund.

Public hearings on the draft will continue throughout 2015. It won't be until 2016 that the strategy will move to policy recommendations that would go before the state legislature.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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