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New Colorado Water Plan outlines how to mitigate water challenges statewide

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - A draft of the 2023 Colorado Water Plan has been released and outlines what the state needs to do in order to conserve resources as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs dry up.

Nearly 6 million Coloradans and 19 other states rely on water from Colorado's river basins. But it's a supply that's at risk.

A new analysis by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) says up to 740,000 additional acre-feet of water could be needed by 2050 to meet community and industrial demands.

For agriculture, an even bigger number. An estimated 2.6 to 3.5 million acre-feet of water is needed.

"I think we're presenting a very honest view of where things are at," said Russ Sands, Section Chief for Water Supply Planning with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. "It's going to be tough. We can't change things like mega-fires. We can't stop the drought. But, we can do a lot of things to work together to mitigate the worst impacts of what is headed our way.”

A major way the Colorado Water Plan hopes to mitigate impacts is through local projects the CWCB is ready to give grants to.

"If you have the time and energy, and you want to have a great idea, come in, apply for a grant, help us make stuff happen," said Sands. "We can innovate and solve these solutions together, but we need that collaboration to do it.”

1,800 projects have already been identified statewide and range from repairing dams to building multiple new reservoirs and upgrading water treatment plants.

But this effort won’t be cheap.

The Water Plan estimates that $20 billion is needed to address the water crisis.

"As an organization, we're real fortunate that a lot of the funding that we get is actually made off of our loan programs," said Sands. "We're in some ways self-funded through that. It's not necessarily coming through, you know, taxes per se. So we give out a ton of loans every year. That helps fund our organization and the grants that we give out. There are some grants that come through other means, like severance tax, money that might be from mineral leasing or drilling. And then sometimes the legislature may make a special allocation of funds. For example, with the the turf bill that recently got passed, might be a special funding revenue that would come to us to enact that program."

Despite the high price, the CWCB is staying positive when looking towards the future of water in our state.

"The challenge ahead of us not losing hope, but really doubling down on the good work and making sure the next project we build is the best project that we can be building that really uplifts cities, agriculture, and the environment," said Sands. "We have to make sure that every drop we're using is being stretched as far as it can, and is being used as wisely as it can.”

Public comment is now open for the Water Plan draft and closes on September 30, 2022.

By January the final version will be approved by the board, and then grant money can be distributed to begin work on projects.

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