Water is a critical resource that is highly valued among all Coloradans—and what connects us all. In the second webinar in our Colorado water legislator webinar series, Milestones for Colorado Water in 2022, we hosted expert panelists including Senator Cleave Simpson, State Climatologist Russ Schumacher, Director of Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Rebecca Mitchell, CWCB Section Chief Water Supply Planning Russ Sands, and our very own Western Rivers Regional Program Manager Abby Burk.
More than 100 legislators, staff/aids, and informed members of the public attended live on April 19th to learn about Colorado’s water forecast, challenges, and opportunities. Panelists spoke to Colorado’s historical and current climate trends, and pivotal water moments happening this year at the local, state, and regional levels.
Senator Cleave Simpson kick-started the discussion by reiterating the many conversations and actions in the state legislature around water. He spoke to his longstanding history and connection to water, being a fourth-generation farmer and rancher and one of the few legislators who owns a water right. Senator Simpson has a key role in numerous bills related to water, and we are immensely appreciative of his support. “As the supply of water continues to decline, becoming more challenging year after year, and demands continue to grow, it was really important for me to step up and be a voice at the legislature as someone who has a direct connection to water,” said Senator Simpson during the webinar.
State Climatologist Russ Schumacher provided an overview of Colorado’s changing climate over the last century as it relates to drought, and water availability for river flows. The key message that remains consistent is that it is getting warmer, and this is a substantial impact in Colorado. These trends are accelerating, as six of the eight warmest years in Colorado have happened in the last ten years. While our wet and dry periods oscillate and our future precipitation projections are uncertain, a future of warming temperatures is certain and is critically impacting our water resources. That is, with warmer temperatures, there’s higher evaporative demand, which stresses our plants, crops, reservoirs, and forests. Additionally, these higher temperatures affect our snowpack and snowmelt, which disrupts the timing and availability of water in our rivers. “Even if our precipitation doesn’t change much, we’re not headed in the right direction,” said Schumacher. Listen to his full presentation below to hear the latest river flow projections for Colorado’s rivers.
2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, and the early stages of its management renegotiation process and operative agreements. Colorado River Commissioner and Director of the CWCB Rebecca Mitchell, spoke to our current crisis, as our nation’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, reach record low levels. She urged that “we must ensure that what comes next is fair and sustainable.” Watch the presentation recording as Director Mitchell discusses the guiding principles of what water users need moving forward.
This is indeed a big year for water in Colorado. In addition to the influx of federal funding and legislative action, and big river management renegotiations, Colorado’s Water Plan—our state’s framework for solutions to its water challenges—is undergoing its inaugural update and will be released for public comment on June 30th. This draft will be open for public comment until September 30th and we highly encourage you to let your voice be heard. The Colorado Water Plan is built on collaboration and stakeholder input, and CWCB’s Russ Sands wholeheartedly states that “people bring the plan to life.”
While there are many uncertainties in the water and climate crisis, we are fortunate to have leaders, such as our panelists, who are working tirelessly to secure a promising water future for birds and people. We are undergoing significant change in our hydrology and water demands. Therefore, our policies and management must reflect appropriate change too. We encourage each and every one of you to take action and engage in these processes to help secure water resources for all people and birds.