Yellow-breasted Chat perched in flowering chokecherry branch.
Yellow-breasted Chat perched in flowering chokecherry branch.

Yellow-breasted Chat on chokecherry. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies
Yellow-breasted Chat on chokecherry. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

Western Rivers Initiative

A Confluence of Funding for Water, Watersheds, and Capacity

Learn about beneficial bills passed during the 2022 Colorado legislative session.

Water supports the lives of birds and people every day and was a high, bi-partisan priority for Colorado lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session. The General Assembly wrapped up the 120-day session on May 11. Audubon and our partners were active in securing several wins for water, our most precious natural resource. Funding for water projects, watershed resilience, and capacity are through lines for these wins. Here are a few highlights.

Wildfire Prevention Watershed Restoration Funding, HB22-1379 appropriates $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to protect watersheds and river resiliency from wildfire impacts. The funding breaks down as $2 million to the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund, $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund, and $15 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to fund watershed restoration projects with a boost for capacity to assist in applying for natural resource management federal grants. The Audubon network activated and supported HB-1379 by submitting 2,468 supportive responses!

Infrastructure Investment And Jobs Act Cash Fund, SB22-215 creates a new cash fund that allows the state or local governments to receive federal funds for certain categories of infrastructure projects allowed under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). For Colorado to be competitive for this once-in-a-lifetime funding under IIJA, it is necessary to have funds available as nonfederal match. SB-215 requires the state treasurer to transfer $60 million to the fund. Among the winners, 25 percent of this fund will be used toward water, environmental, and resiliency programs. The money in this fund is appropriated by the general assembly and the governor. Audubon and our partners met with decision makers and applaud bill sponsors for the foresight in creating this fund.

Turf Replacement Program, HB22-1151 creates a program to incentivize water-wise landscapes. Irrigation of outdoor landscaping accounts for nearly half of the water use within cities and towns and is mostly used for nonnative turf grass. Voluntary and incentivized replacement of nonessential irrigated grass turf with water-wise landscaping increases communities’ resilience regarding drought and climate change, reduces the sale of agricultural water rights to municipal demand, and helps protect river flows. The bill defines water-wise landscaping as a water- and plant-management practice that emphasizes using plants that need less water. To learn more about native plants that support birds and pollinators, visit Rockies' Habitat Hero program. Audubon thanks Habitat Hero Ambassador Don Ireland for his influential testimony in support of this bill.

Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project, HB22-1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the Colorado Water Plan implementation cash fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for grant-making for projects that assist in implementing the Colorado Water Plan. Water Plan grants serve as the bridge for Coloradans to implement actions within the plan. The Plan contains actions that can improve river health and support clean, reliable drinking water for communities and flourishing economies. Without a strong plan and funding for implementation, Colorado’s birds, rivers, and people will face a problematic water future with unacceptable consequences.

Thank you for your engagement during the 2022 Colorado legislative session! Great Blue Herons, Yellow Warblers, and American Dippers depend on you to support our healthy rivers, wetlands, and watersheds for all of us. Audubon will continue to work with lawmakers and partners to prioritize water security for people, birds, and the healthy freshwater ecosystems that we all depend upon.

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