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New task force aims to provide lawmakers with solutions to protect Colorado River

Sponsors say task force will lay foundation for impactful change next legislative session
New task force aims to provide lawmakers with solutions to protect Colorado River
Posted at 6:41 AM, May 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-08 10:20:08-05

DENVER — Rain in Denver means the classic comment from Coloradans has been flowing faster than the creeks through the city: "We need the moisture!"

That sentiment is only natural in a state that has suffered a drought for more than two decades, according to water experts.

“There were signs in the early 2000s that we took to mean the river was starting to die. The reservoir levels were going fast," Jennifer Gimbel, a senior water policy scholar at Colorado State University, said. “It makes me think about what we could have done.”

Gimbel has studied water since the early 1980s, and her passion is the Colorado River. It's also her biggest heartbreak. The Colorado River is critical to the livelihood, agriculture, and economies of seven states in the western United States. Growing populations, combined with the drought, has led to the overuse of the Colorado River.

“The Colorado River is showing us what climate change is going to do," Gimbel, who co-authored a report detailing the challenges facing the river, said. “Snowpack is what we rely on here in Colorado and what the Colorado River relies on. For many years that snowpack has been very scarce. This year, it's abundant, but one year isn't going to do it for us.”

Senate Bill 23-295 created the Colorado River Drought Task Force, a group that will convene over the course of this year to brainstorm solutions to the concerning future of the Colorado River and water resources in the state. The goal is to develop recommendations for legislators next session that will help protect the Colorado River and it's tributaries.

"This past legislative session actually was very historic for the amount of progress we made on water in Colorado," State Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-District 8, said. “We need to make sure we're getting this right. So, making sure we're careful always should be a priority for us at the legislature.”

Sen.Roberts said the task force will essentially be the foundation for new legislation in the next session.

“We want to have these tough conversations, but we want to get the right people in the room. That task force won't have any politicians on it, no elected officials," Sen. Roberts said. "It will be the experts from agriculture, from water providers, from the environmental community, from all parts of the state, so that they can have those tough conversations and come up with recommendations that we can take and so that when we do those big bills next year, or in future years, we will have the backing of that important stakeholders.”

However, Gimbel feels there are already groups doing the job of the task force.

“I wasn't expecting a repeat of what we've already done. And that is, we have a group of people that are called the Interbasin Compact Community," said Gimbel. “I'm always for people getting around the table and educating each other. I'm just not sure what they can do.”

Gimbel is hopeful the task force comes up with solutions that benefit everyone, and Sen. Roberts believes legislators are ready to work on them.

“I want to have the legislature focus on stream health, stream restoration, protecting healthy flows of rivers," Sen. Roberts said. “Colorado has been and will continue to be a leader, as far as conserving water and doing our part on the Colorado River. We have been one of the most proactive, if not the most proactive state, on the Colorado River. And we need California and Arizona specifically to do a whole lot more to play their part. They are overusing their share of the water on the Colorado River.”

Sen. Roberts was happy the legislature allocated $95 million to the Colorado Water Plan, and said $25 million of that was from sports betting tax revenue.

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