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Ask the Experts: A Water Plan Q&A

Sep 27, 2022

With Abby Burk and Alex Funk

1. What does the Water Plan mean for Coloradans like me?

Water supports the lives of every Coloradan and our environment, every day. The Water Plan is a blueprint for our state’s future and outlines strategies to address the impact of water scarcity & drought on many facets of our lives. The Plan covers ways your local river is supported, how your local farmers grow food, and your clean reliable drinking water out of the faucet. The Plan identifies key values that guide strategies, which include having a productive economy that supports cities, agriculture, recreation and tourism, and an informed public with creative, forward-thinking and sustainable solutions that result in strong, equitable communities that can adapt and thrive in the face of scarce resources. The plan also informs state funding priorities, which can help drive public investments in multi-benefit water projects that benefit all Coloradans by enhancing recreational opportunities, supporting diverse economies, and reducing risks associated with climate change. The Water Plan also supports development which includes water-smart features such as low-water landscaping that can help communities thrive while placing less pressure on moving water out of agriculture and rural communities. 

2. How can the Water Plan protect rivers and streams in Colorado?

The Water Plan is an important tool in advancing the policies needed to address many of the challenges our rivers and streams face today, and will face in the future.  Currently, though, the plan does not adequately address the importance of ecologically healthy rivers. Healthy rivers support all of us – people and wildlife alike. The plan should include specific strategies — like enhanced water sharing agreements — for protecting and improving flows that support the health of rivers and lakes benefiting fish, wildlife, and recreation. Additionally, the plan needs more focus on recreation and tourism, which are a central part of Colorado’s economy. The update should be more specific about protecting flows that support truly healthy rivers, and enable recreational experiences; we can’t sacrifice fishing, rafting, and other water sports which both drive our economy and help to diversify the economies of rural communities across the state.

3. Will the Water Plan help address the impact of drought in Colorado and the West?

The Water Plan is an important tool, but it alone will not be enough to address water scarcity and climate change-driven megadrought facing communities across the West. We need your engagement, and continued collaborative and interstate approaches to safeguard the Basin’s future for generations to come. The Colorado Water Plan is one step closer to protecting that future for communities in our state — and if we successfully implement it together, it could situate Colorado as a leader in water management across the American West.

4. What do environmental experts want to see changed in the Water Plan before it’s finalized?

The draft Water Plan is a good first step, but the final version must be bolder. It must:

    • Prioritize assessable conservation across sectors,
    • Specify and secure a sustainable, long-term source of funding,
    • Move beyond traditional storage in favor of nature-based solutions,
    • Acknowledge the importance of and adequately support ecologically healthy rivers for Colorado’s economy,
    • Commit to actionable steps on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

5. How can we make sure the Water Plan is actionable and implemented effectively?

We urge that the final Water Plan include real, concrete solutions and actions with specific timelines that appropriately meet the current crisis. These timelines will be essential to making sure the strategies outlined in the Water Plan make a real difference in the lives of Coloradans. It also needs to outline a sustainable, adequate source of funding, without which the projects and initiatives outlined in the plan, while ambitious, will ultimately be pipe dreams.

6. How can I get involved to make sure the plan is the best it can be?

A draft of the updated Colorado Water Plan has been released for a 90-day public comment period. Now, there’s less than two weeks left – it concludes on September 30! . In the next few weeks, you can join Water for Colorado’s environmental experts and other water leaders by signing our petition to make this plan bold and strong for all Coloradans. 

This is a chance for every individual in Colorado to have a voice and take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future.

About the Experts 

Abby Burk is Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies. She brings a lifetime love of rivers, particularly of the Colorado River and its tributaries.  She promotes cultural change in water use and river conservation through interacting with government representatives, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, businesses, and by recruiting and training community leaders. She has deep ecological management experience and is committed to advancing riparian habitat and stream resiliency through advocacy and action. She is passionate about (re)connecting people to their rivers. Abby most recently taught college courses in biology and environmental science and previous to that was an environmental consultant for eight years. She is an awarded educator and environmental steward. Abby holds a B.S. in biology and an interdisciplinary masters of education, with ecology and hydrology concentrations. As an avid whitewater kayaker Abby enjoys time on western rivers as often as possible.

Alex Funk is Director of Water Resources for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. In his role with the TRCP, Funk focuses on water policy and strategy. Funk previously served as the Agricultural and Rural Resiliency Policy Specialist at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, where he acted as the agency’s liaison to agricultural stakeholders on federal and state water policy issues. In this role, he also assisted with the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan and represented CWCB in multiple venues, including Colorado’s Natural Working Lands Task Force and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Forum. Previously, Funk was the Western policy director for the National Young Farmers Coalition, focusing on Farm Bill policy, and a fellow with American Rivers. Funk earned his Juris Doctorate from Vermont Law School and his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy and Planning from Virginia Tech. He serves on the South Platte Forum Board and the Colorado State University Food-Energy-Water Graduate Program external advisory board. He lives in Denver, Colo., with his family and can frequently be found mountain biking, backpacking, climbing fourteeners, and paddling his kayak around the West.

Are you smarter than a Colorado River expert?

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