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Sen. Dylan Roberts' bill to be proactive on Colorado River crisis clears Senate

The task force hopes to be proactive so that if cuts are needed in the system, they would come from lower basin states first.

Sarvis Creek south of Steamboat Springs
A drought task force would study a variety of issues impacting the Colorado River and its tributaries like the Yampa River. Pictured is Sarvis Creek south of Steamboat Springs, which flows into the Yampa. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)

A bipartisan bill that hopes to position Colorado well ahead of potential cuts to water usage on the Colorado River brought on by the federal government passed the Colorado Senate Monday.

The bill, Senate Bill 295, is sponsored by Senators Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon, and Perry Will, a Republican from New Castle. Roberts said the goal of the task force is to show the Department of Interior that Colorado is being proactive to address the crisis amid decades of drought and if cuts are needed, that they should come from other basin states first.

“Colorado should take some proactive steps to incentivize more conservation, put in place programs that help us store more water, conserve more water and do what we can to play our part in the decreasing supply on the Colorado River,” Roberts said. “It also shows the states that are overusing their use like California and Arizona that we are being proactive.”

The federal government has threatened to institute mandatory cuts on states that are part of the century-old Colorado River Compact but has so far hasn’t brought many teeth to those conversations. Roberts said should cuts be instituted, the task force hopes to show that any curbing of usage should be from lower basin states first.

“The cuts wouldn’t have to come from our state, they would need to look downriver first,” Roberts said. “That’s a way we can protect our agriculture, our outdoor recreation economy and our way of life that depends on our Colorado River and all of its tributaries like the Yampa.”

Should the bill clear the House, the task force would get to work this summer with the intention of making recommendations back to the legislature. It would meet as many as a dozen times through the summer and deliver recommendations to the Senate Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee by Dec. 15.

Many members of the task force would be from the Western Slope, but not all of them. Roberts said there would be agriculture producers, local government representatives and members of water-focused organizations like the Colorado River District, Colorado River Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, in addition to officials from state agencies.

One issue the task force would delve into would be demand management, which was discussed earlier in the legislative session but never got traction. Roberts said he felt demand management was being somewhat rushed into, and the task force would study the issue more thoroughly.

“We want this task force to have the conversation on what a responsible and temporary demand management program would look like,” Roberts said. “We also want them to consider things around water efficiency, whether its efficiency of agriculture and ways to conserve more water at a municipal level. … Also maybe some programs that would promote river and stream health in the face of drier and hotter summers.”

Colorado doesn’t use all the water that is allotted to it, but Roberts said there may come a time that the Colorado River Compact is changed to account for less water in the system. This task force would prepare for that possibility as well so that if Colorado is allotted less, farmers, ranchers and the state’s outdoor recreation economy doesn’t take a hit.

Roberts added that the task force also helps to position Colorado well to get funding for water projects that became available from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 that includes $688 million for water infrastructure.

“I think it is best to be proactive and have things ready to go in case they’re needed,” Roberts said. “I think that puts more pressure on California and Arizona who are not doing that right now at all.”

The bill now heads to the House where its sponsors are Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon, and Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican from Montrose.


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