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Speaker McCluskie: Taking Action Now to Secure Colorado’s Water Future

Jul 10, 2023

This op-ed was published in print in the Denver Post in July 2023.

We’ve reached the crisis point for the Colorado River and the future of the American Southwest.

We need creative solutions for living with a River that contains less water, yet has more

demands for its limited supplies.

We’ve reached the crisis point for the Colorado River and the future of the American Southwest.

We need creative solutions for living with a River that contains less water, yet has more

demands for its limited supplies. As a resident of the High Country, I know we’ve had

exceptional snowfall this year alongside a rainy spring, but one wet year will not solve a

decades-long drought that is devastating the West.

I represent the headwaters of the Colorado River, the source of water for more than 40 million

people including 30 tribal nations – a resource essential to sustaining Colorado’s agricultural

and Indigenous cultural heritage. Our entire state relies on the water that flows from here

westward, or eastward through diversion tunnels to the Front Range.

As the impacts of historic drought compound with increased demands, Colorado leaders have a

critical role to play. Our rivers and streams are running at dangerously low levels, threatening

everything from drinking water supplies, wildlife and agriculture to tourism and outdoor


To facilitate a unified approach toward establishing drought resiliency, my colleagues

Senator Dylan Roberts, Senator Perry Will, Representative Marc Catlin and I created the

Colorado River Drought Task Force to protect Colorado’s water future.

I recently made appointments to the task force, whose work will begin shortly. By the end of this

year, the task force must provide recommendations for state legislation that will be considered in

2024 to address drought through voluntary and compensated reductions in water demands.

I will be blunt: we need bold, inclusive solutions developed through careful collaboration of all

those who rely on Colorado River water. The job of our appointees will not be easy, but we’re

determined to see this through because our future depends on it.

In the past 30 years, climate-driven drought has reduced Colorado River flows by 20%, with an

estimated additional 30% reduction by 2050. Out-of-state interests are looking to profit by

buying up water rights, growing communities are increasing demands on the river, and each of

the Colorado River Basin states are gearing up to fight for as much of its water as they can.

Just as the threats to our water are varied, so are the uses and demands on our supply. The

Western Slope is home to generational farmers and ranchers who need water to provide food

for the country. The state's agriculture industry contributes over $47 billion to our economy and

employs about 195,000 people.

While healthy rivers support healthy farms, they also support tribal cultural practices, and a

vibrant outdoor recreation economy. Our rivers and streams support fishing, kayaking, and

rafting, while reservoirs support snowmaking, swimming, and other watercraft sports. According

to the organization Business for Water Stewardship, Colorado’s river recreation industry

accounts for nearly $19 billion in annual economic output and creates 131,000 jobs.

To protect Colorado’s water users, we must lead, otherwise we will find ourselves being led. The

Colorado River Drought Task Force brings together state agencies, farmers, ranchers, water

providers, water conservation districts, Tribal nations, environmentalists and others to make

clear recommendations to protect Colorado’s water. The Colorado River touches everyone’s

lives, it’s the fabric that weaves together the entire state, and is why the task force must listen,

reflect and uplift the voices of our diverse state during the forthcoming public meetings.

I expect nothing short of robust, sustainable solutions crafted by the task force helping all

sectors of our economy prepare for the increasingly dire consequences of a hotter, drier future.

Recommendations from this task force will allow Colorado to become more resilient to the

demands of the River and help us adapt to preserve our Colorado way of life.

As the first female Speaker from the Western Slope, protecting Colorado's stable water supply

is always top of mind. It is now up to each of the members of this task force to be

solution-oriented, emphatic, and creative. Future generations require nothing less, and I look

forward to seeing recommendations later this year.

Speaker Julie McCluskie represents House District 13 which includes Chaffee, Grand, Jackson,

Lake, Park, and Summit counties. She is the first woman Speaker elected from the Western


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