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May 7, 2023

House Passes Colorado River Drought Task Force

DENVER, CO – The House today passed bipartisan legislation sponsored by Speaker Julie McCluskie to identify steps the state can take to protect the Colorado River and all who rely on its water.

“On the Western Slope, the Colorado River speaks to the very spirit of our Colorado way of life,” said Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “This bipartisan legislation brings every voice to the table, uplifts the needs of Coloradans from around the state and ensures collaboration between the state and local voices to find solutions to the devastating impacts of a hotter, drier climate. Troubling drought conditions have put the water we use for agriculture, outdoor recreation and drinking in jeopardy and threatens our economic future.  This bill will help us craft a robust plan to ensure our water future.”

SB23-295, also sponsored by Representative Marc Catlin, passed the House by a vote of 63 to 2. This bill creates the Colorado River Drought Task Force that would include representatives from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, regional water conservation districts, local governmental officials, agricultural producers, environmental non-profit organizations, and others that have diverse experiences with complex water issues.

By December of 2023, after an extensive stakeholding process open to public comment, the task force would make policy recommendations to the General Assembly to:

  • Proactively address the impact of droughts on the Colorado River and its tributaries,

  • Avoid disproportionate economic and environmental impacts to any one region of the state, 

  • Ensure that any program related to the acquisition of agricultural water rights is voluntary, temporary, and compensated, 

  • Assure meaningful collaboration among the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, and the State of Colorado in the design and implementation of drought security programs, and

  • Evaluate sources of revenue for the acquisition of program water.

A sub-task force consisting of representatives from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and the Department of Natural Resources would also be established to provide policy recommendations to the General Assembly to address tribal needs. These recommendations would consider the unique nature of tribal water rights and tribal water use. 

The Colorado River provides water to Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico. Over 40 million people rely on the Colorado River for their water supply, and record-breaking heatwaves and droughts in the Southwestern US have only exacerbated water conservation issues. 

SB23-295 will rely on water experts and relevant stakeholders to provide effective solutions to the General Assembly so our state can protect the Colorado River and its tributaries through meaningful collaboration with local voices and without disproportionate impacts on certain regions of the state.

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