Colorado Water Congress 2015 Annual Convention: Rethinking Colorado’s Water

Opening General Session: Colorado’s Water State of the State

Denver, CO | January 29-30, 2015

How will Colorado provide water to the 2–3 million people moving to the state in the next two decades? Innovation and conservation, said Governor John Hickenlooper and state planners during the opening session of the Colorado Water Congress’s 2015 Annual Convention. The discussion, moderated by Colorado Water Congress President John McClow, included three speakers of different expertise: Governor Hickenlooper, James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Henry Sobanet, Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (“OSPB”). The panelists discussed the challenges Colorado faces in 2015, how the economic forecast might affect the Governor’s priorities, and the next steps to finalize Colorado’s Water Plan (“Water Plan”).

Gov. Hickenlooper opened the session with a survey of the Water Plan and how it will help Colorado handle its water challenges in the coming years. The Water Plan is the first statewide plan for Colorado’s water. Hickenlooper described the development of the Water Plan as “nothing short of remarkable,” noting the long history of discord among stakeholders over competing interests for water. The Colorado Water Conservation Board developed the first draft of the Water Plan using input from water leaders in each basin across the state. In response to increasing demands for a finite water supply, the Water Plan offers suggestions for conservation and reuse, alternative water transfer methods (as opposed to “buy-and-dry”), and potential agricultural, municipal, and infrastructural projects. Hickenlooper noted that developing the Water Plan was a collaborative effort demonstrating the interdependence of Colorado’s urban and rural areas, from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains. “When I look at the Colorado Water Plan, I have every reason to be optimistic,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper emphasized the importance of innovation as encouraged by the Water Plan. Home to one of the top five metropolitan areas in the country for tech startups, Colorado is equipped to prepare for the water challenges ahead, Hickenlooper said. He highlighted one recent innovation in water: IRO, the smart sprinkler by Rachio. Rachio won the Colorado Innovation Network’s “Glorious Failure: In Search of Success Innovation Challenge” with IRO, a sprinkler controller system that adjusts for weather and geography and can be controlled by a smart phone or tablet.

Next to innovation, Hickenlooper emphasized conservation. When asked how Colorado’s declining hydrograph will support its population growth, he said, “We find a way to use a lot less water per person or we don’t have more people coming here. There is no magic.” He acknowledged the rollout of the Water Plan as only the beginning: it is time to access the ideas that have been put on the table and make them better. Hickenlooper presented the first draft of the Water Plan to the public in December 2014, and it remains open for public comment until May 2015.

James Eklund echoed Hickenlooper’s comments on the Water Plan. Eklund emphasized the importance of public feedback on the Water Plan, likening the initial draft to an “open source code” in product development: freely available and open for improvement by anyone. Eklund also acknowledged the current and looming challenges Colorado faces—drought, agricultural “buy-and-dry,” flooding, and climate change—but countered with the promise of the robust Water Plan combined with the collaborative and innovative spirit of Coloradans. Eklund highlighted collaborative efforts already under way, such as the Water, Infrastructure, and Supply Efficiency project (“WISE”) and the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (“CRCA”). WISE is a partnership between Denver Water and South Metro Water Supply Authority (“South Metro”), allowing Denver Water to sell its excess unused water to entities that are part of South Metro. CRCA is a similar agreement between Denver Water and 42 entities on the Western Slope to benefit water supply, quality and recreation.

Henry Sobanet augmented the discussion on Colorado’s water challenges by explaining Colorado’s current fiscal issues. Sobanet said the current fiscal plan is not working for the taxpayers. Formulas in the plan create negative results for Colorado citizens, particularly in the context of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). Sobanet explained that two sources of revenue create a TABOR refund: Colorado’s general fund and cash funds. Colorado’s general fund includes revenue from income and sales taxes, while the cash fund includes revenue from fees. When those sources of revenue combined exceed the TABOR limit in a given fiscal year, Coloradans receive a TABOR refund. However, the refund is always drawn from the general fund, regardless of which source of revenue caused the combined total revenue to exceed the TABOR limit. With potential refunds on the horizon, Sobanet emphasized the importance that Coloradans understand how the system works. If a TABOR refund is generated, the refund will come out of the general fund—the fund responsible for Health and Human Services, Public Safety/Courts, K-12 Education, Highway Users Tax Fund, Capital Construction, and Higher Education. Sobanet suggested the fiscal plan would better maximize the taxpayers’ money if it were rewritten to eliminate the formula problem.

As Colorado’s population grows, so does its water and fiscal planning. The Water Plan is the beginning of a long-range effort to meet water supply challenges, but as Governor Hickenlooper said, “water is always in short supply.” Overcoming Colorado’s water challenges requires conservation, cooperation and innovation from water users statewide.


The Colorado Water Congress’s logo is featured above. The CWC does not endorse this blog.


Colorado River Cooperative Agreement: Path to a Secure Water Future, Colorado River District, (last visited Feb. 16, 2015).

Colorado Water Conservation Board, 2014 Draft Colorado’s Water Plan, Colorado’s Water Plan (Dec. 10, 2014),

Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency: WISE, Denver Water, (last visited Feb. 16, 2015).