Innovative Water Management Solutions for People & Nature—an inclusive approach

Recently I attended the Conservation Excellence Conference hosted by the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts at the University of Denver. There I participated on a panel discussing a suite of innovative water management solutions to secure water for people and nature.

 

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I was honored to sit alongside some of Colorado’s leading conservancy organizations who were sharing examples of their work to help bridge the gap among agricultural supply, domestic water demand, and environmental and recreational uses that result in win-win solutions for all.

By now we’ve all heard that by 2050 our population is expected to double, creating a significant municipal and industrial water supply gap in Colorado. The Arkansas River Basin population alone will likely increase 80 percent in this time. Even if all proposed water projects in our basin are developed, the supply will still not meet the needs of our growing cities, towns and industries. The primary strategy to close the supply gap has been and will continue to be agriculture water transfers.

Water is the life blood of our landscape, community and our economy. Clearly the strategy of “buy and dry” of irrigated ranch and farm lands threatens the $1.5 billion agricultural economy of the Arkansas Basin. It directly impacts our basin’s rural communities and decreases our ability to produce food locally. It also threatens river-based recreation, as irrigation practices help bolster continuous summer flows in the Arkansas River – the world’s most popular river for whitewater rafting. Colorado’s Water Plan recognizes all this, and has a stated goal of finding alternatives to buy and dry. However, buy and dry remains the cheapest, easiest, and most secure tool utilized to secure water for municipal and industrial uses.

San Isabel envisions a new way of doing ‘business’ and we shared our approach during the Conservation Excellence conference. It is inclusive of all stakeholders and places both local conservation goals and municipal and industrial supply needs at the center. We’ve been working to bring this inclusive model alive within our work through outreach and education, engaging various stakeholders in our service area and helping to facilitate resources for them. We’ve also been re-imagining land use and water supply planning, as they must be integrated. This all requires us to maintain an open and inquisitive approach – after all, the ‘Us vs. Them’ method is not working.

Most importantly, we realize that our approach to meeting our water supply challenges needs to be collaborative – because truly, we are all in this together. Here at San Isabel, everyone has a seat at the table and that table is round.

While the future of our agricultural lands and communities remains uncertain, I feel heartened to know that land trusts are emerging at the center of the discussion. As non-political organizations who receive bipartisan support, it is in our very nature to act as facilitators and bring all sides to the table so that we may resolve our water challenges, together.

 

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