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Protecting Rivers Under Colorado's New Water Plan

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015   

DENVER - Conservation groups are gearing up to make sure their voices are heard as Colorado's Water Plan heads into the implementation phase in the new year.

Nathan Fey, Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, said the last 100 years of water development have been focused on meeting demands at the tap along the Front Range and for agriculture, but added that he's encouraged the state is embracing new priorities.

"We're recognizing now, for the first time in Colorado, that recreation and river health is one of our primary values," he said. "This plan has called out kind of a new ethic, and that is: we've got to protect our rivers. Because it supports this very robust recreation industry."

Fey said river recreation in Colorado pumps $29 billion into the state's economy, and the Colorado River basin accounts for $9 billion alone. He said people who care about rivers shouldn't just leave the plan's rollout to the state and utility companies, adding that American Whitewater will urge its members to join upcoming roundtables to make sure the plan's stream and headwater protections go into effect.

Colorado's Water Conservation Board projects that the state's population, which surpassed 5 million people in 2008, will reach 10 million by 2050 - and most growth will occur in cities on the Front Range.

Fey said it's important for residents to know that water used for golf courses, lawns and showers comes from the Western Slope. Conservation efforts, which feature prominently in the water plan, will be critical for its success, he said.

"We need to conserve water to support what we like today, to make sure that it sticks around into the future," he said. "The more water we conserve now, the less it means we have to take water from somewhere else in the future - whether it's out of the river or it's from our food producers."

If the collaboration, flexibility and innovation that helped produce the plan is carried forward into implementation, Fey said, he's confident Colorado's homes, agriculture and the birds and wildlife that depend upon healthy rivers for survival can all get the water they need.

The water plan is online at coloradowaterplan.com.


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