Sasha Nelson: Grab the Oars | CraigDailyPress.com

Sasha Nelson: Grab the Oars

Sasha Nelson/For the Craig Daily Press

Sasha Nelson

My mom was eight months pregnant when my adventurous father launched his small raft from the South Beach boat launch just south of Caraig for a day trip to lay bridge. Two days later my very worried, very pregnant mom was reunited with my sunburned, dehydrated father who brought his raft in behind schedule. So began a legacy of family adventures on the Yampa River.

Water in our arid state is not just for recreational purposes. It has to meet the needs of everyone, as well as serve important ecological functions including supplies for healthy fisheries and wildlife. Until now, Colorado hasn't had a plan in place for how we use our water, to address future water needs or the quality of our water.

As a state we face increasing water challenges such as drought, dried up rivers and water supply issues. We needed to "get our books in order" as a state. While the Front Range is facing population booms and the Rio Grande a shrinking groundwater supply, in Northwest Colorado it certainly feels like we have a target on our back. We needed a plan.

This week, Colorado's first water plan was unveiled. I'm happy to report it puts us in a better place. It sets achievable targets for urban water conservation. It includes plans for water reuse and recycling. For the first time ever, the plan addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers' and streams' environmental resiliency. These and the other goals outlined in the plan were informed by an extensive statewide process involving everyone from individual citizens to major metropolitan water users.

To make this a "state" plan, Coloradans from all walks of life had to get involved — and wow, did our community get involved! Dozens of meetings were held throughout the region. The public meetings were filled with engaged citizens who want to ensure we protect our rivers and our way of life. Stakeholders of all types worked collectively and in small groups to draft and then improve the plan. And the engagement paid off; over 30,000 comments were submitted throughout the planning process.

When my father launched his small raft all those years ago, the current carried him far, but he quickly learned that traveling the Yampa River requires effort. Without paddles to speed him through the flat water, he had to drift along. To ensure the success of our Colorado water plan we must stay engaged — hands on the oars — as we still have much work to do.

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We should ensure that we stay on track with goals that will help shift from the buy-and-dry of agricultural water rights towards more efficient and flexible ways to share water with cities and streams. As the plan is implemented, we should make sure to protect Colorado's farming and ranching heritage, improve agricultural efficiency, upgrade aging infrastructure, and enable compensated sharing agreements.

Where appropriate, we should strive to implement water reuse technology. These are important components of an overall smart water management strategy because they maximize the use of already developed water supplies. And reuse technology is a great sector for Colorado innovation to shine. There are modern and innovative technologies that make reuse and recycling even more efficient and cost-effective than ever before.

Moving forward, we do not need expensive, ecologically devastating transmountain diversions to realize the values and principles in this plan or to meet our water needs. With the conservation goals and smart thinking in this plan, we have plenty of supply to meet our current and future demands for water.

My father is the first to advise of the value of having a plan, a good plan, to navigate Colorado's water. He pioneered our family traditions on the Yampa and his experiences made river trips part of the Nelson heritage. We now have a Colorado water plan that prioritizes conservation, includes research projects to examine river health and restoration, and makes damaging development of West Slope water less likely. Doubtless, like all pioneering efforts, there will be rapids on the journey. However, for the first time in Colorado's history we have a plan that embeds "water values" into our water policies. Our boat is definitely pointed in the right direction. To learn more about Colorado's water plan, visit http://coloradowaterplan.com/

Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado's Craig office. Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado’s Craig office. Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado's Craig office.

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