Colorado taxpayers have spent at least $6 million on the state’s water plan, an eight-month-old document that has led to little, if any, real water policy action.
“That’s more than I expected,” said Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, a member of a legislative water committee that took public comment on the state water plan a year ago.
According to information obtained by The Colorado Independent, the price tag for the state’s first water plan is at least $5,964,227.
That amount doesn’t include hundreds, if not thousands of work-hours state employees at the Colorado Water Conservation Board spent combing through and responding to more than 30,000 public comments about early draft of the plan, which was finalized in November.
Nor does it include travel costs for CWCB employees. The board’s director, James Eklund, made more than 100 presentations on the water plan over the course of two years.
It also doesn’t include the travel or per diem costs for the 10-member legislative committee that visited nine communities throughout Colorado last year to gather public input on the plan.
According to Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, “It is difficult to tease out [travel] costs related to plan due to the typically statewide and water-related nature of the CWCB’s work” and the interim water committee since in most cases the water plan would have been discussed as part of other discussions and conversations around water-related matters.
Some $287,263 in tax dollars paid for project management fees, layout, design, photography, printing and video production, as well as a rental fees for meeting spaces and an event at the Colorado History Center for the plan’s official roll-out last November.
According to the CWCB, $5,659,364 was spent by the state’s nine basin roundtables
to develop the “implementation plans” that are the basis of the state water plan. These plans detail ways each region of the state would help to solve a potential one million acre-foot water storage projected by 2050.
An acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover Mile High Stadium from end zone to the other with a foot of water.
The basin roundtables are groups of water providers, as well as representatives of agricultural, environmental, recreational and other water users. The basins refer to eight major waterways in the state, plus a separate roundtable convened for the Denver metropolitan area.
Eight implementation plans were developed. The Denver and the South Platte roundtables collaborated on their plan, for a total cost of $2.2 million. But just how those dollars were spent is still unknown.
The other six roundtables collectively spent about $3.4 million to develop their plans.
Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat on the Joint Budget Committee, was taken back when informed about the costs, especially for the amounts tied to the basin roundtables.
“Where did they get the money?” he asked.
Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered Colorado’s first statewide water plan to ward against an impending water shortfall. By 2050, Colorado needs as much new water as it takes to serve about 2 million people.
Critics say the plan is less of a plan than a water study — a detailed account of the struggles faced by water users throughout the state, painstakingly compiled by an administration more interested in making everyone feel heard than in making tough decisions. They say the plan lacks priorities and actionable specifics and that it fails to address the most practical question – how to pay for solutions. They’re also disappointed that it sets no clear expectations for how much, statewide, all of Colorado’s water users should be conserving.
This is a developing story that will be updated when more details become available.
Photo credit: Robert Nunnally, Creative Commons, Flickr