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Colorado Water Conservation Board celebrates 75 years

The state of Colorado and its history is truly written in water.

1937 was a watershed year for Colorado’s water history. Colorado’s General Assembly approved the act creating the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) in 1937. Governor Teller Ammons and the General Assembly recognized the need for a state agency to protect Colorado’s interests in the interstate streams that originated in the state by negotiating interstate compacts if possible, by defending against litigation if not. There was clearly the need to be vigilant regarding the actions of downstream states for the existing compacts. The state’s compact entitlements needed to be addressed through conservation and maximum utilization.

The General Assembly also recognized that private irrigation ventures were not capable in size and scope of the Federal Reclamation Programs. The state needed an agency to provide political horsepower to get a share of federal dollars appropriated by the U.S. Congress for water projects in the arid west.

The mission of the Colorado Water Conservation in 1937 is clear, as stated in the authorizing legislation House Bill 6 1937 Section 1: “for the purpose of aiding in the protection and development of the waters of the state for the benefit of the present and future inhabitants of the state, there is hereby created a Colorado Water Conservation Board with powers and duties herein set out. Said board is hereby declared to be an agency of the state and the functions it is to perform as here in set out are hereby declared to be governmental functions for the welfare and benefit of the state and its inhabitants.“

The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s mission today is the same as when written in 1937; 75 years later the CWCB mission statement is: Conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water for present and future generations.

The current board is made up of nine geographic appointees selected by the governor along with the Department of Natural Resources executive director. The five non voting members are the Commissioner of Agriculture, State Engineer, Attorney General, Director of Parks and Wildlife and CWCB executive director.

This 15 member board governs the CWCB responsibilities that range from protecting Colorado’s streams and lakes to water conservation, flood mitigation, water shed protection, stream restoration, drought planning, water supply planning and water project financing. The CWCB is ever vigilant regarding the state’s compact apportionments and issues dealing with downstream states and federal agencies.

The CWCB is self funded and does not receive money from the general fund. The majority of funding appropriation for the CWBC comes from the CWCB construction fund. This fund is the primary funding source for the state’s water user community.

Eligible projects for financing include: new construction or rehabilitation of existing raw water storage and delivery facilities such as reservoirs, ditches and canals, pipelines, river diversion structures and water right purchases. The construction fund provides the financing for Colorado’s agriculture water users at a reduced interest rate. The principal and interest returned to the construction fund makes funds available for future loans and provides grants for many other water related needs.

The CWCB is actively involved with Interstate and federal water matters including compact compliance with downstream states, endangered species and fish recovery issues. The Stream and Lake Protection Program administers the In Stream Flow Program. Approved by the General Assembly in 1973, the CWCB has appropriated in stream flow water rights on more than 1500 stream segments covering more than 8500 miles of streams, and 477 natural lakes. The In Stream Flow Program is Colorado’s recognition that water is scarce and with many competing demands placed on it by our ever increasing population, a water right was needed to correlate the activities of mankind with the preservation of the natural environment to a reasonable degree.

The Water Supply Planning Program was created in 2005 by HB 1177 to form the Interbasin Compact Committee. The CWCB, through the Water Supply Planning Section, ensures the proper coordination of policies and resources for each of the Basin Roundtables to help Colorado meet the growing population and demand on the state’s limited water supplies. Basin Roundtables were created in each division plus the metro area to identify current water supplies and water demands, identify future projects and processes to meet the state’s water demand in the years 2030 and 2050.

This roundtable process has been successful in raising the importance of Colorado’s water resources. Roundtable discussions have a connected need for multipurpose projects that meet consumptive and nonconsumptive needs for the future. Good faith discussions within roundtable members have fostered a better understanding of the state’s water future. The Basin Roundtables were fashioned similar to the compact negotiations of the past. Roundtable grants have been used in the Valley to help fund good water projects such as reservoir rehabilitation studies, river restoration, conservation efforts and diversion upgrades.

The CWCB provides many technical resources such as the funding and development of the state’s decision support system; the Rio Grande decision support system is now being used in the creation of the ground water management districts in the San Luis Valley. The Colorado Water Availability Study is another CWCB project to provide guidance and data regarding Colorado River basin development. River restoration, flood mapping, drought planning round out the many programs of the CWCB.

The CWCB has continued during the last 75 years to fulfill its mission to protect and develop the waters of the State of Colorado for its present and future inhabitants. The people involved with the CWCB have changed through the years since 1937, but the mission remains the same. Starting with Executive Director Clifford Stone in 1937 up to current Executive Director Jennifer Gimbel, the purpose and mission of the CWCB is to protect and develop Colorado’s water for its citizens.

For more information regarding the CWCB, visit their website: cwcb.state.co.us.

Travis Smith is currently the Rio Grande Basin Director on the CWCB. He has been the superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District since 1992, which owns the Rio Grande Reservoir and Farmers Union Canal. Travis also serves on the IBCC. He and wife Maureen and family reside on a small ranch south of Del Norte on San Francisco Creek.

To learn more about Water 2012 in the Rio Grande Basin, please visit the website at www.rgwcei.org or contact the project coordinator Leah Opitz at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Anti-discrimination Policy: The Rio Grande Watershed Conservation Education Program prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or a part of an individual's income is derived from any public assistance program.

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