Race against Climate Change and Water Stress in Colorado

Water Priorities for 2022 Legislative Session.

Colorado lawmakers kicked off the 2022 legislative session earlier this month with many competing priorities. To support the Colorado we love, water must rise towards the top for lawmakers. Water supports the lives of every Coloradan and the environment. Fortunately, in response to climate change-instigated water stress and impacts, legislators will bring several bills to the floor which will affect water and watersheds during the busy 120-day legislative session. To support Colorado’s birds, habitat and communities here’s what you need to know:

State Leadership on Climate Change and Water:

Audubon applauds both Governor Polis and Speaker Garnett in raising the urgency for unified Colorado action on climate change and water stress.

Speaker Garnett, during the legislature’s opening day address, mentioned the dynamic problems Coloradans are facing. He said that climate change is an urgent, immediate threat to our state, and our communities and we must tackle climate change head-on and later called for investment in our air and water. The Speaker emphasized that we work best when we work together.

In this month’s State of the State address, Governor Polis spoke of water as the lifeblood of our state. He also addressed the grave impacts from historic wildfires, and the state’s commitment to updating Colorado’s Water Plan to make it more climate resilient, and ensure that our cities, farms, and streams can thrive for generations to come. Governor Polis also called for working together across industries, divides, and state boundaries to secure a sustainable water future for all Coloradans.

Audubon will continue working with lawmakers and partners on improving Colorado water resource resiliency for our river systems and communities, to benefit birds and people. Audubon is working specifically on these categories:

Watershed Climate Change Resilience:

Watersheds, headwater streams and downstream rivers are Colorado’s primary water supply infrastructure for birds and people. Healthy watershed protection means effective management of a stream, river, wetland or lake through proactive actions on the landscape that drains to it. A warming and drying climate is intensifying drought, contributing to fires and drying out headwaters, sending after-effects downstream. Climate change watershed resilience is more important than ever to all of Colorado. And several wildfire mitigation and preparedness bills are already in play. Audubon supports science-based watershed management, policy, funding, and nature-based solutions to dampen climate change impacts while improving river flows for the environment, recreation, communities and local economies. Audubon and our partners are working with lawmakers to build understanding and need for at-scale work to improve water security through nature-based solutions.

Water Funding and Capacity Building:

Colorado decision-makers must act assertively to secure generational federal funding. Millions of dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), with $8.3 billion to Western water, could touch down in necessary ways to ensure support for resilient rivers and watersheds. State and federal support leveraged together could boost Colorado’s climate change and water resource resilience planning and action. Audubon and our partners are working with state leaders to build Colorado’s capacity to meet the moment of opportunity and work for our sustainable water future for people and the environment.

Water Quality for All:

Several legislators are building momentum around water quality, specifically around anti-degradation and sources and impacts of long-lasting PFAS chemicals. Birds and people rely on clean water from healthy rivers. High-quality water in our rivers, streams, and wetlands is critical to the long-term health of our ecosystems, wildlife, communities, and economies across Colorado, from urban neighborhoods to headwater streams. Audubon works to align bird habitat protection with more reliable water supplies for all communities, while addressing historic injustices. These include disproportionate health impacts associated with water issues.

Conservation and Land Use:

Pressure on river systems is rising as water supplies are increasingly variable and have hit record lows. Audubon and our partners support legislative action that incentivizes water conservation actions to lessen the pressure on river systems. We anticipate legislation that incentivizes the removal of nonessential turf across the state. Nonessential turf—often found in medians, office parks, and entrances to housing areas—is basically only walked upon by the person mowing it. We support this legislation which could redirect outdoor irrigation water use to the most beneficial areas and reduces water waste.

Audubon is working with lawmakers and partners to prioritize water security for people, birds, and the healthy rivers that we all depend upon. Audubon supports multiple tools to support healthy rivers and watersheds, agriculture, and economies. If you care about American Dipper, Merganser, or Sandhill Cranes, keep in touch as we work to protect and improve our watersheds. We’ll keep you posted as we’ll need your help in fighting for rivers—for the birds—and for all of us.