Our Recommended Priorities for Protecting Colorado’s Waterways

In the aftermath of a significant Supreme Court decision, Colorado finds itself navigating uncharted waters—no pun intended—concerning wetland regulations and water conservation. The court’s ruling curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority over wetlands and waterways, prompting swift action from Colorado’s water quality authorities.

These measures, implemented promptly, grant authority to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to regulate discharges into state waters temporarily. The aim is to ensure oversight of numerous streams and wetlands left exposed by the court’s decision until a more sustainable program can be established.

As detailed in our 2024 Policy Platform, here’s what state lawmakers should prioritize to address these challenges effectively:

Creation of Specific Wetlands Legislation

Colorado must develop legislation specifically tailored to its wetlands. Taking cues from states like Ohio and New York, we must enact laws that provide enduring protections for Colorado’s wetlands.

Identification of Permitting and Enforcement Agency

Designating an agency to issue permits and enforce regulations on newly unprotected wetlands is paramount. With federal agencies stripped of this authority by the court’s decision, state agencies must step in to fill this void.

Non-Functional Turf and Water Conservation

Colorado faces a pressing water crisis exacerbated by water-intensive plants, such as decorative grass. Lawmakers should promote water-wise landscaping by prioritizing the replacement of grass with drought-tolerant plants in public spaces. Increasing funding for turf replacement programs and enacting a statewide ban on non-functional turf installation in new construction projects are also crucial steps towards conservation.

Drought-Tolerant Shade Tree Planting Campaign

Investing in statewide efforts to plant drought-tolerant shade trees in public spaces can enhance drought resilience and mitigate urban heat island effects. Mandating low-water use plantings in new construction projects would further bolster water conservation efforts.

Implementing Ten Strategies Recommendations

Colorado should embrace climate resilience strategies outlined in the Ten Strategies for Climate Resilience in the Colorado River Basin Report. Leveraging potential federal funding opportunities identified in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 can provide crucial support for these initiatives.