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FILE - Boats move along Lake Powell along the Upper Colorado River Basin, June 9, 2021, in Wahweap, Ariz. In Arizona, water officials are concerned, though not panicking, about getting water in the future from the Colorado River as its levels decline and the federal government talks about the need for states in the Colorado River Basin to reduce use. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

The 17-member task force charged with spending the rest of the year studying the Colorado River water crisis to help state lawmakers respond is starting to take shape, with most of the panel now appointed.

The Colorado River Drought Task Force, which will be made up of representatives from local governments, the agricultural industry, tribes and water management boards, starts meeting next month. 

It was formed through a bill passed this year by the legislature, which initially planned to take broad action on water but instead created the task force in recognition of how complicated — and sensitive — water issues are. The task force will meet up to a dozen times before it sends a report to the General Assembly by Dec. 15 with policy suggestions. 

House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, in an interview Wednesday with The Colorado Sun, said now is the moment to “set ourselves up for future success.” 

“I think the task force really is a step in the right moment to be able to deliver something meaningful,”she said. “The folks that we’re appointing I think are not only up to the task, but itching to get to the work and dig in.”

The appointees

There are no state lawmakers on the panel, though legislative leadership has great influence over who serves on it. 

McCluskie appointed five members. They are:

  • Kathy Chandler-Henry, an Eagle County commissioner, as a representative from local government located within the boundaries of the Colorado River Conservation District that provides municipal water services
  • Mike Camblin, with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, as a representative of a statewide agricultural organization that owns water rights
  • Alexandra Davis, assistant general manager of water supply and demand for Aurora Water, as a representative from a Front Range water provider
  • Daris Jutten, chair of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, as an agricultural producer who owns water rights 
  • Aaron Citron, the associate director of external affairs for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, as a representative from a statewide environmental nonprofit organization

McCluskie, who announced her appointments Thursday, said there were many people interested in and nominations for the positions. After all the appointments have been made, she will select a chair of the task force.

Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, made two appointments. They are:

  • Melissa Youssef, a Durango city councilwoman, to serve as a representative of a local government within the Southwestern Water Conservative District that provides water for municipal purposes
  • Orla Bannan, healthy rivers strategic engagement manager at Western Resource Advocates, to serve as a representative of a statewide environmental nonprofit with expertise in water right as Colorado River Interstate Compact governance

House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, was tasked with appointing a representative of an industrial water user located on the Western Slope. He selected Jackie Brown, water and natural resource policy adviser for Tri-State Generation and Transmission. 

Lynch said he appointed Brown because Tri-State controls a large swath of water rights tied to its coal operations in northwestern Colorado.

The Dolores River was flowing at 3,400 cfs on May 10, 2023. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, appointed Montezuma County Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer to serve as a representative on the task force. Koppenhafer is an agricultural producer from the Southwest Water Conservation District, a veterinarian and is president of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company.

Lundeen said Koppenhafer was selected because of his water knowledge and because he was recommended by the water experts in the Senate Republican caucus, namely Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa. 

Other appointees: 

  • Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District
  • Lee Miller, general counsel of the Southeastern Water Conservation District
  • Steve Wolff, general manager of the Southwestern Water Conservation District
  • Kyle Whitaker, appointed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors as their representative

Also on the task force will be: 

  • Dan Gibbs, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, or his designee
  • Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg, or her designee
  • A representative of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. (The appointee’s name hasn’t been made public.) 
  • A representative of the Southern Ute tribe. (The appointee’s name hasn’t been made public.) 

The state engineer or their designee, who was originally slated to be a voting member of the task force, will now be an adviser for the group after an amendment to Senate Bill 295, which formed the panel. 

All appointments have to be made by June 30. 

What’s the task force’s job?

The task force is charged with providing recommendations for future legislation to try to  address drought in the Colorado River Basin, including demand reduction and conservation projects. 

The Colorado River Basin includes seven states. Some 40 million people rely on it. 

Since no lawmakers will sit on the task force, the panel cannot draft legislation. That will be up to the agriculture and water committees in the House and Senate, to whom the task force is expected to report. The legislature could always ignore the task force’s recommendations or significantly change them. 

The panel will also develop a sub-task force made up of the tribal representatives and Gibbs, as well as two others appointed by the other sub-task force members. They’re asked to study tribal water concerns and provide recommendations to state lawmakers on how the tribes can participate in the changes recommended by the full task force. They will also evaluate possible revenue streams to compensate the tribes for participating. 

The General Assembly’s executive committee, which is made up of leadership from both chambers and caucuses, will also hire a facilitator — either an individual or a group — to help the task force complete its work. 

The panel is required to have its first meeting no later than July 31.


The Colorado Sun —

Desk: 720-432-2229

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her reporting and photography. Elliott graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in editorial journalism and minors in both business and Spanish. She is also an avid rock climber, snowboarder and hiker. Twitter: @ElliottWenzler