DENVER — Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter says western states must work together on water issues if the region is to continue to grow.
Ritter told the Western States Water Council, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Western Governor's Association that western states need to work with local communities to ensure water is available before new development projects are approved.
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Ritter said 19 states and 30 million people rely on water from Colorado, and states need to work together or face serious water shortages over the next few decades.
"You have to engage towns, cities and communities to consider how they grow. Water use planning and land use planning have got to go together," Ritter told the conference Tuesday.
The council is an organization of representatives appointed by the governors of 18 Western states. The purposes are to promote cooperation, development and management of water resources.
The theme of the meeting is "Water and Land Use Planning for a Sustainable Future."
Roderick Walston, a water attorney from California, said previous water planning focused on quantity and quality, but California has now integrated those plans with land use planning and development. He said the issue is how to enforce it and how much power gets left to local government.
"This will be the future of the West," he told the conference. "Should the courts make the ultimate call, or is it better to do it at the administrative level?"
He also said lawmakers have to decide whether to allow the government to reject projects that don't comply with water plans.
Sandy Fabritz-Whitney, assistant director of water management for the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said the question is whether to regulate water policies from the top down or leave it to local governments.
She said western states need to track their water use and determine how much they really need.
"We don't know how much water we're using," she said.
Brian Walsh of the Washington state Department of Ecology said his state has a long history of water planning and regulation, but some areas of the state still balk at water planning.
He said 36 watersheds in Washington have approved water plans, but there is still no statewide plan.