Where did Stream Management Plans come from?

In 2015, the State of Colorado adopted Colorado’s Water Plan, a water management roadmap to achieve a thriving economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a healthy environment, and a robust recreation industry. The Water Plan sets forth objectives, goals, and actions to keep Colorado on track to meet future water needs while preserving the things that Coloradans love about our state—all while adapting to changes like a growing population and warming climate.

There are several goals around the environment, watershed health, and recreation. This guide is focused on Colorado’s Water Plan goal that 80 percent of locally prioritized rivers be covered by stream management plans (SMP) by 2030. This objective builds on years of conversation, research, and some action to devise a methodology to develop data-driven water management and physical project recommendations capable of protecting or enhancing environmental conditions and recreational opportunities on streams and rivers.

Stream management plans are one way for communities to assess and address watershed health. A watershed is an area of land in which all water drains to a common stream or river. Watershed health is a measure of ecosystem structure and function for that area—gauging watershed health means assessing aquatic life diversity, stream channel and riparian area conditions, water flows, nutrient cycling, floodplain land uses, and other elements. Healthy watersheds are beneficial not only to ecological processes, but also for local and state economies, community building, and quality of life. Healthy watersheds provide ecosystem services including flow regulation, flood control, water purification, dilution of contaminants, erosion control, and habitat protection.

Many communities have an economic interest in maintaining healthy watersheds and rivers, but few have developed voluntary strategies to comprehensively protect river health and their flows for ecological and recreational uses. At the same time, there is insufficient data in many places to identify needed actions. SMPs provide a process to fill this gap, collect relevant data, and plan to meet the needs of water users while maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems and fisheries.

The Water Plan’s SMP objective is a measurable way for Colorado to work toward its goals around environmental and recreational projects (Chapter 6.6 of the water plan) and watershed health and management (Chapter 7.1 of the water plan).

Environmental and recreational goals described in Colorado’s Water Plan include:

Promoting restoration, recovery, sustainability, and resiliency of endangered, threatened, and imperiled aquatic- and riparian-dependent species and plant communities.

Protecting and enhancing economic values to local and statewide economies that rely on environmental and recreational water uses, such as fishing, boating, waterfowl hunting, wildlife watching, camping, and hiking.

Supporting the development of multipurpose projects and methods that benefit environmental and recreational water needs as well as water needs for communities or agriculture.

Understanding, protecting, maintaining, and improving conditions of streams, lakes, wetlands, and riparian areas to promote self-sustaining fisheries and functional riparian and wetland habitat to promote long-term sustainability and resiliency.

Maintaining watershed health by protecting or restoring watersheds that could affect critical infrastructure and/or environmental and recreational areas.

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