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Water Conservation and Infrastructure Partnership 


Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) proposes the development of a water conservation and infrastructure partnership to pursue and implement projects identified in SWCD strategic priorities, SW Basin Implementation Plans (BIP), and through other community-engaged processes.  SWCD and regional partners plan to request federal, state, and other funding to support the expansion of SWCD’s grant program, which includes developing a Priority Project Pipeline and creating a Community Navigator position. In addition, as part of the development of the federal funding application, SWCD and partners will identify the additional capacity needed to implement such a program.

This program will identify, fund, and coordinate watershed-scale, multi-benefit, infrastructure, and water conservation projects that require complex regional partner collaboration and larger monetary investment to be achieved. Ultimately, this program seeks to leverage current unprecedented amounts of federal funding to increase SWCD’s capacity to assist regional partners/stakeholders in the development and implementation of local projects that will address the goals and needs of multiple stakeholders in the San Juan and Dolores River basins within southwest Colorado (Southwest Basin).


With diminishing water availability in the West due to drought, aridification, and growing populations, there is an ongoing need to conserve water while maintaining the economic viability of our communities.  SWCD has an interest in pursuing the ongoing development of these projects and in advancing water conservation efforts, all to help the region maintain economic viability and quality of life in the face of ongoing drought, increasing water demands, and other challenges.

Currently, there are ample opportunities to conserve water within our existing systems.  The projects in the SW BIP all share this common goal.  Projects that upgrade agricultural water infrastructure, make more efficient use of existing water supplies, improve flow monitoring and water management, restore habitats and ecosystems, and provide thoughtful development of municipal and industrial water services all continue to support ongoing conservation efforts in the Southwest Basin.

When the 2022 Southwest Basin Implementation Plan (SW BIP) was completed, it identified 148 projects in the Southwest Basin with an estimated $790 million construction cost.  This price tag presents a huge challenge as project proponents don’t have the revenue to fund projects on their own.  The current update of the SW BIP coincides with historic federal funding that is available to fund these projects now.  Accessing federal funding can increase the number, scale, and timeline of projects implemented in the Southwest Basin.


SWCD is uniquely positioned to leverage federal funding to implement local water projects in their district for many reasons.

1.     Mission alignment with regional and state funding initiatives.

2.     SWCD is a local entity that can uniquely access and leverage federal funds.

3.     SWCD has the organizational structure in place with its existing grant program.

4.     SWCD has supported numerous projects in the Southwest Basin and helped collect information for many more.

5.     SWCD is a regional leader and has strong working relationships with the project proponents, partners, and stakeholders.

SWCD consists of nine sub-basins within the San Juan and Dolores River basins of Colorado.  SWCD was created by the Colorado General Assembly in 1941 “to protect, conserve, use and develop the water resources of the San Juan and Dolores River Basins for the welfare of all the inhabitants, and safeguard for Colorado all waters to which the state is entitled”.  SWCD currently funds water supply projects, recreational development, environmental improvements, community collaboration, water quality studies, and others that carry out the statutory purpose of the SWCD.  This experience makes SWCD an excellent entity to help connect federal funds to local projects.

SWCD’s strategic priorities are:

1.     In coordination with the appropriate partners, ensure the SWCD remains engaged in obtaining, updating, and analyzing water supply, demand, and quality data necessary to address the water management challenges facing southwest Colorado.

2.     Lead advocacy for southwest Colorado in Colorado River, interstate, and transmountain issues.

3.     Balance meeting multiple water needs amongst a diverse set of priorities, especially when there is potential for conflict or mutual benefit.

4.     Support investment in improvements to existing infrastructure as well as the development of new infrastructure for multiple uses in southwest Colorado.

5.     Strengthen the continued professional and efficient operation of SWCD while building a culture of mutual trust and respect.

6.     Cultivate SWCD’s credibility with decision-makers and the public through targeted outreach efforts.

SWCD’s statutory purpose and strategic priorities align with the goals of the Colorado Water Plan and the SW BIP.  The Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plans led by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) are statewide and regional plans that identify priorities and projects to address water resource challenges in our state.  The Colorado Water Plan provides a framework for helping Colorado meet its water challenges through collaborative action around water development and water conservation.  Each major river basin in Colorado produced its own detailed Water Plan called Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs), within the larger framework of the State Water Plan.  The Southwest Basin covers the same nine sub-basins in the San Juan and Dolores basins as SWCD, with the addition of a portion of Mesa County (lower Dolores River).

The Southwest Basin Implementation goals are to:

  • Balance all needs and reduce conflict.
  • Support the needs of agriculture.
  • Meet municipal and industrial water needs.
  • Meet recreational water needs.
  • Meet environmental water needs.
  • Promote healthy watersheds.
  • Manage risk associated with the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact.

A wide variety of projects and activities have been implemented since the first SW BIP was completed in 2015.  The ongoing and completed projects have achieved results that further the goals of the SW BIP and improve water management in the basin (SW BIP 2022, p.14).  Since 2015 over 97 projects have been completed or implemented.  Of these completed projects, 18 met agricultural needs, seven met municipal/industrial needs, four met environmental, and four were innovative and multi-benefit projects.  These funded projects received financial support through the Water Supply Reserve Funds (WSRF) program through the CWCB, the Southwest Basin Roundtable (SW BIP 2022, p.14-20) and the SWCD Grant Program.  There are many more future projects to implement that were cataloged in the 2022 SW BIP update, for which SWCD helped compile project details.  In addition, there are many other projects that did not make it on the BIP list for a variety of reasons including a lack of awareness of the BIP process or simply new developments since the list was completed.

SWCD’s grant program helps to fund projects throughout the Southwest Basin.  In their 2024 budget, SWCD has appropriated $250,000 in total grant funding for the year: $125,000 for water supply projects, $50,000 for studies and processes, $25,000 for education, and $50,000 for emergencies.  Other projects funded include ditch rehabilitation, water storage development, water quality studies, collaborative events, targeted educational outreach, and habitat restoration.

There are currently historic levels of federal funding for water projects from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).  The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) has been allocated $4 billion for drought mitigation across the Country from the IRA.  Regionally, Reclamation announced in the fall of 2022 that “at least $500 million would be available for investment in the Upper Colorado River Basin States for long-term system efficiency improvements that will result in additional water conservation for the entire system”.  They are focusing these funds on system conservation and long-term, durable projects that incorporate efficiency improvements, demonstration of innovation, and ecosystem restoration projects with drought benefits.  SWCD and regional partner organizations strive to take advantage of this available funding.

There are many experienced and invested regional partners that can help SWCD leverage this federal funding to develop the program. These include:

  • Southwest Basin Roundtable (SWBRT).  One of the nine basin roundtables that were formed in 2005 in Colorado “to facilitate continued discussions within and between basins on water management issues, and to encourage locally driven collaborative solutions to water supply challenges.  The SWBRT led the development of the SW BIP and provides funding for local projects and supports local applications to state funding sources.
  • Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA).  CAWA is comprised of agricultural leaders from across Colorado committed to the preservation of agriculture through the wise use of Colorado’s water resources.
  • Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). The TRCP is a policy-oriented nonprofit with the mission to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, is working to help ensure that federal funding is accessible to on-the-ground partners across the West.  They have recently conducted research on the challenges of accessing and utilizing federal funding for cross-boundary watershed-scale projects (2022 Universal Barriers Report).
  • Colorado Farm Bureau
  • The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC is working to position local place-based community collaboratives and Tribes to apply for and utilize federal funding for projects.  They are working in the San Juan and Dolores Basins.
  • Trout Unlimited. TU is actively working to support local communities in designing and implementing multi-benefit projects. 
  • Mancos Conservation District (MCD).  The MCD has successfully coordinated with local partners to grow their capacity to implement projects and have developed an integrated water management plan.  The District Manager, Gretchen Rank, piloted a Community Navigator position with the River Network funded by a CWCB Water Plan grant.
  • Strategic by Nature (SBN). SBN is an independent consultant that has worked on many projects with organizations and communities to advance multi-benefit projects through planning, organizational development, grant writing, facilitation, and is local to the region.

The proposal project team consists of SWCD, TRCP, and SBN. The project team exists to support SWCD to implement this proposal by utilizing their extensive community relationships and experience with similar initiatives past and current.

Program Goals and Objectives 

The goal of this program is to increase the Southwest Basin's capacity to develop projects and leverage federal funding to achieve SWCD strategic priorities, SW BIP goals, and related water conservation needs. The measurable objective is to grow the capacity within SWCD and local partners to operate a water conservation program with annual disbursements of up to $7 million and $35 million from 2024 to 2028.


Specific tasks are to:


  • Apply for a local capacity grant from CWCB to help support a Community Navigator position in SW Colorado to support efforts to implement our water conservation program. The SWCD Board has included required matching funds in its 2024 budget.
  • (SWCD was notified in January 2024 that our CWCB grant had been approved.)
  •  Position SWCD and other regional partners to apply for a “block grant” or similar programmatic agreement to distribute federal funding to community partners.
  • Identify readiness and priority of projects from the SW BIP and other stakeholders to create a “pipeline of projects” to utilize funds most effectively.
  • Identify and support watershed-scale, multi-benefit and water conservation projects that require complex regional partner collaboration and larger monetary investment to be achieved.  This will require close coordination with water conservancy districts, irrigation districts, conservation districts and others.
  • Coordinate with existing regional project navigators (e.g., Mancos, Upper San Juan) to ensure collaboration and leveraging of resources when possible.

The program will make improvements in the SWCD’s ability to “protect, conserve, use and develop the water resources of the San Juan and Dolores River Basins for the welfare of all the inhabitants”, per SWCD’s statutory purpose.  This means, in part, implementing as many quality SW BIP projects as possible, as quickly as possible.  The SW BIP identifies projects that support the needs of many diverse stakeholders, including agricultural, environmental, recreational, municipal, and industrial, with the goal of doing so in a balanced way that minimizes conflict.  Of the projects cataloged in the 2022 SW BIP, 48 projects were identified as ready to launch as soon as funding is available while another 34 projects are almost ready to launch but need additional development prior to implementation. The SW BIP is not inclusive of all projects that could be eligible for the program. Thus, SWCD will help identify and fund additional multipurpose projects that address the goals and needs of multiple stakeholders in the SWCD.

Doing so will also fulfill the second part of SWCD’s statutory purpose, which is to “safeguard for Colorado all waters of the basin to which the state is entitled.”  By investing in these SW BIP projects, this shows commitment, future planning, and demonstrated cooperation between all water users to protect, conserve, and wisely use this resource.  This could help protect Colorado’s water interests from out-of-state claims, water rights calls, or federal mandates, because there is hard evidence of programmatic, collaborative work to improve water conservation and management.

In addition to expanding the funds available for projects, the expanded grant program can address these other barriers to project implementation:

  • The lack of funding for staff capacity on the part of project proponents. Specifically, there is often limited capacity for project and organizational capacity specific to administration and planning during the development and funding coordination phases of a project (River Network, 2023, Scaling Up Capacity for Multi-Benefit Projects in Colorado). Incorporating resources for these activities (e.g., funding and/or technical support) into grants, as allowable by the federal funding sources, can dramatically increase a project’s chances for success.
  • Need for coordination among stakeholders to bundle projects, collaborate, and leverage resources to create program proposals that are large enough in scope to be competitive for federal funding programs (TRCP, 2022 Challenges in Accessing and Utilizing Federal Funding to Support Cross-Boundary Watershed Scale Restoration). Implementing a community navigator position to assist with this type of collaboration could prove beneficial in terms of garnering more funding and realizing efficiencies and learning between projects. 
Priority Project Pipeline 

To apply these funds strategically and with maximum benefit, a Priority Project Pipeline will be developed to identify the priority and readiness of projects to implement.  This will be done by working with local partners and following the SW BIP goals and strategies/actions to guide prioritization.  This task is essential to be able to access federal funds.

Throughout this process, multi-benefit, infrastructure, watershed-scale, and water conservation projects will be identified.  These are projects that can support the SW BIP goals on a watershed-scale across multiple sub-basins and bring together collaboration between multiple local partners and stakeholders.  With an expanded grant program, the basin will have the funding and capacity to implement larger watershed-scale, multi-benefit, and water conservation projects in the near term.

The first task will be to identify which projects would be ready for funding in the next 1-3 years and estimate the amount of funding that SWCD could reasonably request from federal sources to support those projects.  This will be used in the federal funding application to develop this expanded grant program.

Community Navigator 

To achieve the goals of supporting watershed-scale, multi-benefit, and water conservation projects, a dedicated position called a “Community Navigator” is recommended to coordinate and facilitate collaboration between project partners to leverage larger federal investment.

Community navigation can connect local project proponents to “bundle” or elevate regional-scale projects that are more likely to garner federal funding support.  Shared goals, strong relationships, and connected partners are essential to successfully accessing grant funding.  In addition, this role will help community organizations navigate funding opportunities, align projects with available federal funding resources, support the development of proposals for federal funding, coordinate with federal agencies (e.g., USFS, BLM) on funding opportunities, understand what’s needed to prepare to apply for funding, and coordinate stakeholders during project implementation.

To design this role to provide the best service to the Southwest Basin, background research will be done to identify gaps in coordination that currently exist within the Southwest Basin (e.g., Pine River, Florida River, etc.).  It will also be important to understand how this position can complement other community navigation that is currently underway in the Southwest Basin (e.g., through TNC with Tribal partners and MCD).  This position will ideally be designed for longevity, with consistent funding sources identified to support it in the future. TRCP will provide ongoing support to SWCD in identifying and pursuing long-term capacity resources.  Other communities that have created similar positions will be helpful resources for this information. TRCP will also work with the navigator to troubleshoot any challenges in navigating/accessing federal resources and help leverage NGO support for SWCD proposals. The community navigator position is in alignment with the Colorado Water Plan grant funding criteria which could potentially be a funding source for the position.

Capacity to Support the Program 

Expanding SWCD’s existing grant program will require additional capacity to facilitate basin and region-wide coordination between community partners and address geographic inequities, as well as provide increased capacity to administer and manage a greater number of contracts.  SWCD, with the help of regional partners, needs to determine the specifics of the additional services to successfully expand this grant program.

Additional administrative, management, technical resources and community coordination support will be needed to develop this Program. For example, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) found great success in hiring an agricultural engineer to provide technical assistance up-front to support project design for their grantees, prior to application. This helps the UGRWCD ensure their grant program criteria for multi-benefit projects are met and helps the provide the project proponent with a needed service that they would otherwise have to raise funds for, potentially delaying the project.  

While multiple additional staff could be required to fill the needed capacity, there are also opportunities for collaboration with partners to help fulfill capacity needs (e.g., cost-share or partnerships with NGOs, State, and Federal Agencies).


  • Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District 
  • Board Chair San Juan Water Conservancy District
  • Bonita Peak CAG, Animas Valley Ditch and Water Co
  • Department of Water Resources
  • City of Cortez
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Dolores Water Conservancy Board 
  • Fort Lewis College
  • Harris Water Engineers 
  • La Plata Archuleta Water District 
  • Lake Durango Water Authority 
  • Mancos Conservation District
  • Mountain Studies Institute
  • Pagosa Area Water Sanitation District
  • Pagosa Springs 
  • Representative Boebert's Office
  • RiversEdge West 
  • San Juan Citizens Alliance 
  • San Miguel Watershed Coalition 
  • San Miguel Watershed Conservation District
  • Senator Bennet's Office
  • Senator Hickenlooper's Office
  • Southern Ute Indian Tribe
  • Strategic By Nature 
  • The Nature Conservancy 
  • Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Program 
  • Trout Unlimited 
  • Upper San Juan WEP
  • Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
  • Western Landowners Alliance
Program Scope and Next Steps 

In the following sections, a description of the program scope, timing, and who it serves is provided along with next steps needed to pursue this program.

What is it?

A proposal to request federal funding to support the expansion of SWCD’s grant program, which includes developing a Priority Project Pipeline and creating a Community Navigator position.  In addition, as part of the development of the federal funding application, SWCD and partners will identify the additional capacity needed to include in the request for funding.

Where will it take place?

The program will have the same jurisdiction as SWCD and will operate with a focus on “water conservation”.  It is important to have local staff support because they are familiar with the local landscape, projects, and have existing relationships with local and regional partners.  

Who is the target audience?

This program will be available to any qualified entity (per SWCD's current grant program eligibility requirements) with a project that needs financial support.  These include public entities, non-profit corporations, not-for-profit corporations, carrier ditch companies, mutual ditch or reservoir companies, unincorporated ditch or reservoir companies, or cooperative associations within the boundaries of the District organizations are all eligible.  The program will target multi-benefit projects that have multiple project proponents and stakeholders.  To reach this target audience, outreach and relationship building between community partners will be critical.  SWCD can rely on regional partners, SWBRT, CAWA, TRCP, SBN, TNC, and others, to help coordinate these outreach and communication activities.

Who will fund it?

Potential funding sources include U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) Upper Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program (Bucket 2), USBR WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program, Colorado Water Conservation Board Local Capacity Grant Program.

Who will staff it?

Additional staff will be needed to help administer and manage this program.  The SWCD Board has already discussed the need for additional staff and will consider the need when staff resources are better defined.  SWCD will lean on partner organizations to help fill the capacity needs required for the program's success.  The number of staff required to be effective for the program is to be determined and will be determined during the development of the federal funding application.

What is the timing?

The plan is for SWCD and partners to complete a federal grant proposal in the summer of 2024. The approval and contracting process may take 6-9 months.  After this point, if awarded, the program can be implemented with the goal of the first expanded funding round available in the fall of 2024.

Program Timeline 
July 2023SWCD BoardProgram Idea Discussed
Fall 2023 SWCD, SBN, and TRCP (Working Group)Program Framework Drafted
Fall 2023Working GroupProject Pipeline Started
Oct. 2023SWCD BoardGave Support of Program Framework
Dec. 2023Working GroupSubmitted CWCB Local Capacity Grant 
Jan. 2024PartnersFirst Partner Meeting - 26 entities represented 
Jan. 2024CWCBApplied for BOR Water Planning Grant
Feb. 2024SWCD BoardGave Support of Program Direction
May 2024PartnersSecond Partner Meeting - 30 entities represented 
May 2024Working GroupApplied for BOR WaterSmart Planning Grant 


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