The annual Colorado Water Congress meeting this week will bring together all manner of candidates for some of the state’s top offices to discuss water policy, drought and the future of the state water plan.

The three-day conference, which starts Wednesday at the Hotel Talisa in Vail, is expected to draw more than 300 water policy experts as well as local, county and state officials who handle water issues.

The Water Congress is the state’s leading nonprofit focused on programs to conserve, develop, administer and protect the state’s water resources.

Drought issues will be a key discussion topic this week, said Doug Kemper, the group's executive director. Drought has hit the southern half of the state pretty hard, Kemper said.

“You’re looking at record low flows in some areas,” especially around Gunnison, he said. “We came into this year universally above average in every river basin, but will exit this water year in a different condition.”

Negotiations with the six other states that draw water from the Colorado River are at a critical point, Kemper said, even as a new governor and attorney general are coming to Colorado.

The conference will hear from the major candidates for both offices, marking the first time that many in the water community will meet them. They'll likely be asked how they view the state water plan, whether the next governor will have a special water adviser, as Gov. John Hickenlooper has, and how they view the work of the basin roundtables, which carry much of the workload for the water plan.

Funding for the plan also is in question. Kemper said it's still unclear whether funding will come from grants or loans and whether it will be spent on infrastructure, wastewater treatment or environmental protection. 

The congress will meet Wednesday with Republican attorney general candidate George Brauchler, followed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton.

Thursday, Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser will speak to the congress.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is to address the group Friday.

Congressional candidates also will visit: Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton will be at the congress Thursday, and Democratic opponent Diane Mitsch Bush will address the congress Friday.

Thursday, the Legislature's interim water resources review committee will hold its August session at the congress. The committee is to review funding for the state water plan, the Colorado River compact and drought contingency plans for the Colorado River.

Thursday’s keynote address, “A New Culture of Certainty at EPA,” will be delivered by Doug Benevento, the EPA Region VIII administrator, and comes on the heels of a federal court order Thursday that the Trump administration reinstate the Obama administration’s “Waters of the USA” rule.

The summer conference wraps up Friday.

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