Get Big Pivots

Becky Mitchell has first-ever assignment to represent Colorado full time in body of upper-basin states


In an indication of what is at stake, Colorado has made Becky Mitchell the state’s first full-time commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

In prior years, the position had been a part-time position. Mitchell has held the position for the last four years and has directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board for six years.

“The next few years are going to be incredibly intense as we shift the way that the seven basin states cooperate and operate Lakes Powell and Mead,” said Mitchell. “This expanded role will allow me to fully focus on Colorado’s needs at such a critical time and actually work toward long-term sustainable solutions to managing the Colorado River.”

“Climate change coupled with Lower Basin overuse have changed the dynamic on the Colorado River, and we have no choice but to do things differently than we have before,” she said in a statement issued by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Colorado legislators in their 2023-24 budget appropriated funding for an upgraded position supported by an interdisciplinary team within the Department of Natural Resources and support from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

The Upper Colorado River Commission, or UCRC, was established by the 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. It is the body through which Colorado and three other Upper Basin states coordinate on Colorado River matters.

Mitchell has carved a reputation as an individual who speaks her mind vigorously. That vigor was on clear display at a conference sponsored by her agency on June 1 in Denver. “When we talk about security and certainty, the way that water is being used in the lower basin is damaging all of our security and certainty, not just their own,” she said.

See: “Trustafarians on the Colorado River.”

A week later, at the Getches-Wilkinson Center conference about the Colorado River in Boulder, Mitchell was somewhat more restrained in her criticism of the lower-basin states, whose representatives were at the same table. But she verged on emotional in describing the bum deal that she believes that some of the 30 tribes in the Colorado River Basin have received in struggling to get their water rights recognized. She spoke for the need for a pivotal shove. “I want everyone to move as quickly as I want to move, and sometimes that’s difficult,” she said.

She mentioned the tribes again in the prepared statement: “This role will also allow me the time to get out on the ground more—to hear from folks from all areas across the state, to listen to the needs of all water partners,” she said. “This includes tribal communities and leaders, as it’s critical to include these voices in the Colorado River conversation.”

“The Colorado River provides water for 40 million people and 30 Tribes spread over 7 states and 2 countries, so there’s a lot at stake,” Mitchell said. “We have the tools to solve this, we just need the collective resolve and determination to implement them in a thoughtful, collaborative way.”
Mitchell rose up through the ranks at the the CWCB, where she spent 14 years. She is generally credited with overseeing both the first draft of the Colorado Water Plan and its revision completed earlier this year.

Lauren Ris, who has been deputy director of CWCB since 2017, has been appointed acting director of the agency. The CWCB is now accepting applications for a permanent director through June 28 on its online portal.

The CWCB represents each major water basin in the state and other state agencies in a joint effort to use water wisely and protect Colorado’s water for future generations. The CWCB was created in 1937 and is governed by a 15-member board.

The agency’s responsibilities include protecting Colorado’s streams and lakes, flood mitigation, watershed protection, stream restoration, drought planning, water supply planning, and water project financing. The CWCB also works to protect the state’s water apportionments in collaboration with other western states and federal agencies.

Allen Best
Follow Me

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This