Salazar sails through ag hearing

DENVER – Former U.S. Rep. John Salazar passed an easy confirmation hearing to be the state’s new commissioner of agriculture Wednesday, even though uneasy feelings about future water wars colored the discussion.

Salazar, a Democrat, lost the November election for his U.S. House seat to Republican Scott Tipton of Cortez. Gov. John Hickenlooper this month nominated Salazar to lead the Department of Agriculture.

In a hearing of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Salazar called for radical water-conservation measures to make sure growing cities don’t take the water farmers and ranchers need.

He pointed to water recycling technologies in extreme environments like Israel’s Negev Desert and the International Space Station as examples Colorado could follow.

“If (water) is not used ... for lawns or golf courses, there is no limitation on growth in this state,” Salazar said.

But expensive new water-saving technologies will be needed, he said.

“Otherwise, I just don’t know how much more growth this state can sustain without destroying other parts of the state.”

Before he was in Congress, Salazar served in the state Legislature, where he sponsored a bill to make it difficult to transfer water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The bill died in an epic fight that a few Eastern Colorado Republicans remembered Wednesday during the hearing.

Salazar said in Congress, he sought funding for water projects not just in his Western Slope district, but in the Denver suburbs.

“I have worked to bring peace between the East and West,” Salazar said.

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, represents a suburban district that is looking to Western Colorado to supply a reliable source of water.

“I’m happy to hear he has broadened his perspective to a statewide perspective to understand that the resources of the state of Colorado should be used for the benefit of all of Colorado,” Harvey said.

Salazar also pledged to be a promoter of agriculture as a tool for economic growth. Thanks to specialty fruits and vegetables, Colorado’s farm exports rose $170 million, Salazar said.

“We’ve got to continue telling that story,” Salazar said.

The committee voted 7-0 to recommend his confirmation to the full Senate.

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