Despite rain, water worries Legislature

Summer has been a complete delight. In addition to lots of meetings with constituents and in Denver, I’ve had time with family and friends and finally planted a small flower garden alongside our home that’s been on my to-do list for years.

The wildfire and water interim committees that I am a member of have started meeting; so, despite the supposed part-time nature of Colorado’s citizen Legislature, I’m back working on issues of importance to my district.

Colorado, as a whole, has been given a reprieve from experiencing another catastrophic wildfire season, unlike the states in the northwest corner of the country. Our Legislature’s investment last session in a wildfire air fleet has helped tamp down those fires that have started, and we have had the advantage of plentiful snows last winter in the northern part of the state and healthy monsoon moisture in our area this summer.

That said, our public and private forests remain unhealthy, and we have not resolved how they’ll be managed in this era of shrinking governmental resources. I believe the wildfire committee needs to turn its attention to this challenge now that we have triaged the fighting of fires to protect lives and property.

The water committee has started its deep dive into conservation issues, especially as it relates to the transfer of water used in agricultural production to urban municipalities along the Front Range. This conversation was triggered by a controversial bill I carried last year. I’m determined that we’ll keep at this until we reach best practices that make sense and reflect the precious nature of water in our state.

I appreciate the active engagement of several of my constituents in bringing ideas and zeal to this topic. And as I travel the state with the water committee as we hold hearings over the next two months about what should be in the state water plan, I’ll be sure the topic of water conservation gets brought up and vetted in all areas of the state.

My principal concern with municipalities failing to do everything they can to conserve water is the urban corridor on the Front Range, including, but certainly not limited to Denver, seek to transfer more water from the Western Slope to satisfy their residents’ needs and desires. I don’t need to inform my constituents of the impacts this would have on our way of life, on our viable agricultural production and on our environment.

Also breathing down our necks is the impact of a potential “call” on the Colorado River from downstream states legally entitled to a share of that water for their own uses. If such a call is made, we won’t be getting water shipped back from the Front Range to satisfy the call.

All of this makes for spicy debates and reminds me of Mark Twain’s saying that “whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’.” Without adequate water supplies, life in the West changes dramatically, and, without food independence provided by our farmers and ranchers, our communities become much less sustainable.

I’ll leave you with this: My summertime reading has included an article titled, “Can government give the people what they want?” Like squandering water, I remain very concerned that our collective, short-term vision is leading us straight into “intergenerational inequity” and fiscal instability. More on this another time.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884 or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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