I had some important victories in the past few weeks, two of which were the unanimous approval by the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee of HB 1256 regarding a water storage study on the South Platte River and the unanimous favorable vote by the House Transportation Committee of SB 122, which addresses Colorado Department of Transportation transparency and accountability.
It is a proven fact that Colorado is falling further and further behind on the maintenance of our highways. Since the replacement of SB 97-01 with SB 09-228, there has been no money transferred into the Highway Users Tax Fund from the general fund.
Additionally, the gasoline and diesel tax has not been increased since 1992, while the cost of highway construction has increased substantially in the last 24 years. At the same time, I, along with many voters of Colorado, am skeptical of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s performance in the use of our tax dollars.
SB 122 will require a risk-based performance audit of CDOT. It will also require that CDOT close each transportation project within one year of substantial completion and release any extra money budgeted for that project so that other projects can be hurried up. SB 122 additionally requires CDOT to report on its website – within 30 days of when a competitive bid contract is awarded – the identity of the winning bidder, the amount of the winning bid and whether or not the winning bid was the low bid, and if not, why not. CDOT will also be required to report to the Transportation Legislative Review Committee policy changes regarding the statewide transportation improvement plan.
Building and maintaining a functional and sustainable highway system in Colorado is one of our prime responsibilities. It is my hope with the increased transparency and accountability required by SB 122 that CDOT will do a better job and that voters will have more confidence and will see the need to put more money into our highways.
Water is one of the most important natural resources that we have in Colorado. We absolutely cannot afford to waste one drop of this precious commodity. It is common knowledge that water goes out of Colorado in the South Platte River every year that could be stored and used by Colorado.
In fact, it is rumored that 2 million acre feet escaped Colorado on the South Platte last year. At the same time, in excess of 500,000 acre feet of water from the Western Slope is being diverted across the Continental Divide to the Denver area annually. Also, irrigated farm land is being bought by Front Range cities so that the water can be used for growth.
HB 1256 will collect data on exactly how much water left the state in the South Platte over the last 20 years and will analyze storage sites within the South Platte drainage. The bill asks the Colorado Water Conservation Board to evaluate the costs and benefits of not only surface reservoirs, but also the dredging of existing reservoirs and recharging underground aquifers.
More next time.
J. Paul Brown represents House District 59 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray and Hinsdale counties and part of Gunnison County. Reach him at email@example.com