The implosion of the Hermosa Creek watershed protection bill is incredibly disappointing to countless community members who have invested five years in crafting a careful community consensus to protect an extraordinary watershed beloved by all. For whatever reason, Rep. Scott Tipton chose politics as usual rather than local consensus, and thus Hermosa legislation appears doomed for the remainder of the year. At the last minute, the House rewrote the Hermosa bill to advocate dam construction in Hermosa rather than watershed protection.
It’s instructive of the legislative process to note how one special interest – in this case, water developers spearheaded locally by the Southwestern Water Conservation District – was able to override community desires. Last second amendments to the Hermosa bill opened wide chasms to accommodate access roads and transmission lines to build a dam on Hermosa Creek. The SWCD is a taxpayer-funded organization run by an unelected nine-person board. Each county in Southwest Colorado appoints one member to the board, thus the board members are accountable only to their appointing county commissioners, not the public. What does that matter for Hermosa? In La Plata County, our representative to the Southwest District board is Bob Wolff. Wolff is accountable only to our three county commissioners – Bobby Lieb, Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff. The La Plata County Commission is strongly on record endorsing the original Hermosa community-driven consensus. As the county’s representative on the Southwest District board, is Wolff effectively advocating this county support for the original Hermosa consensus bill?
If the county’s not receiving service to the Southwest District board reflective of the commission’s policy positions that in turn reflect widely held support by La Plata County residents for a truly protective Hermosa watershed bill, then it is incumbent on our county commissioners to make a change and secure representation that advances rather than undermines their policy objectives. Can we do land-protection legislation in a new way that embraces all perspectives equally, as the original Hermosa consensus bill did? Or are we doomed to special-interest arm-twisting where those with privileged congressional access prevail?