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Hickenlooper addresses bipartisan solutions to Western water crisis

States need to reach agreement before time runs out
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper met with tribal and local leaders May 7, 2021, during a virtual roundtable discussion about broadband in Southwest Colorado. (Screenshot file)

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper discussed solutions to the Western water crisis this week on “Washington Post Live,” where he stressed the need for swift bipartisan action.

Hickenlooper joined other public officials and water activists with Leigh Ann Caldwell on “This is Climate: Water,” an episode dedicated to World Water Day on March 22. The senator detailed his priorities on creating a bipartisan path forward on drought, water conservation and preserving the Colorado River.

“If we don’t get a seven-state solution, it’s going to go to the Supreme Court quickly ... and that takes time, huge cost and great uncertainty,” Hickenlooper said on leading the effort to convene a Senate caucus on Western water. “... We want to make sure that everyone is at the table thinking about this, and focusing, because we are out of time.”

Hickenlooper wants to get senators, Republicans and Democrats, from all seven basin states on board. It is not an effort to take authority from water professionals in each state, he said; rather the goal is to unify lawmakers and expedite the process.

It involves the seven states most impacted by the drought, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

The best solution, he said, is one that “all seven states” and water professionals can agree to.

Possible routes that Hickenlooper advocated for include domestic water conservation; monitoring water usage on crops; and rotational fallowing, a process that allows farmers to rotate the land they use each year, allowing soil to regenerate for future growing seasons.

In terms of the Colorado River Basin, which six of the seven states rely on for water supply, $3.2 billion has been left unallocated from the Inflation Reduction Act to address the drought, Hickenlooper said in Monday’s talk. Although $800 million has been used for water savings, he encouraged the remaining funds to be used for future farming and land projects.

Hickenlooper also discussed the Silicon Valley Bank collapse and California’s impact on the Colorado River Basin. No matter what area of the river basin you live in, Hickenlooper said, there is something at risk – compromise is necessary to move forward in saving and reallocating water.

“If we work at this and really hear each other clearly, we can find that common ground and find an alignment of self-interest to really reach a solution that satisfies all seven states,” he said.

Sarah Mattalian is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at smattalian@durangoherald.com.

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