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West’s water woes heard in D.C.

Panel hears of drought’s toll on states
Gardner

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Farmers versus fishermen, state versus state, they all appealed to the federal government Tuesday morning for help in the time of drought for the West during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Last year, the federal government declared La Plata County a primary disaster area because of persistent drought conditions, and this year has been one of the worst years for snowpack in the Durango area.

Snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains feeds the Colorado River basin, which is the largest source of water for seven states.

Members of the committee, including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., listened to witnesses appeal for continued and increased support from the federal government.

California farmer Cannon Michael gave insight into the situation in his state by passionately bemoaning regulations that he says require him to control his water use based on maintaining optimum breeding temperatures for fish populations.

Gardner pushed for states and local governments to maintain autonomy in deciding their water-management plans and praised the state’s accomplishments through various stakeholder agreements.

“Sen. Gardner has been a leader in fighting to increase water storage, and believes that efficient storage needs to be a part of our long-term water planning,” said Alex Siciliano, Gardner’s communications director. “Current drought conditions as well as future water needs could both be helped by better, smarter water storage.”

A report from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources says that while there has been an 18 percent decrease in the state’s water demands since 2000, it’s unclear whether those savings are permanent or what caused them.

Rob Genualdi is the District 7 (Telluride to Pagosa Springs) engineer with Durango’s Water Information Program.

He said that although things could change quickly, especially with the recent rain, Durango’s reservoirs are actually in good shape going into the summer. He said what has been hardest hit is surrounding forests, which the drought has made more susceptible to disease and insect attacks.

“Storage is a nice buffer against drought for human needs, but it doesn’t protect against its impacts on our forests and doesn’t address their need for water,” Genualdi said.

Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

If you go

The Upper Colorado River Commission will meet at 8:30 a.m. June 18 at the Holiday Inn Express in Durango to discuss drought and water issues.

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