Opinion

Western Slope lawmakers: We’re all in this together when it comes to state water plan

Author: State Sen. Ray Scott and state Rep. Don Coram - November 17, 2015 - Updated: January 8, 2016

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Colorado boasts some of the most spectacular landscapes in the U.S. We are blessed with incredible and contrasting natural beauty — from red-rock canyons to majestic mountains, Front Range foothills and rolling Eastern Plains. We live in Colorado because we love being here. On this we all agree.

Despite Colorado’s diversity of interests and opportunities, we are linked culturally and economically. We are linked most of all by water, a fact made more acute with the finalization of Colorado’s first state-wide water plan initiated by Gov. John Hickenlooper. With a rapidly increasing population, the development and implementation of a comprehensive and equitable water plan is unquestionably one of our highest priorities. The biggest task at hand is to balance the water needs of a highly populated Front Range with Colorado’s agricultural heritage, tourism and economic interests that rely on healthy, flowing rivers.

State Sen. Ray Scott

As state senators and representatives from the Western Slope, we believe three policies must be given priority in the forthcoming Colorado’s Water Plan and this month we (along with Republican state Sens. Ellen Roberts and Randy Baumgardner and Republican state Reps. J. Paul Brown, Bob Rankin, Dan Thurlow, Yeulin Willett) sent a letter outlining these priorities to Gov. Hickenlooper on behalf of our constituents:

Keep Western Slope rivers healthy and flowing to protect the economic, environmental, and social well being of our communities. The Colorado Water Plan cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. New transmountain diversions of Western Slope water to the Front Range will damage our recreation-based economy, agriculture and the environment. The Front Range must demonstrate a commitment to effective conservation measures and exhausting its own available water supplies.

Prioritize water efficiency and conservation in Colorado’s cities and towns, including a municipal water conservation goal. Aggressive conservation and efficiency measures are necessary to stretch Colorado’s finite water supply, minimize agricultural buy-and-dry, and reduce the need for any additional transmountain diversions from the Western Slope. Many West Slope communities are already working to set high conservation standards. Setting municipal water conservation goals will reduce urban dependency on rural water rights, improve stream health, and protect water on the Western Slope.

State Rep. Don Coram

Continue efforts to build consensus on creating voluntary flexible water-sharing agreements between farmers, ranchers and other water interests, while respecting property rights. The Colorado Water Plan discusses alternative transfer methods in some detail, although it mostly calls for further research and data measurement. We must find low cost solutions to voluntary actions that minimize litigation and water court costs, and facilitate the promotion of water-sharing agreements to minimize permanent water transfers from agricultural use.

These three water priorities mirror a consensus of many major Western Slope groups and others across our state. Club 20, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality/Quantity Committee, the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, the Grand Valley water users, and the Western Slope Basin Roundtables have recognized agriculture, recreation and tourism as critical attributes to life on the Western Slope, and named conservation a top priority.

The Colorado Water Plan can be a much-needed blueprint for our water policy in the coming decades. The plan’s release later this month will mark only the beginning of a dialogue among Colorado residents and leaders about how best to implement that plan.

As we proceed with collective decisions to answer the needs of the Western Slope, our shared environment, and the state of Colorado, may all of us who love being here make our guiding principle an ever-present awareness that “we are in this together.”

State Sen. Ray Scott and state Rep. Don Coram were joined by state Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Ellen Roberts and state Reps. J. Paul Brown, Bob Rankin, Dan Thurlow, and Yeulin Willett in signing a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper outlining these priorities for the Colorado Water Plan.

State Sen. Ray Scott and state Rep. Don Coram