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Gubernatorial hopefuls, other candidates to talk drought issues at Colo. Water Congress

Author: Marianne Goodland - August 20, 2018 - Updated: September 10, 2018

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Water CongressThe Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. (m-kojot, istockphoto)

The annual summer conference of the Colorado Water Congress will bring together all manner of candidates for some of the state’s top offices later this week to discuss water policy, drought and the future of the state water plan.

The three-day conference, which starts Wednesday and will be held at the Hotel Talisa in Vail, is expected to draw more than 300 water policy experts, as well as local, county and state officials who handle water issues.

The Water Congress is the state’s leading nonprofit that focuses on programs to conserve, develop, administer and protect the state’s water resources.

Doug Kemper, the group’s executive director, told Colorado Politics that drought issues will play a major role in this week’s discussions. Drought has hit the southern half of the state pretty hard, Kemper said.

“You’re looking at record low flows in some areas,” especially in the Gunnison area, he said. “We came into this year universally above average in every river basin, but will exist this water year in a different condition.”

Some of those drought discussions are likely to focus on the status of negotiations with the six other states that draw water from the Colorado River.

“We’re at critical points in those negotiations,” and added to it are the pending changes in the administration with a new governor and attorney general, both of which provide leadership in those negotiations, Kemper said.

The conference will hear from the major candidates for both offices. Kemper said it will be the first time the water community will have a chance to meet the candidates. Some of the questions expected to arise include how the candidates view the state water plan; whether the next governor will have a special advisor on water, as Gov. John Hickenlooper has; and how the candidates view the work of the basin roundtables, which carry much of the workload for the water plan.

There’s also the question of funding for the water plan. Kemper said it’s not yet clear what will be the focus of funding: infrastructure, wastewater treatment or environmental protection. It’s also yet unclear whether the funding source should be grants or loans, he added.

On Wednesday the congress will meet with Republican attorney general candidate George Brauchler, followed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton.

On Thursday Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser will speak to the congress, with Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis scheduled to address the group on Friday.

Congressional candidates are also scheduled to visit — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton will be at the congress on Thursday, and Democratic opponent Diane Mitsch Bush will address the congress Friday.

On Thursday the General Assembly’s interim water resources review committee will hold its August session at the congress. The committee is scheduled to review funding for the state water plan, the Colorado River compact and drought contingency plans for the Colorado.

Thursday’s keynote address, “A New Culture of Certainty at EPA,” will be delivered by Doug Benevento, the EPA Region VIII administrator, and comes on the heels of a federal court order last Thursday that the Trump administration reinstate the Obama administration’s “Waters of the USA” rule.

The summer conference wraps up on Friday.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.