Imagine a Great ColoradoNews

ELLEN ROBERTS | Resource stewardship, fiscal prudence and independent thinking

Author: Ellen Roberts - July 31, 2018 - Updated: August 10, 2018

Ellen Roberts

COMMENTARY: This is part of our series of contributed essays, “Imagine a Great Colorado.” See below for more.

My great-grandparents homesteaded near Grover, as far in the northeast corner of the state as you can be and still be in Colorado, in the late 1800s. I eventually landed in Durango, in the southwest corner of the state. Border to border and corner to corner, Colorado has a spirit and charm that many of us find irresistible.

But, there’s room for improvement. Colorado stands to lose some of its most precious characteristics if we’re not careful.

Most urgent and practical of concerns, we need to recognize that Colorado’s water resources are finite and at risk. Because our forests are the natural infrastructure that tie directly to water quality and water supply, this should be a concern to all of Colorado, whether urban or rural. With another wildfire summer season ongoing, we have plenty of reasons to move improved forest health up much higher on Colorado’s “To Do” list.

If we can’t get clean water supplied affordably and reliably, this most basic need will send people packing. Delaying our response to dead and dying trees in the watershed headwaters and letting catastrophic wildfires grab headlines, property and even lives, make us all worse than fools.

Another cautionary note is keeping life in Colorado affordable by living within our means. Ten years serving in the Colorado legislature educated me on how easily we can default to an assumption that all the budgetary wants are “needs.” Saying no to constituents or advocacy groups isn’t easy and requires encouragement and self-discipline, But, if not applied, we risk making Colorado a state where only the wealthy can live or play.

Josiah Middaugh rides the Lost Lake Trail as he takes part in the Vail Recreation District’s Wednesday Mountain Bike Race Series, July 11, 2018, in Vail. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP)

There really is no free lunch and difficult choices need to be faced and dealt with. How many Coloradans struggle to pay rent, let alone a mortgage payment? Do we want to reach a point of no return? My great-grandparents’ dreams of a sheep operation were dashed by poor weather and financial conditions, leading to a wagon trail trip back to the Pennsylvania family dairy farm. Not every brave effort is rewarded with success.

Like many young Coloradans, past and present, I worked two jobs to get established. But, how many jobs can a person realistically hold to make ends meet before deciding to move on? Policymakers deciding governmental budgets need to keep these things in mind.

Finally, I’ll point out that Colorado needs to work at maintaining its “purple” political identity. The heavy hand of partisan politics is increasingly creeping into state policymaking, and that’s not serving Colorado well. The diversity of thought and independent nature of historical Colorado thinking is being sacrificed to vapid party-line adherence, and it shows. I am encouraged by the new role unaffiliated voters have during primaries, and perhaps that will have a positive effect on the hyper-partisanship drifting into Colorado from the national level.

From improving our forested lands and better protecting the watersheds they shelter, to using common sense, fiscal prudence and independent thinking, a good Colorado could be even better.

More essays

> DAN NJEGOMIR | Imagine a great Colorado: 7 perspectives on how to lift up the state

> NEIL WESTERGAARD | To move forward, Colorado must move beyond tribal politics

> BARBARA O’BRIEN | Five goals for Colorado’s next governor

> MARK HILLMAN | Hold government accountable — and call off the culture wars

> LUCIA GUZMAN | Bridge the partisan divide to pursue our highest priorities

> TOM NORTON | Build infrastructure for people, goods, information — and water

> PATTY LIMERICK | Forge new bonds between urban and rural Colorado


Ellen Roberts

Ellen Roberts

Ellen Roberts, a Durango attorney specializing in water law and natural resources, served 10 years in Colorado's House of Representatives and Senate. She was Senate president pro tempore and chaired the 2015 Water Resources Review committee and the 2016 Wildfire Matters Interim committee.