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Colorado water, wildfires and recalls

With Labor Day behind us, I begin preparing for legislative session 2014. I sit on two legislative interim committees, one on water and one on wildfires. These committees start meeting frequently in Denver for the next two months. We’ll hear presentations on various topics impacting Colorado’s water supply and wildfire problems and then we’ll consider whether to propose specific bills to the full legislature in January.

As part of the water committee, I attended the annual Colorado Water Congress conference in August. There, the governor and members of his administration promoted the development of a Colorado “water plan”. The governor mentioned that in 5 to 10 years, he’d like to see a national water plan. A number of western states have water plans, but they vary in content and significance to overall water management. Some seem to be more ceremonial than action-oriented.

Colorado historical water law and regulations are extensive already and based on the concept that water is a property right. For many who work the land, their water rights are the most valuable property they own.

I understand the desire to plan for Colorado’s water future. I also understand the merit of looking at the impacts of mostly Front Range “buy and dry” scenarios, where those in agriculture are offered large sums for the transfer of their water rights to growing cities which leaves the formally productive ag land high and dry, literally. Still, it’s unclear what the content of the governor’s desired water plan would be and what it means to those of us on the Western Slope. I hope and expect that the fall’s water meetings will help provide that detail and I’ll want to hear from those in my senate district as to their thoughts on this as well.

The legislative wildfire meetings will pick up on the work we did through the wildfire commission that I chaired last year. As a member of this new interim committee, (it was created by a bill that I sponsored last session), we are recognizing the long term and very significant challenges Colorado faces with our forest health. We’ll need to address the hazards of catastrophic wildfires that are burning congested urban areas like Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, as well as the rural, remote regions of our state. Sound forest management must guide our policies.

I hope the wildfire committee will discuss the obvious, which is how do we better mitigate our wildfire risks, but most central to be considered is the health of our forests. There’s an absolute intersection of Colorado’s forest health and water quality and supply, so besides the public safety issues at stake, we must address the unhealthy current condition of our forests before they burn to ashes.

Recall elections affecting two of my senate colleagues will be decided mid-September. I’ve been asked what I think of recalls, especially those stemming from votes rather than politician malfeasance. My view is, recalls are the citizens’ right and it’s my task to prove my worth to those whom I represent, not just at regular elections, but every day that I’m in office. If I’m serious when I urge citizen engagement in the democratic process, as I regularly do, there’s no room to add, “but, only if you agree with me.”

This story was posted on September 5, 2013.