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Roberts continues to work on water legislation

In addition to the usual floor and committee schedule, I spent much of last week in meetings discussing two of the water policy bills that I’m sponsoring this session.

The bill involving irrigated lawn limits for future subdivisions when water used is transferred from agricultural production continues to stir conversations and emotions. Despite the bill passing out of the Senate Ag committee the week before and many constituents indicating to me that they view this as a commonsense measure, it’s doubtful that I have the needed votes from the full Senate to pass the bill to the House.

As predicted, some of the largest municipalities along the Front Range have been the most ferocious opponents of the bill. The municipalities’ objections focus mostly on local control and that they are already doing water conservation. While I’m typically a staunch supporter of local control, in the matter of water supply, the reaction to this bill demonstrates to me that, generally speaking, the municipalities aren’t looking out for the state as a whole, but, instead, for their own customer base.

The view of these municipalities is understandable as that fits their mission statement. However, given the statewide drought, the anticipated dramatic growth of the state’s population in upcoming decades and our obligations to deliver water to downstream states, we are in a pickle already, let alone if the drought continues unabated. As a state, instead of storing water when it’s available, we’ve focused on the easier way to transfer water from agriculture and neglecting to take more serious steps on water conservation that fit our semi-arid climate.

If you have an interest in seeing the population growth projections that the Colorado state demographer recently presented, go online and take a look. You can find the presentation, titled “Colorado Economic and Demographic Overview,” at the website for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the information is organized in many ways, including by water basin. The information is startling, even if we all know that Colorado’s a great place to live. Where the water supply will come from to maintain all of the new population is the question looming in our near future.

As to my water conservation and lawns bill, given the present opposition, I’ll likely amend the bill to ask the legislative water committee to review what’s being done statewide on water conservation related to outdoor irrigation, since it’s the largest consumptive use of residential water. We need a best practices standard to measure the efforts being taken against what is possible. This will be useful in future discussions and possible legislative efforts.

My other water bill that took a lot of negotiating time is the one that insists that the Colorado legislature and the general public have a significant role in the development of the Colorado state water plan. The governor’s executive order last May neglected to include the legislature in any visible way and we seek to fix that omission.

The local basin roundtables have an important role to play in the development of a water plan. But, if legislation is needed, members of the General Assembly will have to carry that legislation. Involving the broader public and their legislators sooner, rather than later, only makes sense, at least to the dedicated bipartisan team sponsoring the bill with me.

This story was posted on February 20, 2014.