Water, wildfire issues continue to dominate meetings

Traveling around my district for meetings and events is always a scenic journey and the fall colors have been spectacular. Seeing more of the mountaintops with snow is also beautiful.

That snow making an appearance at higher elevations gives me hope that winter in the southern half of Colorado will bring more moisture than we had last year. Rains in the late summer and early fall have helped, but they also bring the rapid growth of the forest understory that dries out, becoming a wildfire’s kindling.

Water and wildfire issues continued to dominate my work over the last month as the interim committees on these topics wrapped up our Denver meetings. New bill ideas came out of those committees and I’ll be carrying a few of those as the Senate sponsor.

The water resources interim committee also completed its task of holding public hearings in each of the state’s water basins on the idea and contents of a state water plan. We held these hearings in Gunnison, Glenwood Springs, Durango, Alamosa, Pueblo, Steamboat Springs, Walden, Fort Collins and Denver.

While the conversations were spirited and strong concerns raised on different points, we legislators were welcomed in each area by the basin roundtables and general public. Much appreciation was expressed for our outreach to hear the viewpoints.

The many miles on the road in attending all of the water hearings was valuable time spent for me and reinforced how different the water basins are across our state. Accessing water supplies, whether from the ground’s surface or from underground aquifers, is a challenge nearly everywhere, but the dynamics are different in each region. For example, some aquifers are being depleted at an alarming rate while, in the upper northeast corner of the state, basements and farmers’ fields are being flooded by groundwater.

That Colorado can do more on water conservation on the individual and municipal levels was raised by the public at each hearing. Some spoke to this having moved here from other dry, western states and suggestions for improvements were abundant. During the roundtable discussions and in the public comment period of each hearing, attendees mentioned that sufficient water availability in their homes, but also in the environment, directly impacts the quality of life values they hold dear as Coloradans.

Not surprisingly, there’s much concern from Western Slope residents that their communities will be dewatered for the benefit of Front Range urban populations. Another theme raised, statewide, was the importance of keeping food production nearby, recognizing that would only be possible if farming and ranching remain viable pursuits, with sufficient water needed for that food production.

More storage was also repeatedly mentioned at these hearings as a way for Colorado to address the water supply gap. It was recognized that this could mean expansion of existing reservoirs, but also likely would require the construction of new storage projects.

The recent dedication of the new Taylor reservoir in La Plata County is encouraging to many as this storage will help Colorado meet its water delivery requirements to New Mexico and make available more water to that area’s agricultural community. This project was completed with the participation and financial assistance of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, support from the Southern Ute tribe and the state of Colorado, which is also encouraging.