County-commissioner candidates support protection of watershed |

County-commissioner candidates support protection of watershed

April E. Clark
Special to the Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

CARBONDALE – County-commissioner candidates for Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties who spoke Thursday at a candidate forum on water agreed that they need to work together to protect the Roaring Fork watershed.

“The one thing we need is more of a spearheaded committee,” said Courtney Holm, Republican candidate for Eagle County Commissioner District 2. “It really comes back to that collaboration. It should come back to all three counties working collaboratively together.”

The Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative and Roaring Fork Conservancy teamed up to host the candidates’ forum Thursday at the Third Street Center. About 60 people attended the event, which featured eight commissioner candidates from the three counties. Eagle County District 1 candidates Jill Hunsaker Ryan and Jeff Layman and District 2 candidate Dale Nelson did not attend the forum.

Incumbent District 3 Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, a Republican from Rifle, agreed with Holm that politicians should continue the collaborative tone of the conversation about the importance of water issues in the Roaring Fork Watershed.

“We want to continue to work with the Roaring Fork Conservancy in supporting them and funding them,” he said.

Samson said there are many questions surrounding water issues, including how the three counties are working together to ensure water quality and quantity in Western Colorado.

“You have to know all the problems,” he said. “How are we working together in Garfield County?”

Aleks Briedis, a Democrat from Rifle challenging Samson for the District 3 seat, stressed his backing of the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan, as well as the value of providing more education on water issues.

“I support the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan. I mean, it’s that simple,” he said. “It’s important we have a voice. Garfield County needs to take more of a proactive approach to public education. We need to educate our citizens and engage our citizens.”

Sonja Linman, Democratic candidate for Garfield Commissioner District 2, said that when it comes to water in Colorado, the issue is a matter of the heart for many people she has met during her campaign.

“I’ve spent the last five months touring the county, meeting with constituents,” she said. “The bottom line is we give water a lot of lip service. We are going to get fierce. Our water is our wealth. It will be my absolute priority.”

John Martin, a Republican from Glenwood Springs seeking a fifth term for Garfield Commissioner District 2, spoke of working on the original team that devised the watershed plan. He also agreed that commissioners should embrace the idea of collaborative efforts to protect and restore the area’s rivers.

“What we need to do is open this up to every municipality,” he said. “Our water is our lifeblood.”

Steve Child, candidate for Pitkin Commissioner District 4, said he intends to work regionally with all of the Roaring Fork Valley on water issues.

Child said he supports municipalities paying for their own water conservation measures. He mentioned his own conservation efforts, such as switching to water-saving appliances, as well as working with his ranching neighbors up Capitol Creek to not waste water.

“There are years when there’s not enough water to go around,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 51 years, and this summer has been the second-driest year. We are being very neighborly.”

Forum moderator Carolyne Heldman asked candidates how they would rectify the trend toward wasting water, and how the “use it or lose it” provision in Colorado water law can hamper water conservation practices.

John Young, candidate for Pitkin Commissioner District 4, said he supports the idea of water banking.

“We’re blessed in Pitkin County. We have an open space program. One of the criteria I would like to look at when it comes to acquiring land is water rights,” Young said.

When asked what is the most pressing water-related issue in the Roaring Fork Valley, Young spoke of global warming and energy development, specifically the effect gas drilling and fracking could have on the region’s water supply.

“I believe in global warming. I don’t want to believe in it but I do,” he said. “We need to reduce our consumption. We are oversubscribed on the river.”

Jon Stavney, incumbent Democratic candidate for Eagle Commissioner District 2, spoke of the waters in his district – Ruedi Reservoir and the Fryingpan River, categorized as Gold Medal waters for flyfishing, a boon to an economy hit by the recession.

“Most of the uses of Ruedi have not been specified,” he said. “Coming off Ruedi, we have the longest stretch of Gold Medal fishing in the state. It’s actually a healthier river than it used to be. That’s $2 million to the local economy.”

The forum, which ran for two hours, closed with a few questions from the audience. Fly fishing guide Dave Johnson of Carbondale asked about the issue of building a dam on the Crystal River. The consensus among the candidates was there was no need to dam the Crystal River.

Jason Carey, a water engineer for the whitewater park on the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, asked how the Western Slope could come together to retain the Shoshone water right in Glenwood Canyon. Xcel Energy owns the water right, which controls flows in the Colorado during the months when farmers aren’t irrigating. Candidates agreed that a roundtable and collaborative meetings on the topic with representatives and water attorneys from all three counties would be worth pursuing.

To find out more on local candidates platforms on water issues and the Roaring Fork Watershed, download a copy of the “2012 Voters’ Guide to Water Issues” at, or call 927-1290 to request a printed copy.

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