Guest opinion: Colorado needs a water conservation ethic | AspenTimes.com
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Guest opinion: Colorado needs a water conservation ethic

Thomas R. Gagnon

I have three questions regarding water in Colorado: First, what is the goal of water conservation in Colorado? Second, is there a plan or vision within Colorado for a solution to water shortages? Third, if there is a water shortage, a problem or even an enemy, what or who is it?

1) Is the goal of water conservation and water distribution in Colorado to have unending lawns and landscaping throughout suburbia with green golf courses, highway median strips, lawns in front of government buildings and schools? Should we allow farmers to continue to push water through their ditches, even when they don’t need it, in often outdated and inefficient irrigation systems? Our pristine vision of Colorado, now a little tainted, is of singing streams and rivers, clean water, the sounds of nature and abundant wildlife. There is no place in these United States that can live off of natural beauty alone, but Colorado comes pretty close . But the vision, the vision, where do we go?

Our water sources are puny compared to, say, Washington state with its glaciers, Kauai with its rainy canyons, or Maine with its rivers and lakes. Yet Coloradans use more water per person than any of these places. Ours is, overall, a semiarid climate, and we ought to learn to live within it. As we are so often reminded, it is vitally important that we “live within our financial means.” This bit of wisdom seems basic to our essentially pragmatic, puritanical, and highly economized society. Are we living within our “water means”? So what is the goal of conservation in Colorado? I do not believe that we have one, but we should start searching for it.

2) When towns and cities implement water conservation at different times, then lift watering restrictions at different times, this shows an utter lack of cooperation, mutual concern and vision. It shows greed, wastefulness and an “every-man-for-himself” attitude. At the present time, Dillon, Green Mountain, Granby reservoirs and many others on the Western Slope are still very low, yet many Front Range cities have eased their watering restrictions. How sincere are we about ending the drought?

Though several parts of the state have had impressive precipitation lately, and a good deal of voluntary conservation has occurred, our reservoirs are still low. Too many in the media seem to be congratulating Coloradans by comparing this year’s reservoir levels with last year’s pathetically low water. This is not much to brag about.

Last summer’s slow response to the drought exposes a lack of expertise among our experts. Our leaders are not necessarily leading. Alas, we are still in a drought. Normal precipitation, or even above-average precipitation, along with continued growth, will ultimately result in a long-term water deficit.

Our seeming contempt is not restricted to in-state jealousies and animosities, but is usually directed at the wildlife, people and economies of neighboring states. For example, the South Platte River in Nebraska, which is so depleted here in Colorado, can barely support a fraction of the sandhill cranes it once did. We lecture “third world” Mexico to plant crops to feed itself, yet two rivers that start here and ultimately flow to Mexico, the Rio Grande and the Colorado, are horribly wasted right here.

Colorado’s geographic situation is such that the majority of our rivers begin high in our mountains, then leave our state for others, which invariably have a lower elevation: Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming. States beyond these immediate neighbors are also heavily affected by Colorado’s water use, such as California, Nevada and Texas, plus Mexico. These places also waste water, but is it wise of Colorado to simply ignore the legitimate needs of so many others?

The proposal and concept of “The Big Straw,” a reverse-flow pipeline on the Colorado River on the Utah line, is a selfish and ungodly proposal, sure to invite a severe political pummeling from a justified alliance of downstream states!

Evidently, as far as water goes, we have a “free for all” in Colorado. Good politicians would insist upon slow and wise growth, coupled with an acceptance of our small supply of water.

3) So who is to blame for our water problems as of late? All of us. We often worry about foreign terrorists coming here and doing dirty deeds that will harm us. My advice to them is to stay at home and relax, as we are doing a fine job of destroying our water supply ourselves. Yes, watering a lawn is terrorism. Recently it was said to me, “We need as many new dams as possible, and bigger ones, and we need them as soon as possible.” The weak point of this suggestion is that we already have a huge number of dams, diversion ditches, trans-basin tunnels, water pacts and so forth, and they are managed abysmally. How would more of the same improve our situation? Perhaps we have never had a water shortage, even during the worst of last summer’s drought; we simply have not been living within our watery means.

A water ethic is needed in Colorado. No matter how rich a person or business or city is, or how badly they want water for nonessentials, they must realize that it is morally wrong for them to have it. We must keep water in the streams and rivers, lakes and wetlands, for the health of nature depends upon it, and our own health is never really better than nature’s.

Thomas R. Gagnon lives in Bond, Colo.


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