Thirsty Denver joining beetle battle? |

Thirsty Denver joining beetle battle?

Steve Lynn
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” Front Range water consumers could help pay for the removal of trees infected by pine beetles in western Colorado under new legislation.

Senate Bill 221 lets the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority loan money to water providers, which would pay to remove trees devastated by beetles in Eagle and Summit counties and other places, said Democratic state Sen. Dan Gibbs, of Silverthorne.

“This really takes forest health, in particular how we pay for forest-thinning projects, to a whole other level,” Gibbs said.

The bill lets the Colorado water authority issue bonds to finance the loans, Gibbs said. The money to pay back the loans could come from higher water bills in Denver, Colorado Springs and other places, he said.

Denver residents get some water from Lake Dillon in Summit County, for example, so Denver Water could pay to remove infected trees and to plant new ones to protect their water supply, Gibbs said.

If a forest fire occurs, exacerbated by infected trees, water supplies could be tainted because dirt will spill into rivers and lakes at a greater rate, Gibbs said. Gibbs points out that a significant amount of dirt was dumped into Colorado water supplies after the Hayman Fire, which burned almost 138,000 acres southwest of Denver in 2002.

“It’s still costing Denver Water millions of dollars,” he said.

The bill gives water providers a way to prevent that from happening, he said.

The law, however, does not order water providers to pay to remove the trees, Gibbs said.

But, “If we can get them to… utilize this bill, it could bring in a substantial amount of money,” he said.

Gibbs and Democratic Rep. Christine Scanlan, of Dillon, sponsored the bill. It was signed by Gov. Bill Ritter during the last legislative session.

More people will be out enforcing laws in national forest and wilderness areas in Colorado thanks to another bill sponsored by Gibbs and Scanlan and signed into law last session.

Colorado Division of Wildlife Officers will now be given the authority to ticket people for violating laws such as riding a mountain bike or dirt bike in wilderness areas, Gibbs said.

U.S. Forest Service officials were the only ones who had the authority to give tickets for those kinds of violations before, Gibbs said.

Gibbs supports activities such as snowmobiling and four-wheeling in the Vail Pass recreation area ” in the White River National Forest ” but not when people go off designated trails.

“It’s also important we play by the rules,” he said.

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