Water bill strikes balance
Dear Editor: Heaven knows there have been enough wars over water in Colorado, so there’s no need to start another one — between recreational and agricultural users in my own state Senate district. That’s why I’m carrying a proposal in the state Legislature to strike a balance among those and other uses of our most precious resource. My goal in sponsoring Senate Bill 62, which passed a key committee last week with bipartisan support, is to respect the historic rights recognized under water laws that have worked well for over a century. That means looking out for all the users of our reservoirs, rivers and streams while also making sure none of their uses is jeopardized by future uses downstream, including in lower-basin states. By assuring that everyone using Colorado’s water plays by the same rules, my bill doesn’t tilt against any community or any particular kind of water use, including kayaking and other whitewater sports. Some recent fears I’ve heard to the contrary are way off base. I know of no one in the General Assembly who understands better than I do how vital year-round recreation in the high country is to Colorado’s overall tourist economy and its quality of life. I’ve made sure the bill’s limitations on higher-capacity Recreational In-Channel Diversion rights – intended to protect water flow for sports like kayaking and canoeing – specifically exempt Steamboat Springs and other communities that have filed applications for such rights before Feb. 17 of this year. And SB 62 has no effect whatsoever on recreational water rights held by ski areas to make snow. This bill is an attempt to define some reasonable parameters for recreational diversions before it’s too late. If we don’t act, those diversions could threaten not only rural needs for water but also the needs of the cities that are currently trying to support recreational water uses. You can rest assured this bill is the result of a lot of thought and research over the past two years by the Legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee, which acted in response to some recent court rulings. The Colorado Water Congress, the Colorado River District, the Upper Arkansas Conservancy District, the Upper Yampa Conservancy District and the Routt County commissioners, to name just a few, are among the entities that have endorsed my bill. We’re all in this together. For the sake of future generations in our communities, we must work together to avoid gridlock on our water ways – and an end-run on a system of water laws that has served Colorado for a very long time. State Sen. Jack Taylor Steamboat Springs
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