Water committee urges Colorado to take bigger role | AspenTimes.com

Water committee urges Colorado to take bigger role

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

LAKEWOOD, Colo. – State government must take a bigger role in developing and promoting water projects if Colorado is going to provide for the estimated 10 million people who will live here in 40 years, a report released Wednesday suggests.

The recommendations were included in the draft report delivered to Gov. Bill Ritter by a committee studying Colorado’s future water needs.

The panel suggested the state should coordinate, support and endorse projects. One of their main conclusions was that the state needs more storage on the Western Slope.

They also suggested that the governor issue an executive order to state agencies to implement a water use reduction and conservation plan. Suggestions included requiring people who sell their house to replace appliances with water efficient models and help utilities reduce water use.

Until now, the state has left most water development projects to local communities and shied away from promoting water projects until the federal government gave its approval.

The governor said without a statewide plan, Front Range cities will continue buying water rights from Eastern Plains farmers and drying up farming.

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“We can’t get to a state with 10 million people without thinking about water. We have often prided ourselves on local control of these issues … but at the same time, we need the statewide vision. If we don’t have statewide vision, we will do the unthinkable, which is become less of an agricultural state and become a state where water usage is for residential and municipal use,” he told the panel.

Michael Shimmin, a member of the Platte River Basin subcommittee, said Colorado residents were shocked into action by the 2002 drought that dried up farmland in the South Platte and Arkansas Valley basins, forcing many farmers and ranchers to sell their water rights to thirsty Front Range communities.

He said if the state had not forced competing water interests to talk over their differences, those basins would lose up to 40 percent of their farmland.

Jim Pokrandt, representing the Colorado River Basin committee, said water is no longer a local issue and the state should regulate it as it does utilities.

“If water is truly a scarce resource, that’s the logical conclusion,” he said.

Former state Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, a farmer who attended the water basin meetings but has no official role, said the report does little to solve problems in conservation, loss of agricultural land and finding new water sources.

He said the state already has a major role with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which oversees and provides funding for water projects statewide and has the authority to carry out most of the report’s suggestions.

“This report just gets us back to right where we were before,” Ament said.

Ritter disagreed and said he hopes the water committee becomes a permanent fixture of state government.

“This process is a process that takes all of these different interest groups, many of whom did not even speak to each other 10 years ago, and actually requires them to be at the table. I’ve seen great progress,” he said.

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