Fri December 14, 2012

Another Year Of Water Woes Spurs Ideas From Colorado Lawmakers

It’s no secret that Colorado is facing a drought. The two-pronged issue of low water supplies and increasing demand has lawmaker’s attention this upcoming legislative session.

Bente Birkeland reports from the state capitol

State lawmakers are trying to find ways to encourage additional water conservation. Senator Greg Brophy (R) from Wray says this year’s drought brought new problems, especially for farmers on the eastern plains.

“Ultimately the state has to keep farmers from using too much water, you just have to,” Brophy said. “The law says you can use this much, the U.S. Supreme Court will enforce the interstate compact, so we don’t have choice in the matter. The question is how are we going to do that.”

One idea is to average the amount of water farmers use over a several year period to allow for fluctuations in drier years. That averaging is important, water rights are based in part on how much of the water you use, so farmers are afraid to conserve and see the value of their water rights go down. Brophy is also sponsoring a bill that would stop penalizing farmers from saving water when they can.

Another conservation idea comes from the chair of the Senate agriculture natural resources and energy committee, Gail Schwartz (D) of Snomass. She’s hoping to sponsor a bill to better protect watersheds from events like wildfires and dead beetle-killed pine trees.

“We know where the dead trees are. We know they are in very vulnerable areas within the watershed, and once the fire takes place will cause very serious erosion and silting in the storage and the watershed and effecting water quality,” Scwhartz said.

Credit Jim Hill / KUNC

Schwartz and other lawmakers say it’s crucial to have greater flexibility within the system to make sure the state can meeting the increasing demands from population growth and move water to where it’s needed most.

Those efforts aren’t going unnoticed. Water experts say Colorado is becoming more proactive and forward thinking on water issues. The state has a new drought plan and the Colorado Water Conservation Board is making sure lawmakers have the technical information they need to make wise decisions.

One of the biggest challenges is engaging a public that rarely thinks about water, other than to turn on the tap.