When it comes to the water battle in Colorado, the divide is much stronger between urban and rural than Democrat and Republican.
We continually encourage urban areas to start conserving more and using less; we hope they make plans for water storage, then follow through on those plans. The last thing we want is for anyone to abandon those plans, stick a straw through the mountain and start siphoning our Western Slope treasure.
Be assured that Sen. Don Coram, Rep. Marc Catlin, both experts in the field, and I are working together to make sure that doesn’t happen. Western Slope lawmakers know how important our natural resources are and we are committed to protecting our way of life.
The Colorado Water Plan, a result of an ambitious two-year consensus-building process among stakeholders, also moves water policy in the right direction. Conservation goals have been created for cities, while greater leeway has been provided for agricultural producers. This is critical because of the way that conservation goals as a blunt instrument can divert water rights and access away from our crop producers and endanger the business of making our food.
A bill I am co-sponsoring with Rep. Jeni Arndt, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, earned initial approval from the House this week. It is one of several bills designed to give the water plan a kick-start, providing a method to reuse and conserve water. It expands a pilot program in four basins – the South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande and Colorado – that permits farmers to fallow their property and lease the water rights to municipalities. The farmer wins by letting the land recover from years of the same crop, maintaining his or her water rights and being reimbursed.
The municipality wins by obtaining a temporary water right to serve its citizens. Our ranchers and farmers are key to conservation efforts. They think long term about water, they provide habitat for birds and they know the land better than anyone.
Providing them voluntary and flexible options to take off the pressure to overuse or lose is prudent policy.
Barbara McLachlan represents State House District 59. Reach her at email@example.com. During the legislative session, Rep. McLachlan and Sen. Don Coram share this column on alternate weeks.