DENVER – Just as the Colorado Water Congress kicked off its summer conference Wednesday, the political waters already were churning as the state’s U.S. Senate candidates traded jabs.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner spoke at the premier summer conference on water issues.
Udall issued a news release at the start of the conference, attacking Gardner for supporting a 2008 ballot initiative when Gardner was a state representative that would have diverted millions from water projects to fund transportation. Amendment 52 would have redirected some gas and oil severance-tax revenues from water to highway projects.
The initiative was seen as a competing measure to another ballot question at the time, Amendment 58, that would have eliminated a state tax credit to increase severance-tax collection for college scholarships, among other areas.
Both ballot questions were rejected by voters.
“Senators have a duty to represent and protect the well-being of all Coloradans,” said former U.S. Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a news release issued by the Udall campaign.
Opponents of Amendment 52 pointed out at the time that three out-of-state energy companies contributed to the initiative.
“It is deeply disturbing that Congressman Gardner sided with out-of-state interests over the water needs of Colorado communities,” Salazar said. “Almost two-thirds of Colorado’s voters from every part of the state rejected Gardner’s scheme. Coloradans deserve better than Congressman Gardner.”
In a phone interview with The Durango Herald on Wednesday, as Gardner was driving to the Water Congress engagement, the congressman said Udall’s campaign was “running out of steam.”
“There’s a saying that I have for Mark Udall,” Gardner said. “Once again, Sen. Udall is missing the mark.”
Gardner turned the debate back on Udall, pointing out that the incumbent supported Amendment 58, which was viewed as being anti-energy industry. Gardner also said that Udall has shown no leadership on transportation, including easing congestion along Interstate 70.
“It’s a shame that Sen. Udall can’t even talk about how we need additional dollars for transportation and the water infrastructure in the state, he would rather resort to partisan attacks,” said Gardner.
The congressman said he would speak to the Water Congress about “federal intrusion,” including a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency that would clarify regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands. Some farmers fear that the rule would allow the EPA to regulate small bodies of water, even ponds or puddles on their land.
Gardner also said he would discuss increased water-storage opportunities.
“I am passionate about water issues in Colorado I have been a leader at the state Legislature and U.S. Congress to protect Colorado water and Colorado water rights from intrusion,” Gardner said.
“I’m going to talk about how Sen. Udall has simply been a rubber stamp for Barack Obama and his administration as they have tried to take Colorado water,” he continued.
For his part, Udall was expected to speak to the Water Congress about how water is “the liquid gold that makes our lives possible.”
“Managing the supply and availability of our water is one of the most critical natural-resource issues facing the United States and the world,” Udall was expected to say, according to prepared remarks emailed to the Herald.
“The bottom line is, when it comes to water, we are living beyond our means,” Udall added. “And that’s a dangerous way to live.”
Udall used the opportunity to also highlight climate change, suggesting that the science is conclusive and Republicans continue to ignore concrete evidence.
“Yet, despite the mountains of proof, the volumes of scientific and peer-reviewed articles, some lawmakers and many talking heads still refuse to recognize that climate change even exists ... much less that the federal and state governments have a role to play – alongside the private sector – in solving it,” Udall said. “Like you, I have made it one of my top priorities to protect our water and invest in our water infrastructure.”