Especially When It Comes to Water
I was asked to participate in a public policy forum where I talked about key issues facing our great state in the near term. Three were identified:
- Affordable housing and the related issue of homelessness
- Tax policy, especially TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment
- Water funding
At the moment, I think water is our most important challenge. We take it for granted when we turn on the faucet. Here is why we shouldn’t.
Colorado, along with other Western states, is experiencing a near record drought. Lake Mead in Nevada is down to 38-percent capacity last I saw.
Why should we care?
If there is a call on the Colorado River Compact, the upper states will suffer mightily. We are a headwaters state, and 40 million people in the United States and Mexico depend upon a healthy Colorado River. Four of the eight fastest growing states in the country are in the Colorado River basin, along with 23 Native American tribes and 11 national parks.
Climate change is real as rising temps decrease runoff and stress the rivers and waterways of the great Intermountain West.
Lake Mead affects Lake Powell. Do you know how to say “Compact Call”? That is a dinner bell I do not want to hear, because Colorado will be on the menu. Think the Big T Project, Dillon Reservoir, Fry-Ark Project, Homestake, and snowmaking water rights - just to name but a few specific impacts. And, there is ongoing challenge concerning the health of our forests, and water quality issues.
This is key to the resilience of cities and towns and our residents.
So what is a worrier like me to do? I have some thoughts, and many can be implemented. But they are not easy. Nothing ever is.
We need to develop a statewide awareness among our good citizens from the Eastern Plains to the West Slope about water scarcity. It starts with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State Water Plan issued in 2015. It identifies a number of suggestions, and to summarize 400-plus pages in a quick blog cannot be done. I can say this: The plan correctly identifies a funding shortfall of $20 billion over the next 30 years. Currently, only one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s budget goes toward natural resources, including water project loans.
Our next governor and General Assembly need to step it up a notch and really come to grips as to how to address this. I come from the view that we will have thoughtful folks toiling under the Gold Dome starting to do this in earnest next January and beyond.
There is an important nexus between land use and water planning. By 2050, Colorado’s population is anticipated to double. That means a lot of new development approvals. We have been working with a number of outside groups and state agencies to educate municipal leaders about this relationship. We have worked on state legislation, and It is an area where cities and towns are starting to lead by example.
I wish we could also do something about urban level sprawl in unincorporated areas of counties, and address the proliferation of metropolitan districts. But those are two windmills I will ask others to tilt at. Not I for the moment!
Water conservation is always an important element to the conversation. Municipalities have done an admirable job; it is time for other sectors of the state’s economy to match our success.
I wish the permitting and regulatory process at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment would undergo an examination of where efficiencies can occur. Each regulation comes at a cost, and it is certainly something I hear about frequently in my travels across the Centennial State. Flexibility sometimes need to go hand in hand with firmness.
Water treatment plant operators are in high demand, as a lot of retirements are occurring. This is an important aspect of workforce training we need to continue focusing upon, especially through our great community college system.
I rely upon some key water big brains to help inform my thinking on this key public policy issue.
However, none of these folks are more important than you as municipal leaders! I would love to hear from you and what you think.
Happy Fall and Go Rockies!