The Future of Water
From “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, there is the famous line: “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
The sailor in this famous poem is on a ship listing at sea, surrounded by only salt water, and desperate for a drink to slake his thirst.
Is this the state of our beloved Colorado at the moment, at least as it relates to water policy? A provocative question to ponder as the second draft of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s statewide master plan recently was released for public comment until mid-September.
I am not a water expert. As a former denizen under the Gold Dome for many years, all I learned is that whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting; don’t mess with the late, great Dick McCravey and the Water Congress; and all water flows uphill to money.
It seems to me that the governor’s Herculean efforts are a bold step to take us away from this and take us up to another more reasoned public policy plateau.
I have read elements of the draft and am impressed by its breadth and enormity.
A criticism I have heard by some has been that the report is more aspirational and much less prescriptive. I would submit maybe this is exactly what the governor and his key policy advisers, James Eklund and John Stulp, desire to achieve as a basin-by-basin, statewide conversation. What’s wrong with that?
Former Governor, and my pal of long-standing, Bill Owens, and his Department of Natural Resources Director, the all-knowing Russ George (who made a mighty fine Rifle municipal judge when I first met him oh so many years ago, and then rose to prominence as speaker of the Colorado House among his many achievements) actually started this process with the establishment of the basin roundtable initiative – a process strongly and consistently supported by the League. The basin roundtables have stood the test of time - one of my American West heroes, Major John Wesley Powell, would be mighty proud (read Wallace Stegner’s brilliantly written Beyond The Hundredth Meridian to get a sense of what I mean).
On Colorado Public Radio, I recently heard three of my favorite water gurus speak about the draft report: Eric Hecox, Jim Lochhead, and Eric Kuhn. I can try and summarize their views in a brief sentence or two.
We can have enough water in our semi-arid state for the future even in the face of continued growth and climate change challenges (yes, climate change does exist). However, this beneficence will occur only if we behave as good stewards and grow smartly.
What does this mean?
I think we need to consider several things, and I do not view them as being in conflict. While I am speaking for myself here, I do think my views are shared by many in the municipal world:
- Aspirational water conservation goals are important, but they need to be evenly distributed among and between municipal, industrial, and agricultural users. I do tire of the substantial burden unfunded mandates place upon cities and towns and their taxpayers. Municipal use remains a small portion of water use in this state, yet I feel this factoid is forgotten in the effort to shift the burden sometimes. Everyone needs to step up to the plate – at the same time, not one at a time.
- There is a nexus between land use and water use. How much public policy ought to be prescriptive and how much preemptive will have to be resolved. I hope there is more emphasis on the former, and far less on the latter. It will be a tough but necessary conversation.
- I feel we need to do a better job in Colorado focusing on water storage. I am not saying every project is perfect or absolutely necessary, but I marvel at visionaries such as W.D. Farr and what he did for Greeley and for things like the Big-T project.
- Climate change does exist. Our state’s climate is getting warmer and is stressing many of our rivers and streams. Scientific work has shown this to be true. At the municipal level, the word resilience has become more than a buzzword, it is growing a part of how we plan our infrastructure.
CML will continue to play an important role in the water conversations. I am anxious to hear from you on how you think we ought to continue to engage in that dialogue.