Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer meeting

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Here’s a recap of yesterday’s goings on at the annual conference, from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald:

During a question-and-answer period, one audience member asked how [State Senator Josh] Penry’s support for building dams squared with his backing last year of Amendment 52, which would have capped the money in Colorado’s water savings accounts and redirected extra money to highways. Penry responded that the state doesn’t spend the money it has effectively. “We study too much. We analyze too much,” he said.

Harris Sherman, head of the state Department of Natural Resources, disputed Penry’s charge that Colorado does too many studies at the expense of physical projects. In 2007, the state made $146 million in project loans, $87 million in 2008 and $45 million this year. “To imply that the state has not funded water projects in recent years is simply inaccurate,” Sherman said. In any case, the Legislature drained $107 million from those accounts the last two years to help cover the state budget gap…

Rod Kuharich is director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which serves fast-growing suburbs that have an unreliable water supply. Kuharich sits on the IBCC, but he called it “dysfunctional” and said it spends too much time on studies. Kuharich complained that IBCC members have become even more entrenched in their regional perspectives. He wants the Gunnison basin to entertain the idea of a pipeline from Blue Mesa Reservoir to the Front Range.

But IBCC member Peter Nichols said it’s not surprising no agreement is in sight, four years after the IBCC began its work. The engineering of a big water project is much easier than the politics, he said. “Give this time to work,” Nichols said. “It took us 150 years to get here. If it takes us 15 years to get out of here, I don’t think that’s absurd.”

More IBCC coverage here.

More coverage of the conference, from The Cortez Journal (Joe Hanel):

State lawmakers have turned to savings accounts for dams, canals and pipelines in order to cope with a budget crisis that’s entering its third year. In the past two years, the Legislature has taken $107 million out of the water accounts, said Harris Sherman, director of the Department of Natural Resources. “These are funds that have been built up over decades,” Sherman said…

“There are staggering costs involved in meeting our future water needs – tens of billions of dollars,” he said.

But the water project funds won’t be paid back this year, and they’ll probably be raided again, said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. At the same time, cuts continue to threaten the State Engineer’s Office, which administers water rights. The office lost six jobs in Gov. Bill Ritter’s budget cuts this week. “I’m getting tired of this. Every year this happens, and we have got to find a way to solve this,” Curry said. This week’s cuts hit health care and human services especially hard. But in the long term, colleges are at risk. So Curry recommended that the water community reach out to advocates for higher education to find a solution to the perpetual budget crisis.

“We can’t have just water meetings anymore,” she said.

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