Governor’s Forum on Agriculture recap

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The forum began with the panel of five legislators offering brief remarks on legislation affecting agriculture in the 2014 session. In addition to Sonnenberg, the audience heard from Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray), who is running for governor; Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village), Rep. KC Becker (D-Boulder) and Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton). All serve on the agriculture committees…

The lawmakers focused on water policy as the top topic for the agriculture committee. Schwartz pointed to the bills from the legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee, which includes her, Brophy and Sonnenberg. Their bills this session covered hydroelectric projects and the state’s water plan. But it was water storage that drew much of the back-and-forth between the legislators.

Schwartz said the state needs to take a balanced approach in identifying its future needs, including how to keep the agriculture and recreation industries viable and maintain the health of the state’s rivers and streams.

“We haven’t done anything big related to storage in a couple of generations,” said Brophy, while the state population has doubled. The state needs more storage and electricity generated by that storage, he said. Sonnenberg expanded his discussion beyond agriculture. The “challenge for us rural legislators is to educate our urban cousins…one of the many issues that I view as a death by a thousand cuts for rural Colorado is storage If we can’t keep Colorado’s water in Colorado, we’re destined to lose.”

In response to an audience question, Schwartz explained that funds to build storage were raided during the recession, to the tune of $150 million. Those dollars need to be restored, she said. But she also advocated for hydroelectric projects as a companion to storage.

Water conservation also was on the minds of the audience members, but panel members reacted with different solutions. Schwartz pointed to bills on incentives for irrigation efficiency and opportunities to divert less water on the Western Slope. But Sonnenberg said that while conservation is part of the solution, “we can’t get there from here without storage.” Agriculture has led the charge on conservation and efficiency and “we haven’t had the government have to tell us how to do it.”[…]

In other news at the capitol this week:

Greg Larson of Haxtun has been named to the Colorado Ground Water Commission. Larson is also on the Republican River Water Conservation District board.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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