Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference recap #COWaterPlan

Westin Snowmass Resort
Westin Snowmass Resort

From The Aspen Times (Jill Beathard):

Climate change is globally impacting natural resources, particularly water supplies, and that can’t go unchecked, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said Wednesday in Snowmass Village.

Managing water supply is clearly a critical issue in the West, but it is also an issue of national and international security, Udall said to a crowd gathered for the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference at the Westin Snowmass Conference Center. Between now and 2040, the world’s water supply will not keep up with demand without better management, according to a recent assessment by the director of National Intelligence, Udall said.

“Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and energy … hobbling economic growth here and around the world,” Udall said. “In turn, that will increase the risk of political instability, state failure and mounting regional tensions.”

Global water consumption has tripled in the past 50 years, and furthermore, the supply is diminishing due to climate change, he said.

“Our climate is changing, and the only thing constant and predictable on the subject is science, which shows we can’t ignore the problem,” Udall said. “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 federal and state governments have a role to play alongside the private sector in solving it.”[…]

That stance is what sets him apart from his opponent in the upcoming Senate election, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who also spoke to the Water Congress on Wednesday. Gardner doesn’t acknowledge that climate change is occurring, Udall said.

Without looking at the facts, legislators will not be working toward a solution that “maintains our special way of life” in Colorado, Udall said.

The Colorado River reaches 40 million people, and as the headwater state, Colorado has to fight to protect its interests from being overshadowed by those of downstream users, Udall said.

That is part of the role of Colorado’s representatives in Congress, by advocating to protect the state’s water rights as well as educating senators from parts of the country that are not faced with the same tight resources, Udall said.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Aspen Daily News:

Three members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation spoke on Wednesday in Snowmass Village at the annual summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress, which represents the interests of water providers and owners at the Colorado state house and in Washington, D.C.

Republican congressmen Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton spoke at lunch on the opening of the three-day water conference, while Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, spoke in an afternoon session. Also speaking in the afternoon was Abel Tapia, a Democrat from Pueblo who is challenging Tipton for his 3rd Congressional District seat.

Rep. Gardner, who is running against Udall for Senate, called for new water storage projects to be built in Colorado.

“I believe we have to focus on water storage, what we can do to move forward on common-sense, water-storage projects,” Gardner said. “If we were to build every water project on the books today and every one that’s under construction, we are still short of water into the future. And how are we going to meet the needs of industry and agriculture and our communities if we don’t store more water?”

Gardner called for simplifying the permitting process for water projects, including new dams and reservoirs, and said he wants to see federal, state and local partnerships formed to help pay for new projects.

And Gardner said he wanted to “stop and defeat” a new proposed rule from the EPA that would clarify the definition of “waters of the U.S.”

“Almost every molecule of water could come under the jurisdiction of that new rule the way it is currently written,” Gardner said.

The EPA, on its website about the proposed rule change, states that “the proposed rule does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Rep. Scott Tipton also denounced the EPA’s proposed rule change.

“That’s going to have a regulatory impact and cost to us and it’s effectively going to be a taking,” Tipton said, “because if the EPA can step in this room and start to tell the state of Colorado, start to tell the western United States, how our water is going to be handled, we’re going to be stripping our farm and ranch community of the ability to be able to grow our crops, our communities to be able to grow and to be able to prosper and to be able to create jobs and certainty for our children to be able to have a prosperous future.”

After he spoke, Tipton was asked a question by Pitkin County commissioner Rachel Richards, who sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which is helping to shape the state’s forthcoming Colorado Water Plan.

“One of our big uncertainties is really water availability,” Richards said, noting that projections show that climate change could reduce water supplies in Colorado by 15 percent. “What is your position on climate change?”

“I always like to be able to say on climate change, I grew up in the shadow of some of the greatest climate change this nation’s ever seen — it’s called the Rocky Mountains,” Tipton answered lightly. “I guarantee you, the climate will change. And it will continue to do so. Unfortunately, we have some people that try and make this a political issue, for some reason.”

Sen. Udall had a different take on the subject.

“Our climate is changing, and the only thing constant or predictable on the subject is science that shows we can’t ignore the problem,” Udall said during his remarks to the crowd at the conference center in Snowmass.

“Rising temperatures and ongoing drought are only exacerbating the pressure on our river basins by contributing to insufficient rainfall and snowpack,” Udall said. “This has led to dwindling reservoir levels, leaving water managers in this room and across the state with difficult decisions on how to meet the water needs of cities, farmers and the environment.”

The Colorado Water Congress meeting runs through Friday noon in Snowmass.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

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.

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.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Hundreds of people are helping to write and thousands more taking in interest in a state water plan, a legislative committee learned Wednesday.

“This really shows that we’ve gotten to the point where people are taking a real interest in the plan,” John Stulp, who advises Gov. John Hickenlooper on water issues, told the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

The committee was thrust in the middle of the state water debate by SB14-115 in the last legislative session. It is kicking off its own hearings tonight in Glenwood Springs and then will embark on seven more in each of the basins.

The Arkansas River basin hearing will be 9 a.m.-noon Aug. 29 at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library.

More than 1,000 separate comments were received by basin roundtables at 120 outreach meetings in developing implementation plans that were submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board last month.

More than 160,000 unique hits have been recorded on the website for the plan (coloradowaterplan. com) with 2 million page views, he added.

By mid-September, those comments will be integrated into draft chapters for review by the CWCB.

The basins are in agreement on many issues, including the need to preserve agriculture, conserve water, protect recreation and preserve the environment.

The Arkansas River basin also has pushed ahead the need for watershed health to anticipate and counteract the ravages drought and wildfire have had in recent years.

Basins also agree that storage or other types of water projects should have multiple benefits, interstate compacts present challenges and more education of the public on water issues is needed, Stulp said.

“You’ve said the basins work together, but how do we resolve fundamental conflicts,” state Sen. Gail Schwartz, DSnowmass Village, asked Stulp.

“At this point, we recognize areas of agreement and will address conflicts as we move forward,” Stulp replied.

The Interbasin Compact Committee, established in 2005 along with the roundtables, is moving ahead on resolving conflicts, he added. Recently, it reached a “conceptual agreement” on transmountain diversions.

Diane Mitsch-Bush, DSteamboat Springs, said the amount of water for energy development has been a moving target for Western Colorado and also needs to be given priority in the state water plan.

The water needs for both oil shale and hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells are being accounted for in the ongoing Statewide Water Supply Initiative, due for revision in 2016.

The draft state water plan is scheduled to be presented to the governor in December.

“This is a historic document we’re working on, and many people have had a part in it,” Stulp said.

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

The Water Congress is an advocacy organization that gets involved with state and federal water issues, like water rights. The group’s annual summer conference brings together water managers, politicians and others involved in the resource. This week features candidates for a range of offices.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck was the first to speak. Regarding water, the republican says he’s developed a great pride for Northern Colorado.

“The pride is seeing people come together, work together and seeing people turn a desert into a very productive agricultural area. The frustration is seeing the government screw everything up.”[…]

Congressman Scott Tipton was up next. The republican touted his record including legislation signed into law last year that eliminates regulations on small-scale hydroelectric projects.

He spent much of his 10 minute talk criticizing regulations from the federal government. He highlighted the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rulemaking, saying it gives the agency too much power.

“If the EPA can step in this room and start to tell the state of Colorado and the western United States how our water’s going to be handled, we’re going to be stripping our farming and ranching community of the ability to grow our crops,” he said.

The only question came from Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards who asked Tipton about his position on climate change.

“I always like to be able to say with climate change, I grew up in the shadow of some of the greatest climate change this nation’s ever seen. It’s called the Rocky Mountains. I guarantee the climate will change, and it will continue to do so,” said Tipton.

Cory Gardner of Yuma began his talk by denigrating Congress, where he currently represents Colorado’s fourth congressional district.

“It’s always great to be at the Colorado Water Congress, a congress that has a much higher approval rating than other congress’ that we know of!”

Gardner is challenging Senator Mark Udall in a close and expensive race. He spent most of his time stumping – discussing not just water, but his so-called “Four Corner Plan,” that includes economic growth.

“What we are going to do to get this country’s economy growing again. Where does it start? I believe it starts with simple things like regulatory reform and getting government out of the way and letting America work,” he said.

Later in the day, democrat Abel Tapia stepped to the microphone. He is running against Congressman Tipton. The former engineer and Colorado state lottery director says he understands the challenges facing the Colorado River, which is over-utilized.

“I am committed to fighting to ensure that the Colorado and the Third Congressional District are protected, and get the water it deserves. I support a balanced water policy that takes into consideration the multiple users of our water – agriculture, municipalities and industrial.”

Calling water Colorado’s “liquid gold,” Senator Mark Udall was the last to speak. He pointed to the need for solving a projected water shortage on the Colorado River.

“Let’s have ongoing, tough and ongoing conversations within Colorado and between the Upper Colorado Commission and the lower basin states. If we don’t do that we risk losing site of our shared economic dependence.”

Climate change will exacerbate the problem of water shortages in Colorado and globally. He is concerned the majority of republicans in congress continue to deny climate science.

“Just last month, I tried to get a resolution passed that would put the senate on record acknowledging that climate change is a problem and poses a problem to the United States but enough members of the republican caucus objected and blocked it. But, Coloradoans know better,” said Udall.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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