Candidates share views about water storage
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of emailed questions to the candidates for District 26 in the Colorado House of Representatives, incumbent Diane Mitsch Bush and challenger Chuck McConnell. This week’s question is: Does Western Colorado need more water storage in the form of reservoirs? What’s the best way to make that happen?
McConnell: Yes, Western Colorado absolutely needs more water storage in the form of reservoirs. Recreation, agriculture and ranching are drivers of our economy and depend on adequate water for success. The shut-down of tubing for several days on the Yampa river in Steamboat Springs last year made clear the penalty we pay for inadequate water storage. We need look no further than the crushing effect prolonged drought is having now on California and West Texas as evidence of the need. In both states ranching, agriculture and recreation are suffering badly and negatively impacting their economies and the lives of thousands of families.
Watching the pain of ranchers in Texas sell their cattle in distressed conditions makes clear the need for water. State legislators on both sides of the aisle in Colorado agree on this need. Fortunately, in wet years, additional water now passing out of state is available to Colorado for storage.
One way to affect additional reservoir storage volume is for West Slope legislators from both political parties to work together and set reservoir construction or expansion of existing storage locations as a top priority. With both parties working together, unreasonable objections that cause project delays by vocal minority groups can be reasonably overcome. It makes common sense to anticipate and act on a potential crisis such as prolonged dry spells with good planning and execution.
Waiting and doing nothing causes families and businesses to needlessly suffer. Because of the long construction time frames of these large projects, I believe we must start this work now. It is easy to support added storage because it is one government action that actually has a measurable payout. Additional Western Colorado water storage is a priority of mine. I will work hard with West Slope legislators from both parties to make it happen.
Mitsch Bush: Yes but with clear, publicly agreed-upon specifications as addressed in the Colorado River Basin Round Table Basin Implementation Plan. The need for storage comes both from future demands and, more importantly, from the need for redundancy which makes for reliability and more certainty and predictability in water supplies.
New water storage projects should be small, multi-use, not on the main stem of the Colorado, benefiting agriculture, municipal/industrial, the environment and our recreation-based economy.
Designing hydropower into projects has multiple benefits. It is now easier for water rights holders to negotiate the state permitting process for hydropower 10 megawatts or less due to my bipartisan bill with Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose), HB 14-1301, that cut red tape.
Any new storage project on the Western Slope must benefit Western Slope water users, and it must protect all current uses and users, while recognizing that our headwaters are essentially fully developed. Protecting our streams, rivers, and riparian health from further degradation must be one requirement for any storage project. Smaller, multi-use projects are more likely to accomplish this goal of the Colorado Basin Round Table public process. Small multipurpose projects are cited as one key way to address the 100,000 acre-feet agriculture shortage of water supply.
Along with small, multi-use, cooperatively designed and planned projects, high levels of conservation are critical for our whole state.
There are various strategies for developing small, multiple use water storage, but the key overall strategy is a complete, local stakeholder process. One example is to have Gypsum enlarge an existing, smaller reservoir. The state or water interests in other areas should not be the driving force or originator. Any new project should originate at the local level, in the basin, using a bottom-up approach.