Let’s keep working on it.” This is the message we heard from Gov. Hickenlooper in his recent veto of water conservation legislation known as Senate Bill 23. We are disappointed in the governor’s decision to veto a moderate bill that passed the General Assembly, but we welcome his commitment in the veto letter to make agricultural efficiency and water conservation priorities next year and through the formulation of Colorado’s first State Water Plan.
We supported the bill because it offered many ranchers and farmers in counties like Pitkin and Summit smart ways to voluntarily keep Colorado’s watershed strong, without any risk. The result would have been increased private investment in irrigation infrastructure, healthier rivers and streams, which provide much-needed economic infusions to our towns, and more resilient farms and ranches.
Under the bill’s provisions, ranchers, farmers and other agricultural water users in western Colorado could voluntarily implement irrigation and water efficiency measures, and ensure the water they save can benefit Colorado’s streams and rivers, without risking abandonment of their water rights or harming another water-rights holder.
Simply put, water is the lifeblood of our state, and we need to treat it as such. Status quo water laws cannot support our growing needs. That’s why the SB 23 water conservation legislation was good policy for Colorado, the kind we need more of.
The governor said himself, “All conversations about water should begin with conservation,” so we know he can do better on this issue, and fortunately he’ll have the chance to soon because his administration is developing the first-ever State Water Plan.
Colorado needs a State Water Plan for our water resources for many reasons. Colorado’s population is growing rapidly, with estimates that 4 million to 5 million more people will be living here by 2050. Not only do we need to ensure adequate amounts of drinking and municipal water in cities along the Front Range, but we must also maintain a secure supply for our state’s essential agricultural industry and the natural environment that our recreational/tourism economy depends upon — an industry that supports more than 80,000 Colorado jobs and contributes more than $9 billion to our economy.
Water experts agree the plan must include a serious commitment to conservation as a key strategy to ensure the future of Colorado’s economy and natural resources. In addition to being less harmful to our natural environment, conservation is cost-effective and proven to work.
With his pending State Water Plan, Gov. Hickenlooper has a chance to lead the entire western region in implementing common-sense water conservation.
We also hope more Coloradans will to get involved in the development of the State Water Plan. This is our chance to design a blueprint for intelligent growth, thriving economies and healthy rivers that are fundamental to our Rocky Mountain lifestyle. Let’s all agree to put politics aside because the reality is that everyone in both rural and urban Colorado owns this issue. The health of our rivers and streams equals the health of our state.
Stiegelmeier and Richards are commissioners in Summit and Pitkin counties. To learn more about the State Water Plan, visit www.waterforcolorado.org and talk with your elected officials.