Ritter questions state water system, looks for ways to improve
Associated Press Writer
AURORA ” In his first major policy statement on water, Gov. Bill Ritter said Thursday a system designed to work out disagreements among users in different parts of the state is getting mixed reviews and he wants to find a way to improve it.
Ritter’s director of natural resources, Harris Sherman, said backers of three or four major water projects have bypassed the system are working on their own deals.
Lawmakers created the system in 2005 to help manage the state’s chronic water shortage. It includes roundtables of water users in each of the state’s river basins that were supposed to develop guidelines for a statewide Interbasin Compact Committee, but the roundtables bogged down and critics said they had no teeth.
“We get differing opinions, differing views on whether this roundtable process is a successful one, whether it merits going forward,” Ritter told the Colorado Water Congress, a coalition of water users and providers.
“There are a lot of people who think it really does, and then it has its detractors. We really want to spend some time and look at that process,” he said.
Sherman said the roundtables have succeeded in bringing warring factions together to work on water issues, but he said it’s time to start creating solutions.
“There are some issues and concerns I have about this process,” Sherman said.
He said it is unclear how the committees work with other water policymakers, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which funds major water projects.
“It may be a matter of concern if this is the best vehicle,” he said.
The lawmaker who proposed the roundtable system, Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said a turf battle is under way between the roundtables and the Water Conservation Board. A spokesman for the board did not return a call.
Penry said he support’s Ritter’s decision to study ways to improve the process but believes the governor will keep the basin roundtables.
“People are sick of the fighting. They want to find rational water solutions,” Penry said.
The roundtable system was designed to help manage the state’s chronic water shortage after voters rejected a plan in 2003 that would have authorized $2 billion in bonds for water storage.
Critics said the system has no teeth and will be difficult to administer.
Ritter said the state needs to focus on water issues if it is to continue to grow. He said the state needs to promote conservation and reuse, allow farmers to lease their water to growing municipalities without giving up their rights, and promote water storage.
Ritter named Harris to replace Russ George as head the Natural Resources Department, saying he wanted fresh eyes.
He nominated George to be director of state’s powerful Transportation Department.
As natural resources director, George also took on the duties of chief of the Interbasin Compact Committee but recommended to Ritter’s transition team that the jobs be split.
George did not return a phone call seeking comment.
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