Opinion: Unlikely allies align to support Measure 7A, protect Western Slope water
Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County commissioner
When a Montrose County Republican and an Eagle County Democrat agree completely on something, and jointly support it, that’s worth reading about.
We may not agree on many political issues, but we both agree on the importance of protecting Western Slope water and keeping it on the Western Slope. That’s why we are urging you to vote “yes” on 7A this fall because 7A is about protecting Western Slope water and our local economies that depend on that water.
Make no mistake, Western Slope rivers and our water resources face real and meaningful threats from the east and from the west. As growing cities on the Front Range and downriver states need ever-increasing amounts of water, western Colorado’s rivers look to be their preferred source. Even as we write this column, Front Range cities are working to develop plans for new transmountain diversions, and East Coast hedge funds are buying large tracts of land and water rights in the Grand Valley — all while agriculture- and recreation-based economies on the Western Slope are suffering from the impacts of a multidecadal drought.
Luckily for all of us, we have a watchdog that has and will continue to safeguard our water. For more than 80 years, the Colorado River Water Conservation District has been representing and protecting the Western Slope’s water interests with great success. The district has fought many battles on our behalf, and we have all benefited from the protections they’ve secured. But they need our help to continue the fight.
We feel that 7A is one of the most important decisions we will face in the upcoming election because it’s about protecting our water for current and future generations of water users on the Western Slope. It’s about clean water for drinking. It’s about protecting water supplies for farmers and ranchers. And it’s about ensuring adequate water to support recreation and the businesses who rely on rafters, fishermen and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. In short, it’s about protecting the very foundation of our Western Slope economy and way of life.
We know that the pandemic has had significant impacts on our communities, and we know that any new tax can be burdensome, but not having water would be worse.
This district has not been immune to the economic downturn that we are all seeing and feeling. The river district has cut expenses by 15% this year and has been forced to eliminate four full-time positions from its payroll. We think this is unacceptable. We all need the Colorado River district to be stronger right now, not weaker — especially in the midst of a yearslong drought or while out-of-basin demands for our water are on the rise.
So what exactly will the district do with new revenue? The majority of this money will be going to projects, not paychecks, with 86% of new revenue being directed to essential Western Slope water projects: providing upgrades to our aging infrastructure, conserving water and sustaining healthy aquifers, improving fish and wildlife habitat, and increasing stream restoration and recreational enhancements. The remaining 14% will be used to ensure that the district has the financial resources to continue fighting for us.
To be clear, revenue from 7A would not be used to hire any new positions. This isn’t about creating bureaucracy. This is about ensuring that the Western Slope’s water watchdog is able to continue safeguarding our water resources.
Measure 7A is nonpartisan and enjoys broad support from conservative and progressive communities alike. Agricultural associations, chambers of commerce, environmental organizations and members of the outdoor recreation industry have all come together to support this important measure.
The ballot measure explicitly states that the Colorado River district “will not use these additional funds for the purpose of paying to fallow irrigated agriculture.” We believe investing in infrastructure and efficiency projects is a better approach to conserving water than “buy and dry” practices that threaten our rural economies and our agricultural heritage on the Western Slope.
Again, we believe 7A is one of the most important decisions we will be asked to make when we cast our ballots. Please join us and vote “yes” on 7A.
Editor’s note: The Summit Daily News was unable to find an organized opposition group to write an opposing opinion.
Kathy Chandler-Henry is an Eagle County commissioner. Rep. Marc Catlin is a member of the Colorado House of Representatives in District 58. Both serve as representatives on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board of directors.
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