New guv talks about age-old subject of water

Hickenlooper: Water a top priority
The Colorado Statesman

Water is the most valuable of Colorado’s natural resources, but in the next 40 years the state faces a shortage that is every bit as significant at the $1.2 billion deficit the state faces for its 2011-12 budget.

That was part of the message Gov. John Hickenlooper had for members of the Colorado Water Congress, which last week held its 2011 annual convention in Greenwood Village. Hickenlooper addressed the Congress on Jan. 28, continuing his State of the State theme of efficiency and effectiveness but applying that theme to water, and telling the audience he wants to come up with a five-year plan for addressing the state’s coming water shortage.

Hickenlooper discussed his “core values” for water within the goal of a five-year timetable to improve the state’s water supply, which he called a “sacred commodity” that has “real value beyond monetary” ones. He noted that in his visits to Colorado’s 64 counties, at some point the conversation always came back to water.

“You can’t talk about economic development without talking about water,” Hickenlooper said. “There’s a lot of focus on the appropriate balance between natural resources, natural gas, coal and renewable energy; but in the end water is the most valuable of all of our natural resources.” Hickenlooper noted that experts predict the state’s population will double in the next 40 years, and the state is already relying too much on nonrenewable groundwater.

Topping the list of Hickenlooper’s five core values is protecting agricultural production. He noted a recent report by the Interbasin Compact Committee that said the state’s current system for water usage, which relies on substantial water transfers out of agriculture, threatens “precious” agricultural lands. “We have to be careful to resist balancing our water budget on the backs of agricultural uses,” the governor said, adding it’s “too important economically and culturally to the state,” and that food production is a long-term national security issue. The state also must look for more efficiency and conservation, Hickenlooper said, which includes finding more effective ways to expand existing water supplies; appropriate regulation related to environmental standards; water policy that will help attract jobs and development; and requiring that water projects have multiple uses and benefits, such as recreation, storage and flood control.

“Water will require a large conversation with all of you,” Hickenlooper told the audience, and he asked that everyone contribute ideas, either through the Colorado Water Conservation Board, basin roundtables or the Interbasin Compact Committee, all part of the Department of Natural Resources. Hickenlooper said he hopes to come up with a five-year plan for the state’s water supplies, a plan with definable outcomes that presents a sustainable solution.

Hickenlooper ended his speech with a call for cooperation, as he did with the State of the State, his inaugural address and remarks to groups around the state. “If we’re willing to put aside partisan divides, Republicans versus Democrats, rural versus urban, we can get this done, and what a huge gift it would give to future generations of Colorado!” he said, to thunderous applause from the audience.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com