August 20, 2015

Sen. Bennet talks water and mine clean-up in Vail

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The upper Colorado River.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The upper Colorado River.

Grottos water

VAIL – Speaking at the Colorado Water Congress’ summer meeting in Vail on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said it would take an “all-of-the-above” strategy to meet Colorado’s future water needs.

“The bottom line for me is that we’ve got to look at water a little bit like we look at energy in Colorado,” said Bennet, a Democrat who was elected in 2010. “We need an all-of-the-above strategy that includes storage and conservation and efficiency. The reality is that we will need to make the best use of the water we have for the rest of our lifetimes.”

The need for additional water storage facilities — new dams and reservoirs — is a consistent message heard at the Water Congress meeting and at water-supply planning meetings around the state.

Bennet acknowledged the time and effort that many attendees at the event have spent developing a statewide water plan, which is being prepared by regional “roundtables” and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The plan is to be submitted to the governor in December and comments on the second draft are due Sept. 17.

“I know that a lot of you here already have contributed many hours and days, and even years, and even, really, lifetimes to the effort,” Bennet said. “The water community, the environmental groups, utilities, local governments and agricultural users have all been involved in the drafting of that plan.”

He added, “Whatever comes out in the final plan, it’s clear that action will be necessary to address the challenges that Colorado will face in the coming decades.”

In his opening remarks, Bennet was highly critical of the gridlocked nature of the U.S. Congress and said he’s tried very hard not to spend “one second over the last six years contributing to the dysfunction that’s there,” but instead has worked to find “bipartisan solutions to real challenges that we have.”

He spoke of a week-long tour of the wheat fields of eastern Colorado that he took recently with Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, and how the two of them also agreed to travel to Durango together in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill that discolored the Animas River on Aug. 5.

“It is fun, people see a Democrat and a Republican working together, and they wish they were seeing that in D.C.” Bennet said.

In response to a question, Bennet said he was exploring a Colorado-only version of “Good Samaritan” legislation, which would shield individuals and organizations that want to work to clean up old hard-rock mines from inheriting the full liability for the mine.

“If we could figure out a way to develop some sort of pilot legislation — we’ve been talking to Congressman Tipton’s office about that — that would allow us to do what needs to be done in our state, that would be a good step forward,” Bennet said, noting there are “thousands” of old mines in Colorado that need to be cleaned up. “Being stuck in this stasis of not being able to address it guarantees exactly what happened the other day, and I don’t think we ought to have our state have to confront something like this again.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015.

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