SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Three members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation spoke on Wednesday in Snowmass Village at the annual summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress, which represents the interests of water providers and owners at the Colorado state house and in Washington, D.C.
Republican congressmen Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton spoke at lunch on the opening of the three-day water conference, while Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, spoke in an afternoon session. Also speaking in the afternoon was Abel Tapia, a Democrat from Pueblo who is challenging Tipton for his 3rd Congressional District seat.
Rep. Gardner, who is running against Udall for Senate, called for new water storage projects to be built in Colorado.
“I believe we have to focus on water storage, what we can do to move forward on common-sense, water-storage projects,” Gardner said. “If we were to build every water project on the books today and every one that’s under construction, we are still short of water into the future. And how are we going to meet the needs of industry and agriculture and our communities if we don’t store more water?”
Gardner called for simplifying the permitting process for water projects, including new dams and reservoirs, and said he wants to see federal, state and local partnerships formed to help pay for new projects.
And Gardner said he wanted to “stop and defeat” a new proposed rule from the EPA that would clarify the definition of “waters of the U.S.”
“Almost every molecule of water could come under the jurisdiction of that new rule the way it is currently written,” Gardner said.
The EPA, on its website about the proposed rule change, states that “the proposed rule does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act.”
Rep. Scott Tipton also denounced the EPA’s proposed rule change.
“That’s going to have a regulatory impact and cost to us and it’s effectively going to be a taking,” Tipton said, “because if the EPA can step in this room and start to tell the state of Colorado, start to tell the western United States, how our water is going to be handled, we’re going to be stripping our farm and ranch community of the ability to be able to grow our crops, our communities to be able to grow and to be able to prosper and to be able to create jobs and certainty for our children to be able to have a prosperous future.”
After he spoke, Tipton was asked a question by Pitkin County commissioner Rachel Richards, who sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which is helping to shape the state’s forthcoming Colorado Water Plan.
“One of our big uncertainties is really water availability,” Richards said, noting that projections show that climate change could reduce water supplies in Colorado by 15 percent. “What is your position on climate change?”
“I always like to be able to say on climate change, I grew up in the shadow of some of the greatest climate change this nation’s ever seen — it’s called the Rocky Mountains,” Tipton answered lightly. “I guarantee you, the climate will change. And it will continue to do so. Unfortunately, we have some people that try and make this a political issue, for some reason.”
Sen. Udall had a different take on the subject.
“Our climate is changing, and the only thing constant or predictable on the subject is science that shows we can’t ignore the problem,” Udall said during his remarks to the crowd at the conference center in Snowmass.
“Rising temperatures and ongoing drought are only exacerbating the pressure on our river basins by contributing to insufficient rainfall and snowpack,” Udall said. “This has led to dwindling reservoir levels, leaving water managers in this room and across the state with difficult decisions on how to meet the water needs of cities, farmers and the environment.”
The Colorado Water Congress meeting runs through Friday noon in Snowmass.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of regional water issues. The Daily News published this story on Thursday, Aug 21, 2014.