Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaking at the Colorado Water Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

DENVER – A relaxed and candid Gov. John Hickenlooper told a luncheon crowd at the annual Colorado Water Congress meeting today at the Denver Tech Center that finding money for water projects, education, broadband services, and transportation infrastructure were all high priorities for him this year.

“Certainly what’s going on in Washington is a little disconcerting,” the Democratic governor said early on in his remarks. “You know, I’m an optimist, I think we’re going to be fine. I think we’ll figure this all out.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Hickenlooper released a statement about President Trump’s executive order freezing grants and contracts at the EPA.

“This freeze could potentially impact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s ability to carry out its federally mandated commitment to protect clean air, clean water and safe drinking water,” Hickenlooper said in the statement. “We have sought clarification from the EPA and have asked for assistance from Senators Gardner and Bennet.”

Acknowledging that three-quarters of the people in the room probably voted for Donald Trump, as water buffaloes in Colorado tend to be politically conservative, Hickenlooper quipped, “We’ve changed our Facebook relationship status with Washington, D.C., to ‘It’s complicated.’”

That got a laugh from the crowd.

Hickenlooper then turned to climate change, noting it wasn’t clear yet whether Colorado would see more or less water in the future. And he said whether one believes climate change is caused by human activities or not, Colorado should still be preparing for the worst.

The governor also praised the Colorado Water Plan that was presented to him by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in December 2015, after he called in 2013 for the plan to be prepared in two years, a blink of an eye in “water time.”

“Over the last year we’ve made progress on pretty much every measurable goal in the plan,” Hickenlooper. “We’ve really worked hard to make sure that water can be a way to unite this state. Historically that hasn’t been the case.”

Hickenlooper also cited the work of the regional basin roundtables, such as the Colorado River basin roundtable that meets in Glenwood Springs, in creating the water plan.

“My sense is that water should not be a partisan issue,” Hickenlooper said. “It shouldn’t be about one party or the other. We should work hard, just like we did in creating the water plan to come up with a shared, consensus, plan and then we should all work together. If we have disagreements, sit down, work through the disagreements, but keep it the hell out of politics.”

He also talked about the idea of creating “a hub for water data” in Colorado so that people get more information about how water is used. And he said he wanted the state to be a leader in innovative water management.

The governor also made a plug for the annual “projects bill” presented to the state Legislature from the CWCB. This year’s bill includes a $25 million investment in what Hickenlooper called “Colorado water plan activities,” including water supply projects.

The bill also includes a $90 million loan from the CWCB to Northern Water to help finance a new reservoir as part of its Windy Gap project, which would deliver more Colorado River water to the northern Front Range.

The governor said despite the state’s “fiscal thicket” created by two statewide tax-limiting measures, water issues should be given bipartisan support, along with education, transportation, and broadband. And, he noted, that rural counties in Colorado will likely get hurt the most if new revenue sources are not eventually supported by voters.

Gov. Hickenlooper, raising a glass of beer to toast to Colorado while speaking on Jan. 25 at the Colorado Water Congress at the Hyatt Regency hotel.
Gov. Hickenlooper, raising a glass of beer to toast to Colorado while speaking on Jan. 25 at the Colorado Water Congress at the Hyatt Regency hotel. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Water, and beer

Hickenlooper, who has been mentioned as a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, published a memoir last year called “The opposite of woe: my life in beer and politics.” And he managed a way to work beer into his short speech by bringing up new regulations around water reuse.

“The more water reuse we have, the more we’re going to have to put on crops,” he said. “It’s basic math. Once we get regulations in place, the home builders, businesses, and all kinds of water users are going to be able to safely implement gray water and direct potable reuse systems. It’s really going to take pressure off of irrigated agriculture as well as … that pressure of taking water from the West Slope.”

The governor, who founded Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver in 1988, then turned to what he called the “highest and most beneficial use” of water – the making of beer.

“I’d like the opportunity to lead you all in a toast,” Hickenlooper said as CWCB Director James Eklund approached the podium and poured him a glass of beer.

“Where’s our beer?” someone called out from the tables.

“If you want to run through a statewide election and get elected governor, you get your own pint on the lectern too,” Hickenlooper said to much laughter, while taking a sip and apologizing for not having beer for everyone.

“If it was my meeting … ,” he said, to more laughter, before toasting, “let’s raise a glass to the strong state of the headwaters state.”

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...