Water transfer bill top of session’s docket for Roberts

The legislative session has started and I’m settled into an apartment in Denver. My husband is a huge help in getting my stuff and me up here and dealing with the logistics of a new place and when he heads back to Southwest Colorado it’s always a bit hard to see him go. It’s never easy to uproot myself from home, but that’s part of the job.

My first bill has been introduced and it addresses lawn irrigation in new subdivisions when the water used is transferred from agricultural use. It would take effect in 2016. I’ve received lots of input on the bill. Most people understand the need to address Colorado’s water shortage, especially as our state’s population grows. It’s anticipated that Colorado’s population will double by 2050, yet we don’t have the water supply needed to support that growth.

It has been suggested that the bill is heavy-handed and I understand that sentiment. The bill is a work in progress and I’m committed to as many meetings as it takes to get the variety of responses and to consider suggested alternatives on this proposal. While some view it as being a Western Slope versus Front Range approach, it’s not intended that way. It is true, though, that I’m concerned about where the new water is going to come from to support the growth projected for Colorado.

Given the private property rights nature of Colorado water, the bill clearly allows agricultural water transfers to occur. The focus is on municipal water — half of which goes for lawns and three-quarters of that water is consumed by evaporation. If this bill is passed, Colorado would lose less water to evaporation — a significant consumer, particularly given the dryness of our semi-arid climate.

My constituent, Steve Harris, a water engineer from Durango, proposed the bill idea to me and it was developed to address the widespread concern that our state is rapidly losing land in agricultural production due to municipalities buying the water rights for their growth. Food independence is even more important than energy independence, so this proposal struck a chord for me.

We’ll see what the sausage-making process does to the proposal but I’m working hard to address the concerns raised and I’ve not encountered any group that hasn’t been willing to come to the proverbial table to talk this over. That said, I’m mindful of the longstanding phrase that “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting!”

On another topic, I’m gratified that Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., as well as the U.S. Forest Service have responded to a recent column of mine regarding the sorry state of Colorado’s forest health and resulting wildfires. I hope to make use of the time in Denver this session to help develop purposeful strategies on how we can all work together to improve the current situation. I’m also working with the governor’s budget director about greater funding for emergency radio communications. Talk must lead to action and I’ll update you through this column, which I’ll now be writing weekly, given the new session’s start.

I look forward to my new assignment to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy and I’ve been asked by the committee chairwoman to serve as the Senate liaison to the Department of Natural Resources. It’s my honor and pleasure to do that.

Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 6th District, which includes Cortez, in the Colorado Senate. Reach her at the Capitol by phone, (303) 866-2914 or by fax (303)866-2218; at home by phone (970) 564-0999 or by fax (970) 564-9236; or by e-mail at eroberts@frontier.net.