Communications, lawn size measures make progress in Senate

Keywords: Durango Herald,

Two bills of mine made their way through committee last week. One of these requires the state to do a comprehensive assessment of Colorado’s emergency radio communications system. The assessment will identify the full extent of the current gaps that threaten public safety, especially in disasters.

Once the gaps are identified by a group of stakeholders, including fire chiefs, emergency responders and law enforcement, the task is then to develop a business plan with the director of public safety and other cabinet members to address those gaps as well as to determine how to fund the necessary resources to better provide for public safety through a truly interoperable radio communications system.

This effort will take dedication and, over a period of time, a large investment to correct the deficiencies. A basic function of government is to help provide for the safety of its people, and emergency interoperable radio communications is a critical tool to assist in that function.

Reliable radio communication is the key to any responder’s ability to know what back-up assistance is available and what next steps to take. In committee testimony on the bill, fire chiefs and sheriffs related their struggles in protecting the public from harm, whether from wildfires, floods, accidents or shootings, without dependable radio communications, citing lack of infrastructure or “patches,” adequate training or other fixable problems.

As bill sponsor, I am determined that we not let the complexity and size of the task cause us to move too slowly on this challenge. There’s a deadline of Dec. 31 to complete the assessment and business plan, which is an ambitious timeline, but too much is at stake and this problem has festered too long to move more slowly.

I’m very grateful for those who participated in the stakeholder meetings this past fall in my district and for the phone calls and email communication that I had with those who couldn’t travel to the meetings. Your feedback helped greatly in moving this along and I look forward to your continued input.

Another bill of mine saw action last week and it’s the water conservation measure limiting residential irrigated lawns in new developments after 2016, when the water for the new development is transferred out of agricultural use. The bill was passed by the ag committee and heads to the Senate floor.

The bill specifically protects the continued right to sell agricultural water and it provides for irrigated turf grass, just not as large an area as in a more humid climate. Despite the controversy surrounding the proposed mechanism, no one has disputed the need for Colorado to be more aggressive in its water conservation efforts. Municipalities have made significant gains in water conservation, yet with the staggering growth projections for Colorado over the next few decades, no new sources of water supply have been put in place.

Plenty of my constituents value every drop of water, especially those who haul water to their homes. Yet, statewide, people rightly worry about our lack of future water supply, especially considering what must leave our state to downstream users, and it appears that we’re in for a long period of continued drought. Many extol the virtues of Colorado’s agricultural economy and the benefits of food independence. The question this bill poses is, will Coloradans walk the talk?

Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 6th District, which includes Durango, 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.