Waiting for Chapter 10: What’s the plan in the state water plan?

Water board vice chair: “I don’t feel the need for any of us to get hung up on the plan piece of this thing.”


It has taken 12 years, 344 pages and input from tens of thousands of people to put together what officials are touting as Colorado’s first statewide water plan.

Yet, as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Natural Resources Department finishes its long-awaited second draft in the coming week, both critics and supporters doubt it’ll put forth many durable solutions to Colorado’s snowballing water shortages.

The plan’s first draft has a gaping hole. The heart of it, Chapter 10 – entitled “Legislative Recommendations” – is where the proposed fixes are supposed to be. So far, it has been left blank.

The administration promises to write the second draft “as an action plan that will include legislative recommendations as well as a variety of administration actions” the agency can take on its own.

But “action” can be a subjective term.

The plan is expected to list conceptual goals rather than requirements. It’s likely, for example, to recommend cutting water usage by 400,000 acre-feet a year – roughly enough for about 800,000 families – through conservation. But there would be no teeth if, as expected, it doesn’t specify how and among which water users such ambitious conservation would be gleaned

John Stulp, the Governor’s water policy advisor, says the non-prescriptive approach is consistent with Hickenlooper’s style of governing.

“Colorado’s very big on local control. Mandates just don’t do very well in this state,” he said this week from his wheat field near Lamar. “The Governor isn’t going to say ‘Do this. Do that.’ He likes to develop consensus about concepts amongst folks who haven’t gotten along so well in the past.”

In the meantime, several water experts say the plan is shaping up to be less of a plan than hoped.

Committing only to theoretical frameworks and so-called “no and low regret actions” in the short-term, some say, won’t solve shortages that will increase with long-term population growth and climate change. The state’s shortfall is expected to spike to 500,000 acre-feet – the amount of water it would take to supply more than 2 million people – by 2050. If there’s no pain now, some warn, there won’t be much gain moving forward, and Colorado runs the risk of a water crisis like California’s, or bigger.

“I’d say the word ‘plan‘ is misused here,” said Pat Mulroy, a Nevada-based water expert with the Brookings Institution, after reading the first draft.

“It’s a nice compendium of issues and subject matters of all things water in Colorado, but it’s not an action plan,” added Jim Lochhead, head of Denver Water, the big water-rights holder on the Front Range. “It doesn’t set an agenda for what Colorado needs to do in order to meet the challenges facing the state.”

Russ George, former speaker of Colorado’s House and Gov. Bill Owens’ natural resources chief, defends the grassroots statewide planning process he has helped lead for more than a decade. But, he says, if you’re looking for specifics on how to make up for water shortfalls, you won’t find them in the state water plan.

“Would we have liked all of this work and information to have produced really fantastic solutions? Yes. But nothing like that is going to occur,” he told The Independent..

“You’ve got to realize that sometimes the plan is the process. I don’t feel the need for any of us to get hung up on the plan piece of this thing.”

*   *   *

George, 69, grew up on his family’s farm near Rifle. A water lawyer by trade, he says he has been in the business since age 10 when his dad taught him how to irrigate their 160 acres of barley.

A longtime critic of the havoc Colorado’s “first-in-time, first-in-right” water laws can play on water policy, George has championed a collaborative approach that brings together senior and junior water-rights holders to discuss how to live within the state’s dwindling groundwater and river supplies.

After the drought of 2002 and 2003, he set up a series of roundtable discussions in each of Colorado’s nine river basins. The urgency water interests felt about those years’ dustbowl conditions convinced them to try a new form of conversation.

“There’s a recognition in the water community that when things are done in desperation you come up with very bad solutions that could be much worse than if you had planned to begin with,” said Denver water lawyer Alan Curtis. “You can’t kick the can down the road because suddenly there’s a wall waiting and they’re going to start taking water away from people who are going to sue.”

From the start of the roundtable talks, George asked all participants to come up with two lists: what they need, and what they’re willing to give up so somebody else can have what they need.

“We tried to move the decision-making away from the old places of ‘I have the money and the right and the power, so I can do what I want,’ to, ‘We all need to be at the table together’,” he said.

A decade and hundreds of roundtable meetings later, the approach has succeeded in garnering grassroots involvement in one of the state’s most pressing public policy issues. It also has managed to bring together adversaries within river basins who used to communicate with each other only in water court.

In the Colorado River basin, for example, cattle people, irrigators, municipal planners, anglers and conservationists have for years now been meeting once a month on Mondays, mid-day, at the recreation center in Glenwood Springs. Players in the Yampa/White basin meet quarterly on Wednesdays in a community center in Craig.

It’s a measure of the roundtables’ success that, despite participants’ competing views on water use, they sometimes share donuts, coffee and pictures of their grandkids before or after meetings.

But the approach has a key flaw: Participants have been far more amenable to answering the first part of George’s question – what water they need – than the second part – what they’re willing to give up. It’s no surprise. Water wars and an ethos of “not one more drop” date back to before statehood when the “Colorado doctrine” of prior appropriation was set in the 1860s. The doctrine holds that the first person to use or divert water for a “beneficial” use gets first rights to it.

State planners are scrambling to pull together input from ten years of roundtable discussions, plus scores of emails and letters from the general public, before releasing the second draft of the water plan next week. It’s a lofty task, given that most input has been heavy on problems and light on solutions.

“So far, the plan is more of a description of what is rather than what will be,” said Colorado Water Congress chief Doug Kemper.

The issue of what Chapter 10 will and won’t include is a touchy one.

Kemper paused when asked if he expects it to list any meaty solutions.

“I don’t have an expectation about that. I just don’t have an expectation about that,” he said.

Later, he elaborated.

“Look, I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation to come up with a grandiose water plan that’s a blueprint that everybody’s going to follow,” he said. “As a member of the public, what I would want to know is that the document reflects public input and values, and that the state took that into account.”

Putting forth solutions amounts to political fire juggling in a state whose Western Slope has 70 percent of the surface water and 11 percent of the population, while the Front Range makes up 75 percent of the state’s economy. Colorado is split geographically, demographically and politically when it comes to water. Any way you cut it, a plan dictating major reforms is likely, in legal and political terms, to be a losing proposition.

“Which politician is going to feel like they have sufficient public cover to adopt it?” Brookings’ Mulroy said. “Let’s face it. If there were a real plan, people would be loading their guns about now. This (plan) is probably as good as you’re going to get unless you’re in a crisis mode like California.”

*   *   *

Hickenlooper made a shrewd choice of who would lead the water planning process.

James Eklund had worked as one of his legal counsels and as a natural resources lawyer for the Attorney General’s office before the Governor picked him to direct the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It helps that Eklund is what Hickenlooper isn’t – a fifth generation Coloradan who grew up not only on the Western Slope, but also in a farming family.

It also helps that Eklund knows a bit about politics, having studied the subject at Stanford and later worked as a driver to Ken Salazar, the AG turned U.S. senator turned U.S. interior secretary. He shares with Salazar the unique ability to navigate as well on cattle ranches he does in the conference rooms of 17th Street white-shoe law firms.

As Eklund tells it, the water plan already is a huge accomplishment, at least from the perspective of how many people have become involved. Through May, it had generated more than 24,000 public comments touching on every aspect of water use in the state. His staff has responded to every one.

“The process is a success in itself,” Eklund says.

But how will the state measure the success of the content rather than just the process? That’s a little tougher to define.

Eklund told The Independent last week that progress is being made on the more detailed elements of the plan, which will look at regional suggestions submitted by the basin roundtables and put forth reasonable outcomes – at least in concept. He says the plan and process need to be able to adapt and morph as circumstances such as growth, drought and climate change shape the future. There’s also a need for “agility” in state water law and federal regulatory processes in order for the plan to be successful, he added.

All in all, he downplays expectations for Chapter 10.

“No one solution is a silver bullet,” Eklund noted. “We have to have a package solution that includes storage and conservation. We can’t conserve our way out of this.”

The issue of water storage – dams, reservoirs and other systems linked with massive delivery systems known as “trans-mountain diversions” – is the third rail of Colorado water policy.

The Front Range wants more storage facilities, or at least the option to build them, so it can shore up supplies to keep up with population growth. The Western Slope agricultural community, intent on keeping its water west of the continental divide, says no way. Environmentalists and sports-folks want cities and farmers to conserve more to ensure enough river flow to protect outdoor recreation, plants and critters.

Two polls that came out last year showed 90 percent of Colorado voters want to keep our rivers healthy and flowing.

“We want this plan to include funding to protect rivers across the state. It should be a river plan, not just a water plan,” says Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates’ water program director.

WRA and other environmental groups are pushing for aggressive urban conservation goals like ones passed in other states seeking to cut usage 20 percent over 20 years.

On the issues of conservation targets and more storage projects, water interests have dug in their feet.

George, who serves as vice chair of the Water Conservation Board, said he always expected by this point in the roundtable process to be able to answer the puzzle of how to ease the blow of projected shortfalls.

“That question just gets more intense the farther we move along. So the question here at the 11th hour is whether there’s water anywhere in Colorado that can be moved from where it is to greater use to more people, the Front Range,” he said. “Underlying all of this is great fear: Are we just going to take the water from agriculture to the cities for domestic use? Because that’s what happens if we do nothing.”

It’s in this context of political pressure and fear that Eklund and his staff have struggled to come up with actionable solutions. Scrambling to fill in the glaring blankness of the much-anticipated Chapter 10, they last week put before a state-formed water committee 160 questions about possible fixes.

Some sources say those talks fell apart because of a hesitancy to propose legislation, regulation or change.

As George tells it, the suggestions are “still lingering.”

“You have to understand that the staff doesn’t want to make policy decisions. Those are political judgment calls. So it’s hard slogging.”

*   *   *

Herein lies the downside of the grassroots approach.

Water users within each of the river basins have made progress discussing their regional needs. But now there’s distrust among the water basins – especially Western Slope versus Front Range – whose participants perceive the process has pitted their basins against others.

No matter how many basin roundtable meetings the state holds, no matter how many public comments it solicits, and no matter how many public-comment emails planners respond to, devising the fix-it part of the plan calls for exactly what the administration hoped to avoid. It requires top-down decisions that either manage to bring all the basins together or, more practically, show a willingness, if needed, to uphold certain political interests above others.

Factors such as cost come into play: Without help from the feds, like Colorado used to receive for new water projects, can the state afford such massive expenditures?

And there are economic repercussions to weigh: Will new businesses and families keep moving to Colorado if, like lately in drought-savaged California, the plan would require them to cut back on watering their lawns or filling their hot tubs?

And there are political calculations to make: Do lawmakers – already bitterly divided with a split legislature, tensions between urban and rural concerns, and pressures of an election year – have the fortitude to pass any meaningful water use bills? And what would Hickenlooper’s legacy be if, uncharacteristically, he tried to dictate aggressive water use reform?

“You have tens of thousands of comments here. Somebody needs to decide which input is valid or invalid. Someone needs to make sense out of the chaos. That’s a subjective process,” Mulroy said.

And it’s a process that by definition is far from grassroots. It takes expertise about the legal and political complexities of water policy.

“You have people who aren’t in the water business who are expressing their views. Can tens of thousand of individual comments produce some vision?” said Denver Water’s Lochhead. “At the end of the day, there needs to be some leadership to produce action.

“Someone needs to step up and move forward.”

It’s not enough, Lochhead says, for the plan to assert broad value statements such as the needs to protect Colorado’s farms and ranches, preserve future options for undeveloped water and conserve. As he puts it, those are just platitudes.

Lochhead has lists of specific, measurable solutions that include enforcing conservation through the state’s permitting processes, offering incentives for more green architecture, allowing Coloradans to capture rainwater, encouraging use of more recycled or “gray water” and increasing efficiency in irrigation systems.

He also has asked the administration to set ground-rules for water negotiations, “defining what needs to be done and who are the parties that are going to get together by date-certain to develop a solution.”

In other words, he wants a Chapter 10 with details and deadlines, and a commitment to pushing all parties beyond their own interests. Even his water district’s own.

“There’s still a very real opporunity both in Chapter 10 and throughout the plan to articulate a path forward and a plan for meeting our needs, saving our rivers and setting goals that citizens around the state can rise up and achieve,” Miller said.

The administration had calculated that if Chapter 10 is too robust, Hickenlooper could face the stigma of messing with water users’ property rights á la California Gov. Jerry Brown. But if Chapter 10 turns out to be just conceptual, proposing no meaningful action items, Hickenlooper could face the perception of weakness and the dubious distinction of having championed a water plan without a plan.

For the water plan to succeed, it requires a delicate balance between political pragmatism and leadership. If it swings too far either way, it likely will be mothballed in some library’s Western history section, as was Colorado’s first statewide plan – from 1974.

“Yes, that’s right. It’ll come as news to a lot of people that this isn’t in fact our first state water plan,” Kemper said. “The reason nobody’s heard of the first plan is because it had no impact.”


Photo credit: Andy R, Creative Commons, Flickr

Wiretap: Your Independence Day reading list

…and more news read around and about 1776


Trying times

Thomas Paine was the man whose words convinced Americans that their cause was not just worthy but destiny. “These are the times,” he wrote, “that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” So how is it that there were 20,000 mourners at Franklin’s funeral and six at Paine’s? Via The New Yorker.

Great inventor

Ben Franklin: The man who turned “American” from an insult into a compliment. Via The London Review of Books.

False truths

Five things that didn’t happen on July 4th (including one that did, just not the way the story is ever told). So we start with the fact that the Liberty Bell didn’t ring. Via The Washington Post.

Advanced placement

So you think you know about a revolution … Buzzfeed offers up what it calls a really tough American revolution quiz. And it is. Like, how many times did Washington cross the Delaware?

Strange facts

Gail Collins offers up a funnier 4th of July quiz on our present-day answer to the Founding Fathers, like, which GOP candidate says he once participated in an exorcism (or did he?). Via The New York Times.

Bleeding heart

Was it principle or pragmatism at the heart of the American revolution? And how did equality, or tar and feathering, enter into it? (Just FYI, Franklin and Washington both opposed the Tea Party, the original.) Via The New Yorker.

Imagining failure

An alternative history: What if the American colonies had lost the revolution? Via The Atlantic.

Infectious holiday

The Fourth of July was always meant to be a raucous and even dangerous holiday. But then there were the years when it became really dangerous, the early 20th century when Independence Day became Tetanus Day. Via The National Journal.

Play ball

Five things to know about baseball and the 4th of July, starting with the most famous speech ever made on an American athletic field. Via Yahoo.


Photo credit: lisa cee (Lisa Campeau), Creative Commons, Flickr.

Cory Gardner rallies farmers for massive water-storage project

“The longer we wait, the higher the cost, the more acres get dried up. We can do better.”


Updated July 2, 2015: 8:20 p.m.

Colorado faces a looming shortage of billions of gallons of water in the next 35 years. One project in the works hopes to be part of the solution, but it will face big challenges in the next month from environmental groups that believe it will drain dry the Poudre River near Fort Collins.

A rally for the Northern Integrated Supply Project Thursday celebrated a recent milestone – the completion of a supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement – and encouraged supporters to pack Army Corps of Engineers hearings in Fort Collins and Greeley on July 22 and 23, respectively.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colo., laid out the consequences if the water project isn’t built.

The state faces a shortage of 600,000 to 1 million acre-feet of water by 2050, mostly for municipal and industrial users, Gardner said. Even if every water project on the books is built, the state would still be short at least 100,000 acre-feet of water. And if these projects aren’t built, he added, it means more “buy and dry” of prime farmland on the Eastern Plains, possibly up to 700,000 acres. That’s about a $500 million annual impact for agriculture, he said.

“The longer we wait, the higher the cost, the more acres get dried up.” People will be out of work and communities will suffer, Gardner stated. “We can do better.”

The project would divert water from the Poudre River into a new reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Glade Reservoir could hold up to 170,000 acre-feet of water. A second reservoir, Galeton, which would be built northeast of Greeley, would hold about 45,000 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot of water is the amount of water to cover one acre of land by one foot. That’s roughly 325,853 gallons of water.

The Army Corps of Engineers will allow public comment on the environmental impact statement for a 75-day period, ending on September 3. The Corps is involved because the Northern Integrated Supply Project impacts federal water and wetlands and the project needs the Corps’ approval under the Clean Water Act.

Eric Wilkerson of Northern Water, the project’s chief proponent, told The Colorado Independent that the Northern Integrated Supply Project could break ground in as little as two to three years.

The project has drawn strong opposition from environmental groups that fear it will reduce the river flow on the Poudre, hurt fish and other aquatic habitats and result in polluted waters.

Wilkerson told the 175 people in attendance that the project will be done in the most environmentally-conscious manner possible. Proponents promise to supply 3,600 acre-feet of water in the winter and late summer months to maintain minimum flows in the Poudre, and put money into restoring streams and improving aquatic habitats.

Had the reservoirs been in place this year, Wilkerson said, the May rains would have filled them with about 130,000 acre-feet of water. Instead, that water flowed to Nebraska, exceeding what is required by interstate agreements. These interstate agreements, known as compacts, dictate how much water must flow from Colorado’s rivers to surrounding states, including Nebraska and Kansas.

The cost to build the reservoirs, estimated at $500 million, will be paid for by the 11 northern Front Range communities and four water districts supporting the project. They’ve already spent $9 million on the supplemental draft environmental impact statement and another $15 million on a first environmental impact statement and other studies.

“We have to quit being quiet in the water community” about the Northern Integrated Supply Project, Wilkerson told the audience. “We need to be vocal in order to move this project forward!”

Congressman Ken Buck, R-Colo., also addressed the rally. Buck pointed out that the current generation is living on infrastructure “that our grandparents built for us. It’s time we built infrastructure for our children and grandchildren.”

Several members of the Colorado General Assembly also attended, including Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton; Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling; Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; and Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley.

Sonnenberg said he’s watched the South Platte River for the last several months, watching the water go to Nebraska. “That’s our water,” he exclaimed.

Referring to the controversial rain-barrel bill that he opposed in the last legislative session, he said the “ultimate rain-barrel is ready to be built and that’s NISP.”

One of the problems faced by water-storage projects is the amount of time it takes from conception to completion. The Animas-La Plata project in southwestern Colorado was authorized by President John Kennedy in 1962. The reservoir filled to capacity for the first time just a few years ago. Similarly, a project at Chatfield Reservoir to add storage capacity was given its final approvals in the past year, more than a decade after originally authorized.

Those delays are sometimes attributed to foot-dragging by the federal government, particularly when there is strong opposition.

Gardner told The Independent that Congress must play a role in oversight over “bureaucrats who would rather delay” these projects than move them forward. Federal permits are responsible for some of the delays and that process could be reformed, he explained. The current process also allows every voice to be heard, and that’s important, he added, but “at the end of the day the right thing has to be done.”

The project has drawn strong opposition from environmental groups that fear it will reduce the river flow on the Poudre, hurt fish and other aquatic habitats and result in polluted waters.

Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre told The Independent the solution for Colorado’s water shortage is to focus on conservation and efficiency and work pro-actively with farmers.

“Farmers are the key to the future of Colorado’s growth problem,” Wockner said Thursday. He pointed out that farmers already take 85 percent of the river’s water. Other options should be explored, such as rotational fallowing, where certain portions of farmers’ fields are left unplanted from year to year. Cities and farmers should work together, Wockner added.

As to the supplemental draft environmental impact statement from the Army Corps of Engineers, Wockner said it has major “fatal flaws. It completely dismisses conservation and efficiency as an option for the cities, miscalculates the impact on the Poudre River, and it fails to correctly analyze the impacts to recreational economy and the community of Fort Collins.”

This project will make the river dramatically worse, he said, and the mitigation promised by the project’s 15 partners is an unenforceable farce.

“It would turn the Poudre River in Fort Collins into a muddy, stinking ditch,” he said.


Photo: Among the supporters Thursday at a rally for the Northern Integrated Supply Project near Fort Collins: state Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and Mary Hodge, D-Brighton; U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.; U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. and Eric Wilkerson, general manager of Northern Water. Credit: Jennifer Goodland.

Coloradans urge water fixes: Take Mississippi River water, ban fracking, close borders

Coloradans submitted over 24,000 comments on the state water plan, and the staff at the Colorado Water Conservation Board has waded (and responded) to them all – whether the ideas were delusional, wacky, angry or smart.


“I’m a Coloradan and I drink water.”

That’s how several letters to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in response to the state water plan begin. The statement may be valid, but it’s not going to solve a predicted water shortage over the next 35 years or contribute much to a state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper, intended to address the looming crisis.

According to a 2010 study, Colorado may be short as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2050, due largely to an expected doubling of the state’s population. That’s about 1.6 trillion gallons of water.

The water conservation board has been seeking public input both into the development of the plan and on its first draft, which was released last December.

A second draft is expected in the next few weeks. A third draft will likely be released in September, with more public comment solicited. The plan is to be finalized and sent to the governor in December.

Coloradans flooded the CWCB with more than 24,000 emails and letters in the past 18 months, beginning when Hickenlooper mandated the plan’s development.

The CWCB staff is responding to every comment – no small feat for less than 50 people.

Many thousands of comments were easy-to-dismiss form letters and form emails. But thousands of Coloradans wrote to the CWCB to express concerns about the status of Colorado’s water and what should be done to improve it.

The vast majority of the comments were thoughtful, well-informed and came from Coloradans from every walk of life, including school teachers, college students, farmers, ranchers, elected officials at every level and retirees.

“As far as I can tell, there is little emphasis on education about water conservation.”

While many are long-time Colorado residents, with some whose families go back four generations, one person who commented said that she’d just moved to Colorado a year ago.

All of the input showed what CWCB Director James Eklund called “strong public engagement” with the issue.

The comments touched on every aspect of the water plan, although water conservation was the dominant theme.

“As far as I can tell, there is little emphasis on education about water conservation. In our household, our water usage is about half that of other households because we make an effort to conserve,” wrote one Coloradan.

But another person, who also called for more education about water conservation, complained that he witnesses a guy at the local YMCA who takes showers that are way too long.

And then there were those with some seemingly off-beat ideas about how to save Colorado water. Gary Hausler suggested importing water from east of Colorado, including from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

It’s not the first time somebody has proposed pumping in water from the Midwest. Two lawmakers during the 2015 session proposed studying the feasibility of extending a Kansas pipeline that brings in Missouri River water to the Eastern Plains. That bill, House Bill 15-1167, won approval from the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee but later died in the House Appropriations Committee.

Hausler is a proponent of piping in water from the Mississippi, south of Cairo, Illinois, to add one million acre-feet of water to Colorado.

“The Mississippi represents an immense source of unused water that meets Colorado’s future needs and eliminates the need for ag dry-up and additional trans-mountain diversions,” he wrote. (In Colorado, 80 percent of the water for the Eastern Plains comes through a system of 24 tunnels that travel through the Continental Divide from the Western Slope and its major rivers, including the Roaring Fork and Colorado.)

But Hausler said the proposal has been ignored and derided for years for political reasons, and he was careful to add that he has no financial interest in the proposal.

The CWCB staff replied that importing water from the Midwest has been studied and is not believed to be feasible for many reasons. However, the idea has been discussed by the various basin roundtable groups, the staff replied.

Colorado has eight major river basins. Each river basin has a roundtable group, plus a ninth, representing the Denver Metro area. The groups are made up of local governments, water districts and other representatives. Each basin roundtable developed its own recommendations for the state water plan.

Hausler’s suggestion was similar to one made months earlier by Brenda Miller, who called transferring water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope “futile” and a reflection of Denver’s “urban sociopathology.”

Look to a place with surplus, Miller suggested, such as the Missouri River, an “easy 400 to 500 miles from Denver.”

Another commenter wanted to offer his high-tech ag services to solve the predicted water shortage: “I have invented a growing system that uses less than half the water and produces more end product than conventional methods. It will save more water than I can claim,” said Larry Smith, who did not elaborate on his system.

Many letters dealt with a particular water use that writers believed ought to be curtailed: hydraulic fracking.

Sally Hempy wrote: “The biggest impact we can make in our Colorado waters is to outlaw the fossil fuel industry. You can’t protect one county that is free of fracking while the neighboring county mines, fracks and pollutes our acrifers (Note: aquifers).”

She also complained about runoff from agriculture and animal feedlots. “Let’s protect what we have!”

The CWCB staff said fracking doesn’t need a lot of water compared to other uses, such as power plants, and that the plan does not make a “value judgment” on any specific water use.

At least two letters suggested another ban: the livestock industry.

Jerry Daidian suggested eliminating “production of livestock feed as a beneficial use…The disproportionate use of Colorado’s [river] water by the livestock industry lies at the core of the problem.”

Other writers suggested Colorado close its borders and stop shipping water to other states.

Mary Ratz wrote that the state’s precipitation “is ours to use. We should not have to let ANY of it flow to other states and should not have to prove we own that water and that we need all of it. This is a state RIGHT, not for the federal government’s to decide.”

She also noted the Colorado River “is all ours” and shouldn’t be watering lawns in Las Vegas or any of the lower Colorado River basin states (Nevada, Arizona, California and New Mexico).

CWCB staff responded, trying to explain interstate compacts, Congressionally-approved agreements between states that govern just how much water goes from a headwater state, like Colorado, to its downriver states.

But by this spring, the CWCB staff had a different suggestion: The writer should read the “Citizen’s Guide to Interstate Compacts,” produced by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

Then there was the comment from Jeremy Davis: “Please lay-off. We are not merely cannon fodder. We are people with lives, dreams, and families. Leave our water alone. Allow us the opportunity to be.”


Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons, Flickr


Laurene Facey-Muench is a black woman from Boulder. That alone makes people assume she’s liberal, she said. But she’s not.

Facey-Muench went to the Western Conservative Summit in Denver this weekend to see six Republican presidential candidates speak, go to citizen-action workshops and network with fellow conservatives.

On Friday afternoon at “Trump the Race Card” with the Frederick Douglass Republicans and KCarl Smith, Facey-Muench was the only black person in the room. She said the GOP does have a race problem, but it’s not the party’s fault — it’s liberal messaging.

The word “racist” has been attached to the word “conservative” in popular culture, making it hard for the GOP to get its message across, she said. “As long as what we believe is not listened to because we’re a bunch of racist idiots, nothing changes. We can’t bring people into our way of thinking.”

Facey-Muench remembers a time in her life when she was repulsed by Ronald Reagan. “I couldn’t even stand watching him on TV. Immediately those walls went up. I never actually listened to him.”

When she moved to Boulder and started going to church, finding God helped her find conservatism.

But that’s rare. KCarl Smith of the Frederick Douglass Republicans said that ever since Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act in 1964, people started associating conservatism with racism.

The result is that Democrats have a “suffocating grip on the minds of the black community […] That’s how they keep folks tied to the plantation mentality.”

In the analogy, low-income African Americans are slaves and the government is the master.

“On this modern day plantation, you’re paid to stay at home and not work,” he said. “If you get food stamps, you don’t have to work. You get people who made the government their source and their God.”

The federal food stamp program he’s referring to is called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Most SNAP households are white.

The graph below shows participating households by race of the household head in 2015, via Colorado-specific data from the USDA.

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A three-person family that brings in $25,700 or less a year is eligible. In 2014, 46-million low-income Americans received an average of $4.17 a day through SNAP. That’s not enough to buy a two-cheeseburger meal at McDonalds.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 10.22.22 AM

Most people on food stamps are neither raking it in nor loafing around the house not working. Most SNAP recipients have jobs that don’t pay a livable wage.

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Smith argued that the way out of “plantation mentality” is not that employers should start paying workers enough to live on; it’s that low-income workers should become business owners.

African Americans need to “take education seriously,” he said. “Learn how to read and write. Become entrepreneurs. Create jobs.”


Photo credit: Frederick Douglass mural on “Solidarity Wall” by Laurence’s travels, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Big Mac image via WikiMedia. Graphs by Nat Stein and Center on Budget Policy and Policy Priorities.

Wiretap: Tennessee store’s “No Gays Allowed” sign imperfectly legal

…and more news hanging around the world.


Legal discrimination

A Tennessee store puts up a “No Gays Allowed” sign — and the kicker is that it’s perfectly legal to do so. Most people, according to the polls, think such a sign is illegal. But in most states, it’s legal to discriminate against people who happen to be gay or lesbian. Is this the next battle line in gay rights? Via Vox.

Greek tragedy

The question that we have all been asking ourselves about the Greek crisis: What would Thucydides say about it? Question asked and answered. Let’s just say it has something to do with hubris. Via Robert Zaretsky in The New York Times.

Skinny dipping

Is Greece really to blame for the euro crisis? One answer: “It’s when the tide goes out that you see who’s swimming naked.” Via The Washington Post.

Go broke

The way out for Puerto Rico: Congress should allow it to declare bankruptcy. Via The New Yorker.

Marriage blues

George Will: Some GOP candidates are coming unhinged over the same-sex marriage ruling. Think, for starters, Ted Cruz, who’s one who ought to know better. Via The Washington Post.

Rite decision

Meanwhile, the Episcopalian church is not coming unhinged — and has decided to permit same-sex marriages. Via Time.

Flying duck

Democrats are cheering every word The Donald has to say — and every percentage point he rises in the polls. Via The Washington Post.

Biden time

If Democrats are looking for authenticity, they know where to find it: Why Joe Biden should get in the race. Via CNN.

Taxing job

At The National Journal, they’ve been studying the tax returns that Jeb Bush released so you don’t have to. Here’s the good stuff.


Photo credit: David Goehring, Creative Commons, Flickr


The saga around a notorious provision in Colorado’s state constitution continues, in what could be the most fundamental disagreement in state politics this decade.

The U.S. Supreme Court punted Kerr v Hickenlooper back down to a lower court Tuesday. The lawsuit aims to undo TABOR — the 1992 voter-approved measure that requires the state to get voter permission to raise taxes.

Plaintiffs in the case are a bipartisan bunch, including state lawmakers past and present, educators, administrators, public officials and private citizens. Their basic argument is that raising taxes is the purview of lawmakers. It’s part of making fiscal policy, and that’s what they were elected to do.

The case centers around the constitutional guarantee to a republican form of government, in which the public votes for representatives who make the laws that govern society.

But TABOR requires a popular vote for every tax increase and forces a refund when revenue exceeds a certain cap. That, the plaintiffs in this case argue, is direct democracy — not representative democracy.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman defended TABOR in trial and in appeal. In 2014, the 10th Circuit ruled the plaintiffs do have standing in the case, saying there’s demonstrable injury and it’s a judicial not political matter.

That’s the decision Coffman petitioned the Supreme Court to review.

Attorney and former Colorado legislator David Skaggs explained that on Tuesday, “all [the Supreme Court] said is, ‘you’re sent back to Tenth Circuit to take another look in light of what we decided in Arizona.” 

In Arizona, the public voted to create an independent commission to redraw state districts, rather than let partisan lawmakers do it. The state legislature sued, basically arguing, “Hey, that’s our job.” The Supreme Court’s ruling in that case — specifically on the legislative role citizens can take on in a representative democracy — will have bearing on the TABOR case.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, one of the 34 plaintiffs in Kerr v Hickenlooper, said she signed on because “it’s a constitutional issue … it would be terrible if everyone had to vote on everything.”

Wade Buchanan is president of the Bell Policy Center — a progressive think tank in Colorado. He said that since TABOR became law in 1992, the state government has been stretched to perform essential functions like education and transportation.

“TABOR is sold as power to the people,” he said. “Let them vote — what are we afraid of? What it’s really about is hog-tying government because the folks who believe strongly in it, what they’re really after is undermining government. They don’t believe government has a role to play in advancing the public good.”

Opponents of the lawsuit argue that TABOR is what the people want.

Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of free market advocacy group Advancing Colorado said doing away with TABOR would “fly in the face of people’s rights.” For him, TABOR is an important way of giving people a voice in government. Without it, “politicians could raise taxes unlimitedly. And if we didn’t have TABOR, that would be the reality. You don’t need to have a blank check to run the state government.”

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman will defend TABOR once again in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.


Photo by Neil R, Creative Commons, via Flickr


It can be telling how some folks define the word “community.”

The bubble in which Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration operates became all too apparent at a forum Tuesday when a member of the public wanted to know if the city has put anyone from the community on its team to implement hundreds of much-needed reforms to its woefully dysfunctional sheriff’s department.

A recent review of the agency found a serious lack of leadership and training, and a pattern of inaction and evasion when it comes to its staff’s not-so-little excessive-force problem.

The review was ordered as part of a $3.25 million settlement with Jamal Hunter, who was attacked in the city jail at the behest — and blessing — of sheriff’s deputies.

Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley paused at the question. She swallowed hard. And then she said, somewhat petulantly, that she had already answered when, a few minutes earlier, she listed the members of the implementation team.

They are Elias Diggins, the interim sheriff Hancock promised he’d replace a year ago; Scott Martinez, the city attorney who has defended Denver against civil rights lawsuits stemming from cases of sheriff’s deputies beating inmates; O’Malley herself, who’s a member of Hancock’s cabinet; Hancock’s budget director Brendan Hanlon; Shawn Smith, a staffer with Hancock’s process-improvement team; Mike Jackson, president of the sheriff’s deputies union; Councilman Paul Lopez, Hancock’s longtime ally with whom he served on the city council; and Nick Mitchell, Hancock’s independent safety monitor whose so-called independence from the administration he works for long has been in question.

In other words, the team of insiders responsible for turning around the wayward and violent sheriff’s department is the same group of insiders under whom the department has been operating so waywardly and violently for years.

O’Malley then tried addressing the question more directly. Are there any community members on the implementation team? Sure, she said, citing Councilman Lopez and Safety Monitor Mitchell as members of the community. Neither, for the record, has been particularly outspoken about excessive force in the department, including the death of street preacher Marvin Booker at the hands of five sheriff’s staffers – for which the city was forced to pay $6 million in a federal jury award.

You read that right, folks. Of all the 663,862 members of Denver’s community, the administration sees a top mayoral appointee and a longtime councilman-slash-buddy of Hancock (whose district relies heavily on projects the mayor chooses to fund) as representative of the general public.

Eyes rolled Tuesday in the meeting room of northeast Denver’s Hope Center. Real, live members of the community cleared their throats or chortled in disbelief.

“Seriously?” blurted out one longtime watchdog.

“Members of the public?” grumbled another. “My ass.”

Power to the people.


Photo credit: Photo credit: coreycam, Creative Commons, Flickr


Maybe Denverites didn’t have a real chance of changing the mayor in the last election with only one candidate with any real money in his campaign coffers. But Michael Hancock, now in his second term, has changed out a number of prominent staff positions – suggesting that what he was doing the first time around could be going a lot better.

Don Mares, whom Hancock brought on in January to lead the city’s Office of Behavioral Health Strategies, has been bumped up to head the Denver Department of Human Services. His old office will be brought under DHS and led by Regina Huerter, who worked as the Executive Director of the Denver Crime Prevention and Control Commission.

“Together, these appointments will build on the focused work that is underway at DHS and ensure our various efforts are aligned and strengthened in the complex fields of behavioral health, crime prevention and human services,” Hancock said in a statement. “These improvements are another demonstration of Denver’s commitment to maintaining a robust safety net and protecting the most vulnerable among us,” he said.

One job that has not been permanently filled is the Sheriff’s office, which has been held temporarily by Elias Diggins, whose career has been marred by a criminal record. He has had the distinction of overseeing the department when it has been found to be woefully mismanaged.

Diggins replaced his friend, former Sheriff Gary Wilson, whose tenure was defined by a long series of excessive force and misconduct cases that cost the city millions.


Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr


The fate of the Colorado River is a Latino issue, according to a new video, “We’re in This Together – Save the #CORiver,” released yesterday on Youtube by the environmental organization Nuestro Rio.

The video features a Who’s Who of Colorado Latino politicians — Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, state Senator Lucia Guzman, Rep. Joe Salazar, and lawmakers from New Mexico, Arizona and elsewhere talking about how Western states need to work together to ensure everybody who depends on the river for water gets it.

“As Latinos make up significant portions of the West, the Nuestro Rio Regional Water Caucus is working to collaborate to preserve the Colorado River because our communities rely on it,” the video states.

Check it out here:


Crested Butte blues: How a mountain town got a Bud Light hangover

Anheuser-Busch, the largest beer manufacturer in the world, promised this town of 1,500 that the blue paint covering the street and light poles would all be gone a week after the party. Elk Avenue is still a mess.


Just how long can a Bud Light hangover last?

For the mountain town of Crested Butte, the after effects of a huge infusion of Bud Light are still being felt more than 10 months after Anheuser-Busch took over the town for an international-headline-grabbing event called “Are You Up for Whatever?”

That event involved literally painting the town’s historic main thoroughfare of Elk Avenue Bud-Light blue and turning it into a giant fantasy-party stage for a weekend.

Now, Elk Avenue is still a mess

Anheuser-Busch, the largest beer manufacturer in the world, promised this town of 1,500 that the blue paint covering the street and light poles would all be gone a week after the party.

The company did quickly whisk away 1,200 visiting beer drinkers along with a retinue of musicians, drag queens, minor celebrities and buskers. The hot tubs, the human-sized bowling and beer-pong games, the man-made sandy beaches, the giant blue King Kong and the petting-zoo animals were trucked away within days.

But the three blocks of blue-painted street proved to be a lingering headache.

First, a heavy rain started washing the paint off the roadway before it could be scraped up. Blue water running down town gutters and heading for local waterways did not make residents happy.

Town public works officials decided to try to scrape up the paint. That was a noisy endeavor that created blue-paint dust clouds in downtown and left a bumpy street with blue patches. Bad weather thwarted plans to put a slurry coat of asphalt over the mess last fall.

Winter, and the inevitable ice and snowpack on Elk Avenue, left the project in limbo until spring when more problems caused more delays. First, there was too much rain. Then street contractors were busy on other projects. Next, the town council had a tough time deciding on asphalt or concrete to bring Elk Avenue back to its pre-Bud-Light-blue state.

Several weeks ago, the town hired a Wyoming asphalt company. It began putting a new slurry coat on the street. But, after a series of mishaps and malfunctions, the town fired that company. That left one strip of one lane of Elk Avenue with overlay and the rest with grooves.

The town then decided to wait until after one of the town’s biggest events of the year – the Fourth of July parade on Elk Avenue – to make the next attempt to shake off the final dregs of the Bud Light party.

Anheuser-Busch paid the town $500,000 for using the town for a weekend and doing what marketing experts for the company called “augmentations.” That included fencing off the downtown and building a giant archway over Elk Avenue along with painting the street.

The event irked many Crested Butte residents. Some saw it as selling the town’s soul. Many decried the secrecy associated with the event: City officials kept it hush until two weeks prior. Others thought Crested Butte, with its funky flavor and love of costumed events, was a perfect setting for an over-the-top beer bash.

The street mess has some shrugging “whatever” and others saying, “We told you so.”


Photo credit: Ivy Dawned, Creative Commons, Flickr

Wiretap: Greece in crisis

…and more news rattling around the world.


Greek history

The crisis in Greece is about much more than money, writes Robert Kaplan in The Wall Street Journal. It was in Europe’s interest to embrace Greece during the Cold War. And it remains in Europe’s interest to embrace Greece during the Putin era.

Trying hard

Can the United States prevent a Greek exit from the euro zone? This much is sure: It won’t be for lack of trying. Via The New Yorker.


Many Greeks still want a deal and are willing to accept some kind of austerity plan, write Jens Hainmueller and Yotam Margalit in The New York Times, of the coming referendum vote.

Upward mobility

Eli Stokols — some of you may remember him — is now writing for Politico, and his latest piece is on Jeb Bush’s release of 33 years of tax returns and the story it tells of of Bush’s “wealth to riches” rise.

Different issues

Same-sex marriage is not like abortion. And Chief Justice Roberts’ citation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on abortion does not mean there will be a backlash on gay marriage. Via Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post.

Plotting revenge

In a New York minute, New York’s Democratic mayor rips New York’s Democratic governor, saying Cuomo hurt New York City out of “revenge.” Via The New York Times.

New lines

There is every principled reason for liberals to like the Supreme Court’s Arizona redistricting decision. But Nate Cohn writes in The New York Times that there’s no certainty that the decision will help Democrats gain seats in the House.

Winter is coming

Tunisia, which may be the Arab Spring’s lone success story, is now finding its young democracy threatened by terrorism. Via The Atlantic.


Photo credit: Sonja Pieper, Creative Commons, Flickr


The candidates without any experience in elected office polled best among conservatives gathered in Denver this weekend for the 6th Annual Western Conservative Summit.

Dr. Ben Carson – the neurosurgeon-turned-presidential-candidate from Maryland — won the Centennial Institute’s straw poll for the second year in a row with 26 percent of votes cast. He once again impressed Summit-goers with his intelligence and gravitas.

Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina is the only woman running in the GOP. She came in a close second, though she arguably got the biggest boost out of the Summit, since many conference attendees said they barely knew anything about her.

Possible candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came in third.

Three other presidential contenders were at the Summit: Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.

In the straw poll, 871 people cast votes. Summit attendees hail from all over the country, with the majority coming from Colorado or neighboring western states. Many are professionally involved in politics in one way or another. Ideologically, attendees run the gamut. “Conservative” is perhaps the only label that could apply to everyone, but within that are strands of libertarianism, Christian-family values and free-market enthusiasm.

On the stage Saturday night, Carson talked about the need to shake up the status quo in Washington and why he’s the best man to do it.

“The professional politicians say you can’t do it because you’re not a politician,” he said. “I say I can do it because I’m not a politician.” The crowd cheered him on.

Carson joined the crowded Republican field in May. At first he was considered a long-shot, but bigger name candidates keep stumbling while Carson continues to rise in the polls. This week, a Reuters/Ipsos poll placed Carson third in the race; an NBC/WSJ poll placed him fourth; and a Citizens’ United poll placed him first.

Carson’s recent surge could indicate primary voters are fed up with career politicians and the party establishment. And for political observers looking ahead to the Iowa caucus at the end of the summer, that matters.

To get ahead in the primary, candidates must win over voters who see Republican party leaders as only slightly less of an enemy than the Democrats. But to actually cinch the nomination, candidates will need the approval (and dollars) of the center-right establishment.

Nowhere is the tension between party politics and anti-establishment conservatism more clear than in the straw poll results from this weekend. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush got four votes. That’s four in total, not 4 percent. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got three. And to put that in perspective, billionaire Donald Trump got fifteen.

Summit attendee CJ Umberson, 53, said she’s worried about the direction the country is headed, so she drove down from Fort Collins to see what the Republican candidates are all about. She’s a conservative, but is as skeptical of some Republicans as she is of Democrats.

At this point, it’s still too early to decide who she’ll support, but she knows who she won’t support. “Jeb Bush — no, no and no!”

“The only reason he’s a candidate is because his last name is Bush,” she said. “He doesn’t have anywhere near conservative values.”

She said the same thing about Gov. Chris Christie whom she described as “unreliable.”

Former CEO of Hewlitt-Packard Carly Fiorina got second place in the straw poll, but arguably got the biggest boost out of the Summit. She had the crowd enthralled on Saturday with a speech that served as a first introduction to many in the audience. She talked about starting her career as a secretary, getting fired, overcoming cancer and then rising to CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation.

Like Mitt Romney in the last election, Fiorina argued that her success as a CEO would translate into success as the president. Also like Romney, Fiorina found herself defending all the layoffs she ordered. They were tough decisions, she said, but necessary in the long run.

She put her national security chops on display, rattling off a list of world leaders she’s personally met. She said the first thing she would do in office is call up “Bibi” Netanyahu to “show what a true ally America is” to Israel. The audience erupted in applause.

Fiorina said she’s been asked whether her hormones would interfere with her ability to govern.

“Ladies, here’s a little test,” she said. “Can any of you think of a single instance in which a man’s judgment might have been clouded by his hormones? Any at all, including in the Oval Office?”

Jan Howman, an active member of the Republican party in Lakewood, said she loved hearing no-nonsense conservative values, especially coming from a strong female voice. The prospect of a female president is exciting to Howman, “But it can’t be just any woman. It has to be the right woman.”

Her husband Richard thought Scott Walker gave the best presentation.

Walker headlined Saturday night, delivering a from-the-trenches kind of speech about warding off a recall effort in Wisconsin. “[The unions] were trying to intimidate us. I’m proud to tell you tonight that we were not intimidated. We took the power out of the hands of big special interests.”

The Young Conservatives Leadership Conference, a weeklong program for teenagers leading up to the Summit, took its own straw poll. There, more predictably, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz won.

The straw poll at the Summit might not have significant impact on race tectonics but shows how conservative voters in the West view their choices.

For what it’s worth, these voters have pretty different tastes than the respondents to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that surveyed 1,000 people, equal parts Republican, Democratic and Independent.

The chart below shows the results of the 2015 Western Conservative Summit straw poll in red and results of the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in blue.

The Western Conservative Summit straw poll winners are outlined in pink.

Untitled drawing (10)

Whoever ends up winning the Republican nomination will go on to face either Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley or Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

With so many candidates (and competing visions of conservatism) on the Republican side, the struggle for the nomination is sure to be spectacular if not predictable.

Photo via Western Conservative Summit livestream.


The Chinese government hacked federal employees’ personal and security clearance information as part of a counterespionage campaign earlier this month. The Office of Personnel Management network was breached, affecting as many as 18 million people in the U.S.

Now, federal employees need help figuring out what happened. So they called up the Office of Personnel Management. OPM transfers them to CSID — the agency’s credit monitoring contractor — which puts people on hold for hours. They go to their website? It crashes.

Last Friday, the Colorado Public Interest Research Group released this response.

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The consumer advocacy group also offered data hygiene tips for all internet users — not just federal employees.

Here’s what they recommend:

1) Get a security freeze. 

A security freeze shields your credit report from creditors. It’s the only way to stop new accounts from opening in your name — like abstinence for your personal data. In Colorado, the first freeze is free. After that, it’s up to $12 every time you want to lift or place it.

Read this if you’re considering a security freeze.

2) Don’t bother with credit monitoring.

A lot of big agencies and firms offer credit monitoring services like the Office of Personnel Management does through CSID. Monitoring your credit doesn’t prevent theft — it only tells you once it’s happened.

Also, don’t pay anyone to monitor your credit. You can do it yourself for free by checking Equifax, Experian or Trans Union every few months.

3) Make your passwords robust, not simple. 

It’s the opposite of KISS – Keep it simple stupid. When it comes to passwords, don’t.

Use different passwords for different accounts. 8-12 characters minimum. Combine numbers, upper and lower case letters and special characters. (&, %, $, #).

And because there’s no way you’re going to remember them all, consider using a password keychain. Gigagom.com says don’t trust iCloud — try mSecure or 1Password.

4) Don’t click on spam. 

Don’t click on those emails from a Nigerian Prince asking for money transfers.

Don’t give any information to someone who calls “from your bank.”

Don’t click things you’re not sure about.

Just don’t do it.

5) Learn more. 

The Federal Trade Commission provides lots of information that goes well beyond simple identity theft. Ever considered the perils of tax refund theft, medical services theft or child ID theft? Read the FTC’s advice. Need to clear your name of false criminal charges? Read the FTC’s advice.

6) Tell Congress. 

Good Internet hygiene can only do so much.While Congress works on data breach response legislation, CoPIRG advocates beefing up data security and victim rights.


Photo composite by Nat Stein via WikiMedia