In the West, it’s always about the water

“We have to get serious about water,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes said during a debate Saturday.

When the Colorado Independent asked Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper on Friday what campaign issue was not getting enough coverage, his answer was “water.”

And in The New York Times this morning, the water of the Colorado River Basin was one of the lead stories.

Quoting the NYT:

“A once unthinkable day is looming on the Colorado River.

“Barring a sudden end to the Southwest’s 11-year drought, the distribution of the river’s dwindling bounty is likely to be reordered as early as next year because the flow of water cannot keep pace with the region’s demands.”

The good news for the Lower Basin states, apparently, is that Colorado and other Upper Basin states are not using their full allotment. Even so, Lake Powell is within inches of reaching an all-time low level, set in 1956.

According to The Times, the demand for agricultural water was about the same then as now, but the 9.5 million people living in the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona in the 1950s have morphed into 28 million today.

Complicating matters, according to The Times, is that Lake Mead, the other large reservoir in the system, may soon reach such low levels that turbines in the dam will no longer be able to generate electricity for the region.

Everybody knows water is an issue in the West. Hickenlooper brags regularly that Denver has cut per capita water use by nearly 20 percent during his tenure. According to The Times, Phoenix and Las Vegas have each made similar cuts in usage.

Hickenlooper said he expects Denver consumption to continue going down. The fact that Denver has a legal right to a certain amount of water does not mean Denver should use it all, he said.

Hickenlooper said some of the things that make Denver a great place to live require that other places in the state have water as well. In the past he has pointed to some of the recreational uses that Denverites rely on water for — such as fishing, skiing and whitewater rafting.

At a debate recently in Loveland, he also pointed out that Denver needs the state’s agricultural community to have plenty of water so that people in the state can eat fresh, locally grown food. Toward that end, he said, it is important that Denver not use water just because it can.

Maes hasn’t always made a lot of sense when he’s talked about water, but he has the right idea: water will define Colorado’s future.

American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo said a couple of weeks ago that Colorado has excess water storage capacity that isn’t being used because of environmental regulations and federal interference.

Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, said he wasn’t aware that the state had excess capacity, but did say it is very important that Colorado keeps all the water in the state that it is legally able to keep. “We need to make sure we control” all the water it is in the state’s power to control, he said.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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