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Candidates discuss dams, reservoirs and diversions at Colorado Water Congress

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Journalism
A quote from Wayne Aspinall, the late congressman from Palisade who is famous for his work at the national and regional level on water issues.
Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

VAIL — About 350 self-proclaimed “water buffaloes” from the Colorado Water Congress gathered last week in Vail and heard from candidates for statewide office.

Republicans and Democrats running for U.S. House of Representatives, governor and attorney general addressed the summer convention of the politically powerful Water Congress to share their positions on storage, infrastructure and projects, which are industry lingo for dams and reservoirs.

Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs resident and Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, spoke to the water buffaloes Aug. 24.

The former state house member served on the legislature’s interim water committee and chaired the house agricultural committee.

During a Q&A, Mitsch Bush was asked, “Will you be an advocate for new storage projects?”

“Small, efficient storage projects are certainly something that we will most likely need,” she said. “Not on the scale that we’ve seen in the 20th century, (but) I think small and efficient off-channel projects may be very helpful in storing and delivering water.”

She also addressed the potential need for additional transmountain diversions, which are when Front Range water providers, for example, buy water rights on the Western Slope and then pipe that water east over the Continental Divide.

“We really need to think of ways to not have new transmountain diversions, for many reasons,” she said. “The key one being that when — not if, when — there is a compact call on the Colorado, some of those transmountain diversions will be among the first called.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton advocated for new water storage projects.

“When it comes to water storage, we need to build more. And during my administration, we will build more,” Stapleton told Water Congress members Aug. 22. “Some of this will be larger projects and larger reservoirs, but it will also be dynamic and medium-sized projects that help us store water in innovative ways and balance environmental protection with our needs to build out storage.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis shared his views of the prospect of additional transmountain diversions under the Continental Divide.

“To many Coloradans in the high country on the Western Slope — some communities that I represented for a decade in Congress — future transmountain diversions pose an existential threat to the health of our rivers and our agricultural economy,” Polis said.

“So I’ll be very clear: As a matter of principle, I will oppose transmountain diversions that are not developed through the collaborative principles that the interbasin compact committees have agreed on.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican who has represented the 3rd Congressional District since 2010, began his Aug. 23 talk by paraphrasing Wayne Aspinall, the late Congressman from Palisade who is nationally recognized for his work on water issues.

Aspinall’s quote, “In the West, when you touch water, you touch everything,” is carved into stone in a park near the Colorado River in Palisade.

Tipton went on to say that Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050.

“We need to be looking out the windshield in terms of water storage,” Tipton said. “We’re going to have to be able to store more water.”

Read more at AspenJournalism.org


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