The real election issues: Water everywhere but not a drop to drink
Winter finally arrived and the snowfall on our mountains is a blessing for our water supplies and the Colorado river that is a lifeline for many states downriver from Colorado. Ed Johnson, who was a United States Senator and Governor of Colorado hailed from my hometown of Craig. He ran a grain elevator before running for office. He is buried in a humble plot of land between Craig and Maybell. He was primarily responsible for the Colorado River Compact that measures Colorado water flowing past Harper’s Ferry that controls our legal water obligation to the lower basin states.
Water is the lifeblood of civilizations and all major cities in the world are located near oceans or rivers. This brings us to Eastern Colorado that is water barren with only water flowing down from our mountain streams and high-country dams. Much of the Arkansas river water has been sold to Aurora and Colorado Springs. The water is stored in massive lakes and a pumping station near Buena Vista pumps millions of gallons of Arkansas river water to lakes and ultimately down to the Aurora and Colorado Springs water facilities.
Denver water controls lake Dillion and both Aurora and Denver have done a superb job over many decades of obtaining precious water from mountain streams and rivers. Greeley was an early pioneer water seeker and wisely obtained early water rights. Ft. Collins has water stored in Horsetooth reservoir directly west of town, Poudre River and Grand Lake. Most of us know that Clear Creek, that flows through historic Idaho Springs to Golden, is the ultimate source for our beloved Coors beer.
It is troubling to see the growing home and apartment developments everywhere, knowing that future water for Eastern Colorado growth depends on stream and river water from our melting mountain ranges. There is about enough water in high country storage to flush front range toilets for a year. The growth and development of new housing developments such as Aurora Highlands with an estimated 20,000 new homes is rising south of the Denver International Airport. New apartment complexes are arising across the entire metro area and extending in all directions as housing is in dire need for new arrivals in Colorado. There are large underground aquifers flowing beneath Colorado, but the well water levels are shrinking.
I have been on the Aurora water department annual tour of mountain lakes and the major Buena Vista pumping station several times. We’ve met the Lake County Commissioners whereby Aurora makes substantial payments to the county in lieu for water rights obtained from private landowners who once ran cattle in the valley stretching from Leadville to Salida. The Arkansas river starts near Leadville and flows downstream towards Salida and onward to the Southeast Arkansas Valley where many of their water rights have been sold to Aurora. The once fertile valley is almost a desert except for some water rights maintained by agricultural farmers and cities.
Steve Schuck, a leading Colorado Springs business leader, once ran for Governor with a concept of trading Eastern Slope growth and development to Western Colorado for some of the water not adjudicated and flowing out of the state. He lost the election, but the concept was admirable and visionary.
As it has turned out, Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo have made many mountain treaties for water, while Ft. Collins and Greeley are supplied with water from the Grand Lake tunnel and local rivers.
There is considerable pressure for more Colorado water to be released to the lower basin states. Our early leaders, such as Ed Johnson, did a yeoman’s job of protecting Colorado water but the demand for water is growing at phenomenal speeds in all directions.
The booming Colorado ski industry, that provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the local economies, can be heavily impacted by a lack of snowfall.
The recent shocking Marshall fire is another factor with so many mountain homes built in heavily timber areas with some areas impacted by beetle-killed trees. Who would have ever thought that those wind-blown flames would reach these local communities? It is a wake-up call to support our local fire departments and to make further emergency fire protection plans for the entire state. This is another major threat with a lack of snowfall resulting in tinder dry forests. Every mountain resident and front range homeowner living next to forests and prairie grasslands should immediately examine fire insurance policies and allow for the massive increase in home values, fire clean up, and rebuilding of homes with astronomical increases in lumber prices.
These are real issues that both political parties and candidates for office should be addressing. Hopefully we can all work together to protect our forests, water drainage, reservoirs, and homes.