Aug 272006
 
Authors: KIM McGUIRE The Denver Post

BRECKENRIDGE – The two candidates vying to become Colorado’s next governor agree conservation will be a critical factor when it comes to managing the state’s limited water resources.

Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez and Democratic contender Bill Ritter told Colorado’s top water leaders Friday that finding a way to stretch scarce supplies will be top priorities for their administrations.

“Water is our most precious resource, so we must always be looking for ways to make its use ever more efficient,” Beauprez said.

While both touted conservation, Ritter emphasized that global warming also has to be a consideration in setting future water policy.

As governor, he says, he would ensure state government took an active role in assessing and grappling with the effects of climate change.

“In a state like Colorado, if there’s global warming – and I believe there is, if there’s climate change – and I believe there is, we need to understand it really can change the amount of precipitation and the form of precipitation,” Ritter told members of the Colorado Water Congress on Friday.

Also key in water planning, Ritter said, is considering growth along the Front Range.

Despite a tremendous population surge in the Denver area, he said, several municipalities have launched successful water-conservation programs, including Denver Water, the state’s largest water provider.

“That kind of behavior is possible, that kind of ethic can be established among metropolitan users,” Ritter said.

Beauprez also mentioned how Denver Water’s 1.2 million customers have dramatically curtailed their use.

He said cities can do even more to encourage conservation, such as cash incentives offered by Las Vegas to residents who replace Kentucky bluegrass with more drought-tolerant grasses.

“Water is our most precious resource, so we must always be looking for ways to make its use ever more efficient,” Beauprez said.

Also important to long-term water planning is recognizing the value Colorado residents put on recreational uses such as hiking, kayaking and fishing, Beauprez said.

“As we look to water in the future, we must realize these are important values,” he said.

Both candidates frequently cited their farm backgrounds and emphasized how water shortages are prompting farmers to sell their water rights to thirsty municipal residents.

Ritter said he was recently told irrigated land in Morgan County was being appraised at $3,500 an acre while non-irrigated land came in at $500 an acre.

“If someone is able to come in and buy the water rights off land, it has real impact on the tax base,” Ritter said.

Many of the state’s water problems will best be addressed in a newly created round-table process that brings together water leaders from around the state, both Ritter and Beauprez agreed.

Beauprez said he hopes that sense of cooperation will find a place in water talks among Western states that share water resources.

“The point is we don’t need to steal water, we just have to slow it down a little before it leaves the state,” Beauprez said.

There was very little discussion at the forum about Referendum A, a 2003 ballot question sought to set up a $2 billion financing program for new or improved dams and reservoirs.

The issue was one of the most highly charged water battles in recent years, pitting West Slope and Front Range interests.

Ritter reminded the audience that his opponent supported Referendum A, while he opposed it because “it looked like it could be a big grab.”

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