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Water attitudes

by Carol Dunn
COLORADO — According to a statewide survey on water attitudes conducted by Keating Research in January, 2013, voters are just as concerned about water supplies as they are about jobs, and even more concerned about the prolonged drought that has gripped this region. Two-thirds of voters surveyed said they feel Colorado’s water supplies are not adequate to meet the needs of the state in ten years.
Keating reported that most voters prefer a conservation-focused solution to the state’s water supply issues. A full 80% would encourage state officials to spend time and resources on “using our current water supply more wisely, by encouraging more water conservation, reducing use, and increasing recycling of water” rather than diverting water from rivers, particularly in western Colorado, to the Front Range.
Water levels in many Colorado rivers are already at historic lows. About three-quarters of survey respondents felt that the state’s rivers are critical to the economy and quality of life and that they are already at risk. Keating summarized the survey results by saying that Colorado voters strongly prefer that the state make conservation a priority rather than diverting rivers. Further they oppose building additional pipelines and want to see Colorado rivers protected.
In November, 2012, the Colorado Department of Agriculture also conducted a survey of 353 agricultural leaders around the state. The top concern expressed by respondents was water. New supplies and storage were listed as very significant opportunities to enhancing long-term sustainability and profitability of Colorado agriculture. The loss of use and availability of water were listed together as the most serious threat to agriculture.
Regarding the CDA survey, Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar stated that Colorado’s ag industry leaders have identified water storage and conservation as key opportunities for agriculture. He also said the findings from the survey will be used in refining strategic priorities and “backgrounding legislators and other policy makers.”
Locally in November, 2012, the landowners of Huerfano County voted their concern for keeping water in Huerfano County when they approved an increase in the property tax mill levy of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District. Rural citizens are feeling the long tentacles of urban population bases reaching farther and farther afield in search of water supplies to support their burgeoning growth into the next century, and a majority support efforts to secure local water rights to keep the precious resource from being moved north.
The public has been repeatedly reassured by water developer Two Rivers Water Company, now referred to on its web site as Two Rivers Water and Farming, that its intention is to use its recently acquired water rights and storage rights to farm in north Huerfano and south Pueblo County. But there are those who doubt that farming in the region is a sustainable, long-term profit-making endeavor and can still envision the day when beneficial use has been established and the water rights make their way to one of the urban centers.
As history of the arid West has shown, battles for water are nearly as old as the settlements themselves. And most Colorado voters apparently feel that it is a resource worth fighting for.