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Governor-elect Bill Ritter's Water Agenda
December 12, 2006
Analysis by Floyd Ciruli

Governor-elect Bill Ritter’s campaign statements and documents further some existing water policy and offer some new direction.

The 2007 transition will be at least as significant as Bill Owens’ 1999 takeover after 24 years of Democratic governors.  The new one-party Democratic control, which hasn’t happened since 1962, combined with serious water shortfalls and expected growth along the Front Range and

I-70 corridor, make for a host of contentious issues.  In addition, the defeat of Referendum A (2003) and the ongoing HB 1177 roundtable discussions provide context for the new administration and legislative session.

In general, water was not a high profile or divisive issue in the campaign.  Ritter and Republican candidate Bob Beauprez articulated similar views on water policy on the campaign trail.  They both supported more storage (Beauprez joked that Colorado did not have to steal water, only slow it down getting to the border) and they both emphasized conservation and reuse.

Ritter was somewhat stronger on rural water protection, and used Beauprez’s support for Referendum A as a campaign wedge issue.  His water strategy reflected his interest in establishing rural credibility (he made many references to his farm upbringing and campaign travel to rural Colorado), some defensiveness on Denver and the metro area’s reputation as water appropriators, and an effort to target specific water constituencies, such as in the Arkansas Basin.

One of the more raucous campaign debates featured the candidates’ positions on a particular water policy issue. The Pueblo Chieftain and political and water interests in the Arkansas River Basin have been sponsors of a water quality bill for several legislative sessions.  The bill is controversial because it will complicate water rights and water transfer litigation.  Although it has repeatedly failed, it has been gaining support and nearly passed in the 2006 session.

Ritter said he would support it and Beauprez said he would oppose it.  The Pueblo audience (with many Ritter and Democratic Party patrons) were strongly in favor.  It was the main issue the Pueblo Chieftain (a normally Republican editorial page) cited when it later endorsed Ritter for governor.

An examination of Ritter’s main campaign document, The Colorado Promise, shows a balance between water development and environmental values, but with a disposition against new storage projects and out-of-basin diversion.

Two pages out of a 51-page document place the Democratic administration’s priority on maximizing current supplies through “conservation, reuse, efficiency, cooperation and voluntary crop-to-city water agreements.”

The following are some of the specific policies articulated:

  • Conservation policy, especially for lawn irrigation:  block-rate structure, water-saving landscaping, xeriscaping incentives.
  • Land use policy:  new construction must demonstrate “sustainable water supply.”
  • Conserve water in agricultural areas without harming rural communities or water rights.
  • Aggressively pursue recapture and reuse of non-consumed water “when legally permissible.”
  • Monitor interstate compacts and provide assistance (legal, other) when needed to local water entities.  (Cites the Colorado River specifically.)
  • Support minimum in-stream flow program.
  • Protect water quality from point source pollution and mineral extractions.
  • Apply conjunctive use as “win-win-win” among basins of origin, water districts and population centers.  Encourage cooperation among water entities and basins of origin for surface and groundwater and during wet and dry periods (specific references to communities dependent on finite groundwater).
  • Encourage voluntary crop-fallowing agreements.
  • Additional storage should be focused on expansion and improvement of existing facilities, smaller projects for multiple purposes, and requiring conservation, reuse and conjunctive use before new storage is considered.
  • Mostly anti-diversion:  “Best water project sites have been developed, our rivers are over-appropriated.”  “As with water storage, I will promote all alternatives prior to diversion.”  Promises no new Referendum A’s.
  • Continue Interbasin roundtable process.

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Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research firm providing polling, election analysis and political commentary to Colorado and national media organizations since 1976

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