From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Drought and wildfires are at the top of the list of concerns for state lawmakers and water leaders.
Nearly everyone who spoke at the annual convention of the Colorado Water Congress touched on the topics Thursday morning. More than 500 attended. “Drought has an impact on water quality,” said Steve Gunderson, director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division. “Wildfire has a catastrophic impact on water quality.”
One-fifth of the state’s 250 public water systems were affected by last year’s wildfires, and the watersheds that supply them will take years to recover. “Last summer was a nightmare, and next year could be worse,” Gunderson said.
State Engineer Dick Wolfe said the recent storms that left snow in the mountains raised the snowpack to 76 percent, up from 62 percent one week ago. “We need 130 percent for the rest of the season to get to average,” Wolfe said. “But we need to get to 20 percent to 30 percent above average to make up for dry soil.” That isn’t likely to happen, according to the longterm forecast.
That could make things difficult for state parks and wildlife. “Without water, we don’t have a revenue stream,” Cables said. “We don’t have a grand plan.” State lawmakers also addressed the Colorado Water Congress, explaining several bills that finetune state water laws, including measures that would encourage agriculture efficiency, create guidelines for using “gray water,” prevent federal “taking” of skiarea water rights and provide more mitigation for wildfires.
State Sen. Gail Schwartz praised Gov. John Hickenlooper’s announcement Wednesday that $10.3 million in state money will be made available for wildfire mitigation designed to clear more than 4 million acres of standing timber. There were strong sentiments from lawmakers to protect agricultural ownership of water rights.
“We in the urban areas of Colorado can use water in the most efficient way so we don’t buy up and dry up agriculture,” said state Rep. Randy Fisher, chairman of the state House ag committee.