The very early start of Colorado’s wildfire season this year may trigger an even hotter political battle this summer in our state.
Wildfires, and the devastation they bring with them, highlight some of the most contentious issues in Colorado politics: water, property rights and the environment.
Water is one of the strangest and most important issues in Colorado. It has been that way ever since Zebulon Pike ventured into the Rockies. Water rights are vital to everything we do and love in Colorado, from agriculture, to recreation, to making the growth of the metro area even possible.
However, unless water, or the lack thereof, is directly affecting your life, the mere idea of talking about it will put you to sleep. In fact, doctors used to prescribe water rights essays as a sleep aid before Ambien was invented.
But this year, wildfires are reminding all of us about how scarce water is in this part of the country. That will make the topic of water much more interesting.
And even though the snowpack in the mountains is high, on the plains, where most of our agriculture business is located, the land is as dry as tinder. Dry farms will require more of that precious snowpack, which may trigger water problems for the metro area and our yards.
That’s only one aspect of the water issue that wildfires may bring into focus this summer. But I will stop there so as not to risk putting anyone to sleep.
Property rights are another issue that wildfires will bring into focus. Whenever wildfires threaten property, the argument of how many public resources should go into protecting that property, in what some would call a dangerous area, will be argued.
If wildfires begin to really tap local budgets, mainly because we’re already fighting many fires in March, those depleted budgets will mean other services and needs we are used to will not happen. If those resources were spent on fighting fires for homeowners who decided to build in the middle of a forest, or who have large houses in hard to reach places, it won’t take long for societal resentment to set in.
Property rights issues won’t stop at fires in the mountains. Wildfires on the plains may bring up issues about how we manage open space, or how we allow developers manage open space.
I know it seems like a stretch, and I hope it stays an imaginary problem, but if a wildfire spread throughout an open space area in a developed community, property and land management issues will become a very hotly contested issue.
When you add water issues and property rights problems into the mix, getting to larger environmental issues is simply a short jog around the corner. Wildfires are simply a result of a larger environmental imbalance. It’s normal to have a few fires every season. But if they dominate the headlines throughout the summer, it won’t take long for environmentalists to tie the dry weather and land management issues to our environmental policies.
For example, should we manage our forests the same way we always have, by preventing as much fire as possible, if that makes the eventual fires in drought conditions far more disastrous?
Or, is more water storage, in the shape of dams and reservoirs, needed to keep our farms from withering away? Would that increased water storage cause greater problems to mountain ecosystems?
Or maybe it will be time to consider if cities and communities need to adopt mandatory xeriscaping polices for new developments or even already existing yards and homes.
The imaginary scenarios are easy to concoct. What’s not easy to come up with are the solutions to some of these tough problems.
Hopefully, April showers and a mild summer will make this entire blog moot. But if our March is simply a prelude to a dry summer, anticipate wildfires to make political debates spread like, well, you know.
About The Blogger
– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.