Snowpack Changes Should Spur Water Talks

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Dillon Reservoir (credit: Dona Klein)

Dillon Reservoir (credit: Dona Klein)

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Written by Dominic Dezzutti
Even though this week is bringing some long awaited snow to the mountains, the real story is that in less than one year, the headlines from the mountains this year are exactly the opposite from last year.

Last year, Colorado’s mountains received record amounts of snow. The snowpack was so deep last year that the spring was filled with flood warnings from the record melt.

Yet, one year later, the snowpack is only a little over 70 percent of normal. It took less than nine months for water experts to go from warning us about flooding to warning us about the potential of drought conditions and a weak snowpack.

And while the weather in the mountains this week may, the boom and bust nature of our water supply in Colorado will not go away anytime soon. The only thing that will stop that is a serious conversation about water storage.

But even though water has been the most important issue in the West since before the first conquistadors set foot here hundreds of years ago, it is also the issue that citizens loathe talking about the most.

In fact, if you’ve read this far you are among a very small minority in our state that can stand more than a paragraph or two about the most important resource in our state.

Water drives everything in our state, from our economy to agriculture to growth of our cities to how attractive we are to corporations. Yet water is the one thing we citizens do not want to talk about unless we are in the throes of a drought.

While we witnessed record breaking snowpack last year, no state leaders came forward and asked why we don’t have more water storage in this state to keep more snowmelt in good years in order to keep us watered in the Front Range during the dry years.

And unless we experience a record drought this summer or widespread forest fires, few if any state leaders will come forward to ask the same question this year either.

I certainly do not pretend to think that talking water storage is easy in Colorado. If Social Security is the third rail of politics in Washington, water storage is the third rail in Colorado. Environmentalists hate the concept, since most ideas include dams and turning valleys and ecosystems into reservoirs. Land owners and river enthusiasts also hate the idea since most water storage concepts eliminate quality river acreage.

However, the fact of the matter is that water needs in this state are only going to grow. Whether it’s within the agricultural needs of the farms of the Front Range or growing cities outside of the metro area, water needs will only increase.

Since so much of Colorado’s water was dedicated downstream before most of our grandparents were born, we can’t choose to simply keep more water during an average year. Our only choice would be to keep the overflow from record snow years, like last year.

However, that can’t happen in future record snowfall years until we face the reality that storing extra water is a necessity and not just a shoulda, coulda, woulda idea when we are suffering through another drought.

If our state leaders are as concerned about our collective future as they say they are, one of them will hopefully summon the courage to bring this issue up. Even though I am an optimist by nature, I’m not going to hold my breath.

Our state leaders represent our state’s citizens, and until we are ready to have the conversation ourselves, they certainly won’t be ready.

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.

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