Hickenlooper: We have to conserve, for us and the Western Slope

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After congratulating Colorado College students Tuesday on the completion of an intensive research project on the Colorado River Basin, Gov. John Hickenlooper clarified a remark attributed to him in 2003, when he was elected mayor of Denver.

The remark: Denver wouldn’t be Denver without Western Slope river water. Hickenlooper said what he meant was that all Front Range cities, also including Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Fort Collins, benefit if everyone uses less water. Because by keeping more water on the Western Slope and using less in urbanized areas, not only do skiing, white-water rafting and other tourism businesses succeed, but so do the ranchers and farmers.

“There’s a direct benefit here. A home on the Front Range is worth more than a home in Kansas City or Indianapolis,” he said.

On the heels of addressing the Global New Energy Summit at The Broadmoor earlier Tuesday, Hickenlooper breezed into Colorado College to deliver a brief speech on “Managing Colorado’s Water for Future Generations.”

The presentation was part of the college’s annual State of the Rockies Project Conference, held Monday and Tuesday. This year’s findings: Unless actions are taken now, the demand for Colorado River water in a few decades will far exceed the dwindling supply.

The key, in the governor’s mind, to saving the Colorado River Basin from becoming a mere trickle instead of a mighty force as a result of climate change and competing water rights interests?

Conservation.

“We know, in the next 40 years, somewhere around 4 to 5 million more people will be in Colorado, and we know that there’s no single silver bullet for this challenge,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re not going to develop our way out of this crisis any more than we can conserve our way out of this crisis. Bigger, better dams aren’t the ultimate solution; we can do more with less. We’ve cut Denver water consumption by 20 percent since 2002.”

Hickenlooper says he advocates new creative ways of saving water and a commitment from every resident to do so. Front Range utilities companies now use about 60 percent of the water that originates in the upper Colorado River basin.

“A lot of it is our own self-motivation or discipline," Hickenlooper said. "How we make it joyful and give people a kick out of it? I think that’s where the youth come in. If we can find ways of using that combination of youthful exuberance and optimism and technology, we have the formal framework to achieve changes.”

Hickenlooper also praised his Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which he helped create last year between stakeholders in the Denver area and on the Western Slope to improve management of future water projects.

But it does not address two additional proposed diversion projects that would further deplete the river. And unlike U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who spoke at CC’s conference on Monday, Hickenlooper did not mention the potential impact of oil shale development on the river, which some in Congress are pushing for, including U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs.

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