SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez told the Colorado Water Congress Friday that as governor he would be the “lead cheerleader” for new water storage projects in the state.
He also drew a distinction between himself and Gov. Hickenlooper on the potential of a major new dam and reservoir project being built in the state.
The governor answered a question on Thursday at the Water Congress meeting in Snowmass Village by saying it was “unlikely” that public opinion in the state had shifted in favor of building a major new water storage project.
“I submit to you that’s not leadership,” said Beauprez. “I think we need a governor that stands up and says we’ve got to build new storage and I’m going to lead the way to make sure it happens. I’ll promote worthy projects. I’ll be your lead cheerleader on that.”
The Water Congress is an advocacy organization whose mission includes the “protection of water rights” and “infrastructure investment.”
Beauprez said he would seek to streamline the approval process for new water projects by asking Congress to pass a resolution exempting Colorado projects from NEPA, which often requires producing an extensive environmental impact statement.
“I’ll seek NEPA waivers for any project that meets the stringent Colorado standards, with the help of our Congressional delegation,” said Beauprez, a Republican who represented Colorado’s 7th District on the Front Range from 2003 to 2007.
Beauprez also told the Water Congress crowd that he supported approval of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP.
The project’s proponent, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is seeking federal approval for two new reservoirs near Fort Collins.
The water for NISP will come from the Poudre and South Platte rivers on Colorado’s East Slope, but Northern Water’s existing system also uses water diverted from the Colorado River basin on the West Slope, and some of that water could be used in a system expanded by NISP.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been leading the review of the project since 2004 and expects to release a decision document in 2016.
“Frankly, you’ve got a governor who can’t seem to decide if he’s for it [or] against it,” Beauprez said about NISP. “I’m for it. And I’ll do everything to make sure it gets approved and built.”
Given his enthusiasm for new reservoirs, Beauprez was asked by an audience member if he was proposing new transmountain diversions to augment the Front Range’s water supply.
“No,” Beauprez said emphatically.
“Where are you going to get the water from?” the questioner asked, noting that 80 percent of water in Colorado is on the Western Slope.
“What I’m proposing is the same kind of thing that NISP is doing — taking advantage of the opportunity to store East Slope water on the East Slope. I think until we’ve demonstrated that we’ve stored all the water we possibly can on the East Slope, transbasin diversions shouldn’t even be on the table.
“We know we can move water,” Beauprez continued. “And sometimes we’ve moved it because it’s been convenient, or because there’s the money, or because there’s the votes, or because of whatever. But the West Slope of Colorado is Colorado, too. And I understand that. And I want to protect that. And I know that you’ve got a whole lot of people downstream from you on the West Slope that covet that water as well.”
Beauprez, who grew up on a dairy farm in Lafayette and now diverts water to grow alfalfa and raise buffalo in Jackson County, said he has a keen appreciation for Colorado water law and will defend the state’s priority system, which is based on “first in time, first in right.”
“I know what Colorado’s time-honored water laws are for,” he said “I know that our prior appropriations doctrine has worked, and worked very, very well. And I know that there’s a lot of people that would like to gnaw away, erode, and destroy that. I’m not one of them. Our prior appropriations doctrine, our water law, and our right to own and utilize our water needs to be protected every day at all costs.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of local and regional water issues. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014.