Water, highways top list of legislative priorities

Thursday, July 28, 2016 1:20 PM

By J. Paul Brown

The sheep are in the mountains, and we are very thankful for a good lamb crop. We will move each camp in the high country every week with horses and mules and will return to the low country for the Bayfield sheep trailing days on Sept. 24. Our sons, Luke and Levi, will have the main responsibility of moving the camps, but I also will take some turns. I love the high country!

There are many issues facing Colorado for which I am seeking solutions. There are several organizations that I participate in and lean on for advice. One is CLUB 20, which is an organization of businesses, counties and individuals who represent the Western Slope of Colorado. I will participate as a CLUB 20 member in its policy meetings regarding issues that are near and dear to my heart and which should be at the top of the list of priorities, not only on the Western Slope but throughout Colorado. Those issues are water storage, highways, K-12 education, higher education, health care quality and cost, the environment, energy, agriculture and public lands.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is feverishly working to assemble the information required by my South Platte River water storage bill, HB 1256. Related to water storage, Gov. Hickenlooper has endorsed Denver Water's expansion of Gross Reservoir. This is a very important project for Denver and surrounding municipalities to guarantee future water needs. The problem with the project is that it depends on Western Slope water - already very limited. The storage reservoirs on the Colorado River, Lakes Powell and Mead, are at a record low volume. The Gross Reservoir project will use another 100,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water annually in addition to the 500,000 acre-feet already being diverted across the Continental Divide each year.

Right now, Denver has no alternative. However, it has been very supportive of my water storage bill. It is absolutely imperative that we capture and store the water that is wasting out of Colorado on the South Platte River.

Highway maintenance and construction and the funding needed for projects is another very important issue facing Coloradans. It is estimated that more than 52 percent of Colorado's highways are at the poor standard. Colorado Department of Transportation estimates it will need an extra billion dollars each year to keep up with the needs. In 2009, the Legislature replaced Senate Bill 97-1 with SB 228. Since then, there has not been one dollar transferred from the general fund to highways. This year, the 228 trigger was reached, but the Legislature figured out a way to get around the requirement.

I ran HB 1138, which would have required a general fund transfer to highways of $200 million per year for five years. Unfortunately, 1138 was killed. I will see to it that highway funding is a top priority in Colorado.

It is an honor to serve the people of Southwest Colorado.

J. Paul Brown from Ignacio represents House District 59 in the Colorado State House of Representatives. Call him at (303) 866-2914.