Colorado's environment provides the basis for healthy lives and a vibrant economy, in addition to giving Coloradoans one of the most beautiful, healthy, and satisfying places in the world in which to live. Preserving its integrity and viability for our children and future generations is both a moral responsibility and an essential foundation for a solid economy.
A number of specific environmental issues are discussed in other position papers: Growth and Land Preservation and Energy Sustainability & Global Climate Change. This position paper covers other issues that I consider critical in our stewardship of Colorado's environment.
Colorado has always been vulnerable to cycles of drought. Tree-ring studies have shown that severe droughts have been common over a number of centuries - much more severe than we have experienced in the last few decades. In addition, climatologists warn that global warming will exacerbate the risk of drought and will reduce the snow pack that currently stores water well into the summer.
Combined with our obligations under interstate compacts, this means that we can expect that the difficulties of managing water supplies, particularly during drought cycles, will present major challenges in the coming years. The large Front Range population, agricultural needs, and energy production water requirements will create major challenges over the coming decades. The legislature needs to address the planning aspects and necessary revisions of Colorado water law to develop the tools that will be needed to deal with these challenges.
Recent conflicts between farmers with wells in the alluvial aquifers (underground water close to the surface) and users with senior water rights are an example of conflicts that will become increasingly common and severe. Other issues are even more pressing and require legislative examination. Geological/deep aquifers are being overexploited in a number of areas of the state, particularly south from Denver toward the Palmer Divide. Municipalities and individual homes in this area are completely dependent on aquifers that are rapidly being lowered at a rate that will cause major problems in the near future. Current water law that applies to the Denver Basin aquifers is set up to continue to allow over-allocation of these resources at unsustainable levels. This situation is in urgent need of study by the legislature to deal with the problem before it becomes more serious.
Colorado needs to continue programs to ensure minimum stream flow for healthy aquatic ecosystems in the face of other demands, including those of mining, development, and snow making for ski areas. Working with local governments and with Federal agencies on these issues is critical.
Wildlife and Ecosystem Management
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has responsibility for wildlife management in Colorado and it works cooperatively with private landowners, Federal agencies, and local governments. Traditionally, the division was funded by hunting licenses and it concentrated on managing game species. As its responsibilities have shifted increasingly toward managing complete ecosystems, the division's mandates and funding mechanisms need examination in order to ensure that it can effectively fulfill its responsibilities, particularly along the Front Range corridor and in other rapidly developing regions of the state, where local open space, local regulations, and conflicts between human population and wildlife present complex new problems. The division has a wide range of new responsibilities, including managing nongame and endangered species, state wildlife areas, and state trust lands.
Natural Areas Preservation
I am committed to the preservation of the state's critical natural areas and important ecosystems. Besides Federal lands that have some levels of protection, the Colorado State Parks, the Colorado Natural Areas Program, State Wildlife Areas, and State Trust Lands have all been established to preserve various important resources and ecosystems, along with many county and city open space lands and parks. Since ecosystems typically cross political boundaries, the state needs to facilitate management plans that reinforce the efforts of local entities, facilitate cooperation and mutual reinforcement of preservation efforts, and make effective use of available funds from Great Outdoors Colorado, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and other sources.