By Will Grandbois
Gov. John Hickenlooper discussed the economic concerns of western Colorado with Club 20 leadership and others at Colorado Mountain College's Spring Valley Campus on Monday afternoon.
Club 20 is a coalition that bills itself as "The voice of the Western Slope." Commissioners from numerous counties were in attendance, as were state Reps. Ray Scott, Bob Rankin and Don Coram.
Many talking points touched on the need for the rural mountain West to have a seat at the table, particularly on issues relating to public lands and the economy. Major talking points included regulations on gas and coal development, water usage and diversion, and the need to attract business on this side of the Continental Divide.
The scale of the conversation ranged from the hyper-local to the global. When the discussion touched on oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, Hickenlooper, who has a geology background, expressed doubt about the area's production potential, but acknowledged he wasn't an expert.
When it came to global climate change, he was more vehement.
"Climate change is serious. Colorado has a lot at risk," Hickenlooper asserted. "Half our water storage is in snowpack, and we don't have clear places for reservoirs if we have to make up for that."
The issue of water is a fraught one, with growing resentment for ongoing diversion of Western Slope water to the more populated Front Range. Hickenlooper was sympathetic, but challenged the idea that litigation is the best means of combatting further diversion.
"If you want to change a culture, you can't just sit there and throw stones at each other," he said. "Every discussion, whether it's on the West Slope or the Front Range, needs to start at conservation."
Hickenlooper was enthusiastic when the discussion turned to attracting new business to the Western Slope.
"There are people, I guarantee you, all over the country that are sick of living in urban areas," he said.
One of the biggest barriers to establishing small businesses or satellite offices for larger companies is the need for expanded broadband Internet. Hickenlooper cited it as a major priority, comparing it to the electrification and telephone rollout in the area just under 100 years ago.
In the end, nothing was decided at the meeting. The governor has little direct authority to implement programs that pull from the state coffers. Still, the assembled roundtable seemed gratified at the dialogue.
Rep. Coram even ventured a lighthearted comment before they adjourned.
"Empty your bladder before you go," he quipped. "No water leaves the Western Slope."