Denver, CO – Today, Walker Stapleton spoke at the Colorado Water Congress about his vision for the future of Colorado water policy. Walker committed to implementing the Colorado Water Plan and prioritizing water in a Stapleton administration.
Highlights of Walker’s speech:
“The next eight years are critical. The water plan calls for closing the supply and demand gap by 2030. We cannot have the same conversations in 2024 that we had in 1976. It’s up to the next Governor of Colorado to implement the plan and achieve results.”
“At a minimum, I would like to see the growth of water spending remain in line with the growth of the state budget. We also need to cap administrative spending at its current levels so we are not wasting dollars on overhead that should be used to actually fund our water projects.”
“I will make sure my Water Czar remains a cabinet level position that reports directly to the governor and even expand their authority to include coordinating projects and implementing our water agenda.”
Thank you all for having me today. On the drive up to Vail, I was thinking about water and was reflecting on my grandfather Ben Stapleton. He was passionate about water. He was on the Water Conservation Board for decades. I pulled up an old picture of him when he was retiring and he was a firm Jimmy Carter supporter so nobody is perfect. He understood water and the economy were inextricably linked and their importance to Colorado.
As you all know, water is one of the most important areas of focus so we can ensure a successful Colorado for future generations.
I often say I am running for Governor for three reasons, my three kids—Craig, Coco, and Olivia—and all of Colorado’s kids so that future generations can grow up in a Colorado with abundant economic opportunities. But this will not be possible if we do not address Colorado’s water needs.
The people in this room, and hundreds of others across our state, were instrumental in putting together the Colorado Water Plan and I commend you all for your work. It exemplifies Coloradan values of cooperation and the dedication you all share to protecting the state we love.
The Colorado Water Plan is a result of different interests and stakeholders coming to the table and working to create a solution that works best for Colorado.
Governors going back to Dick Lamm have discussed the importance of water and the difficulty of building that awareness. After the Two Forks project fell through, Bill Owens was an important advocate establishing the Colorado water round tables and he backed Referendum A, but it failed to gain critical support. Finally, in 2013, John Hickenlooper formalized our commitment to solving Colorado’s water needs with the water plan. What has long been a concern among those in-the-know is now gaining momentum and I want to continue to build on this during my administration.
It’s often said that Water is a non-partisan issue. And looking at the plan and people in this room—I see Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Conservationists, and Liberals, those from the Eastern Plains to the Western Slope—who are all committed to working together to solve our problems. To protect our streams and rivers. To make sure we have fresh water to drink and enough water to support our agricultural industry, which contributes over $40 billion per year and 175,000 Colorado jobs.
I am committed to keeping this spirit of cooperation alive and look forward to working with a broad coalition.
The next eight years are critical. The water plan calls for closing the supply and demand gap by 2030. We cannot have the same conversations in 2024 that we had in 1976. It’s up to the next Governor of Colorado to implement the plan and achieve results.
I pledge to work with everyone in this room and different stakeholders across Colorado to be the governor who finally takes proactive action when it comes to Colorado water.
I support building new infrastructure, enhancing conservation efforts, and protecting the individual property rights of municipal, agricultural, and industrial water users.
As one of two headwater states, I will make sure that Colorado actively defends our water rights on a national, regional, and compact level. I will do this both through the power of my office and through the courts when necessary.
As a steward for the environment, our economy, and Colorado’s future, I will use an all-of-the-above approach to water. I believe we can close the supply-demand gap and protect Colorado’s water resources in a financially and environmentally responsible way.
Healthy forests are a critical part of this discussion. We have all lived through this last summer where one third of the largest fires in the country took place right here in Colorado. Fires are getting more extreme and it is impacting water quality, infrastructure, and our communities. This is a problem that hurts the western slope and the Front Range. It is a Colorado problem. I am glad to see the commitment the water congress is making to addressing forestry as part of our water strategy and will work with you to make sure we approach our water in a holistic way.
I come at things from a business perspective, so let’s talk about the two sides of the equation: addressing demand through conservation and supply through storage.
Let’s start with conservation. Colorado is leading the way, both in our cities and in our rural communities.
Today, despite a growing population, Denverites use about the same amount of water we used 30 years ago. But Denver only uses 2% of the state’s total water. The real savings are coming from the cutting edge work in our agricultural community.
Agriculture accounts for approximately 89% of Colorado’s annual water usage, and I believe that Colorado’s reputation as the Silicon Valley of agriculture, farming, and ranching, will shine in regards to water. Imagine if we could help farmers through technology, with improvements from drip-line to broadband be 5% more efficient in regards to water. Imagine what that could do for our state.
Our continued investment in agricultural technology and best practices will pay outsized dividends in the areas of water conservation and efficient usage. Going forward, of that I am certain.
We have made good progress in conservation, but ultimately we are not going to reduce and save our way out of this problem.
Shifting to the second half of the equation, we need to also focus on storage and funding mechanisms.
When it comes to water storage, we need to build more. And during my administration, we WILL build more.
Some of this will be larger projects and new reservoirs, but it will also be dynamic and medium-sized projects that help us store water in innovative ways and balance environmental protection with our needs to build out storage.
We can improve existing reservoirs and add more capacity. We can take advantage of non-evaporative storage like aquifer storage and recovery. I will work with each basin to help prioritize projects and look for the most impact per dollar spent.
A key part of getting this storage on line is to improve the permitting process, which you all know is death by one thousand cuts. Where possible, I would like to see us pursue projects where we can control these variables. Look at the Southern Delivery system in Colorado Springs versus Aurora’s Prairie Waters. Both were of similar scale. In the case of Pueblo it took the federal government about a decade to get through the permitting. For Prairie water, the Colorado government was able to get the project permitted, and we got the project online in less than five.
In many cases we will need to engage the federal government for better or worse. We will coordinate to get the state agencies permitting process streamlined so that our steps in the process can be faster, unified, and orderly when we approach the federal government. Likewise, when we have multiple agencies with jurisdiction, I will support designating a lead agency to spearhead the process.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project has taken 14 years so far and this is not workable and simply not sustainable. We need a Governor who can work with the federal government, and work with our congressional delegation to move these things forward in a more efficient manner.
It starts with advocacy and getting our state apparatus moving as a unified front. I believe we can become the model state in the country when it comes to this part of the process.
We also need to make water a priority and dedicate funding to these projects because we all realize these things cost money.
The Colorado Water Plan calls for an additional $100 million a year to adequately fund infrastructure projects. I support directing more financial resources to water projects, but do not believe this should come in the form of new taxes.
Local water boards and developers have the ability to raise capital and fund these projects through capital markets at low rates, which will help spur development. A key role for the state government is to help enhance creditworthiness and attract best terms for these borrowers who are developing water projects and infrastructure.
We also need to prioritize funding our water projects and not continue to kick the can down the road.
Everybody who deals with water recognizes it is a finite resource, and has a return associated with it. If you live on the front range and want your front lawn to look like a putting green, you will be paying through the nose when it comes to your Denver water bill. And Chips Berry wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is a finite resource with a return associated with it and we are just at the cusp of recognizing valuable public-private partnerships to carry us forward in the future. Because the costs associated with our water needs is so great we need to find a way to have more public-private partnerships or we are not going to have enough to address our water needs in the future.
I’m afraid if Congressman Polis is elected, he will dedicate so much money to implementing his single-payer healthcare agenda and 100% renewables plan that water will once again be forgotten. Colorado’s future cannot afford this radical agenda. The state legislature only meets for 120 days each year. How much time do you think he is going to dedicate to water with his growing list of new programs?
We also must remember the severance tax is a crucial part of funding water in Colorado. If Congressman Polis bans development, or pushes for increased setbacks, he not only will he be destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs, but he will threaten hundreds of millions of dollars that directly fund water.
We need more dollars for water, not less.
At a minimum, I would like to see the growth of water spending remain in line with the growth of the state budget. We also need to cap administrative spending at its current levels so we are not wasting dollars on overhead that should be used to actually fund our water projects.
But we also need to address water rights. On a state level, I will defend our rights, making sure we are getting every drop we are entitled to under our inter-state compacts.
On an individual level, water rights are property rights. I will protect these rights for our citizens.
We have to be prudent about our responsibilities. Buy and dry is literally drying up communities all across Colorado, especially southeastern Colorado. Improving education around alternative transfer mechanisms and water banking can help facilitate easier transfer of water usage while maintaining water rights. The recent work in Colorado Springs is an example of how we can find better ways to facilitate access to water.
As Governor, I will be charged with making appointments to the Inter-basin Compact Committee. Also, I will follow in the footsteps of my predecessor and make sure that water has a place at the table.
His choice of John Stulp was excellent. John has worked with Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and everybody that cares about water as a vital resource for Colorado’s future. I will make sure my Water Czar remains a cabinet level position that reports directly to the governor and even expand their authority to include coordinating projects and implementing our water agenda.
None of this will be easy, and we all must address any long term plan must recognize territorial integrity. As we all know the equation, 80% of the water is from the Western Slope and 80% of the usage is on the Front Range.
Colorado’s next Governor must prioritize water and that is exactly what I intend to do.
Thank you all for taking the time to listen today and I look forward to working with you in the future. Happy to answer your questions.