Craig Both candidates for Colorado House District 57 said water issues would take priority during their legislative tenure if they win the Nov. 4 general election.
Republican Randy Baumgardner and Democrat Todd Hagenbuch pointed to their ranching backgrounds as proof voters could trust they have the experience and motivation to come up with good policies and put them into action.
Citing Northwest Colorado's economy and way of life, candidates said the area's future is dependent on ensuring at least most of the local water supply stays local.
Baumgardner: No on firming projects
However, Baumgardner said he learned during Colorado Water Congress meetings, keeping all Western Slope water local probably won't be possible, or good for the state.
"One of the things we finally did agree on is that the Western Slope, Front Range and other states all need water to use," he said. "We're going to have to find a way to share this finite resource we all need. If they take this water, though, we're a high-mountain desert, and it won't be good."
Baumgardner said he opposes two water firming projects that may take place in Grand County. Each one would pipe water from Grand County rivers and lakes to reservoirs on the Front Range.
The projects would not increase the amount of water taken by Front Range interests, which pay for all they take, Baumgardner pointed out. But, it would make it so those interests take their water from a point higher upstream.
The Legislature candidate said that will make it harder on water users downstream from any newly-installed pipes to get the amount of water flow they need.
Baumgardner added he has taken a proactive measure to improve local waterways by contributing a "sizable amount" of his money for a system to pump water from the Colorado River back into Lake Granby. By doing so, water users can release roughly 489 million gallons of extra water during low-flow periods.
The project is in effect now.
"It helps fish by maintaining their environment, helps the health of the river by flushing the water and helps people with irrigation and all other uses," Baumgardner said.
Hagenbuch: Keep water local
Hagenbuch's experience with water issues also comes from working relationships with government and other water users around his family's property, the Green Creek Ranch south of Steamboat Springs.
His family owns the most senior water rights on two Yampa River tributaries, as well as some of the most senior rights for the Yampa River.
He currently represents his family in legal cases against the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which wants to pump water from Morrison Creek to fill an enlargement for Stagecoach Reservoir, also in Routt County.
Hagenbuch took water law classes as a Colorado State University student while studyng ranch management.
Although his family owns Morrison Creek's senior water rights, Colorado water law allows for people or groups to take water if they can put it to "beneficial use." The Conservancy District maintains water storage at Stagecoach is a benefit for all water users.
Hagenbuch said there needs to be a discussion of when a beneficial use trumps a person's standing right to water.
"At what cost for people and what financial cost do we transport water from one basin to another?" he said. "I certainly want to see the water in the Yampa River stay in the Yampa River and the basin and not be piped to another area."
Hagenbuch added that water law across the western states has worked because of the deference given to historical appropriations. It's important to maintain people's water supplies in semi-arid climates, he said.
However, he added, not everything about Colorado water law is effective. Water users now must use all of their allowance or risk giving it up to someone else, which can discourage conservation.
"I would like to reward those who conserve water without forcing them to lose their water rights," Hagenbuch said.