ALAMOSA — Colorado Governor Jared Polis met with Valley Courier News Editor John Waters for an interview conducted online on Jan. 27. Also participating was Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources.
During the interview, topics discussed were the San Luis Valley aquifer, the proposal of Renewable Energy Resources to export water out of the Valley, agriculture and the ways Polis is proposing the state can save residents money.
On Jan. 26, Governor Polis announced Water ’22 an education campaign for Coloradans to secure the state’s water future. Several of the questions discussed were predicated on comments the governor made at the conference.
The following is a transcript of the interview that has been condensed and edited slightly for clarity.
POLIS: Did you cover the Water [Water ‘22] conference yesterday?
WATERS: Yes, I did remotely. I heard what you said about Water ‘22 and this is a perfect opportunity to follow up and talk water.
POLIS: We’re very excited to partner on water education as part of the Water ‘22 initiative and Colorado’s year of water focus and of course I’m happy to chat about water in the San Luis Valley.
WATERS: Yesterday, you had mentioned that the aquifer in the San Luis Valley is down to levels that are not sustainable. Please talk a little about that?
POLIS: I don’t know what my exact quote was, but this is from the work itself in the Basin where they have a scientific analysis, there are areas where there is less draw. What we want to make sure is we have a thriving ag economy in the San Luis Valley. One of our initiatives with our Department of Agriculture and Commissioner Greenburg and I’ve visited many, many, producers in the San Luis Valley looking at new water efficient techniques. It’s everything from the classic potato crop, different species and different practices. Also quinoa and other crops. It’s working to do it on a sustainable level so farms don’t dry up and inter-generational legacies can continue in a way that meets reality with the water that we have.
WATERS: Yesterday, you said the state is deeply committed to fighting downstream threats to the lawful use of Colorado’s water resources. I realize that statement is from an interstate perspective. From an intrastate perspective, here in the San Luis Valley there is a proposal from Renewable Water Resources to export water out of the Valley. For the people in the San Luis Valley, what can the state do to protect this resource?
POLIS: My reference was to Nebraska pursuing a very aggressive strategy. We can be aggressive right back. Within the state, I’ve always been and Dan has [Dan Gibbs Colorado Department of Natural Resources director]. I’ve always been opposed to any inter-basin transfer that does not sign off at the local level on both sides. We strongly believe that for our communities to be thriving, the San Luis Valley or the Grand Valley, wherever it is, Western Colorado, we want to make sure that those water rights are retained on that side of the divide.
WATERS: At the Water ‘22 conference you said the San Luis Valley aquifer is being drawn down to levels that are not sustainable, are you for or against the proposal by Renewable Water Resources?
POLIS: First of all, I don’t know John, I have to look, I don’t think I specifically said, the San Luis Valley aquifer…I can go back and look and see if I said anything specific about the aquifer. With regard to the aquifer we let science and data guide us John. That’s very much built in the basin process where we remove politics from it and making sure it’s about sustainability and that the water is there for the future.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 26 at the Water ‘22 conference Governor Polis said this, “We’ve seen aquifers on the Eastern Plains, San Luis Valley driven down to levels that are not sustainable.” At press time Polis’ office has not contacted the Courier with any correction or clarification of what the governor said.
WATERS: To pivot back to my question, are you for or against the RWR water proposal to export water out of the valley?
POLIS: I am against any inter-basin transfer without support. This is a proposed inter-basin transfer. There’s a number of areas where legal thresholds for requesting haven’t even been met and of course we would be opposed, and I’m personally opposed to a devastating impact on the San Luis Valley ag and ranching economy if this were to move forward.
WATERS: Dan, in broad strokes can you tell us what the Department of Natural Resources is doing in regard to watershed management and how that might affect the aquifer in the San Luis Valley?
GIBBS: The governor and the legislature has been very supportive in a comprehensive forest health package and last year passed Senate Bill 258. That bill created a new program in the Department of Natural Resources that really looks through a new lens of protecting life, property and critical infrastructure and critical infrastructure also includes protecting watersheds. We are in the process of working with partners around the state, Division of Fire Prevention and Control, the state forest service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management to really look through this lens, almost a magical map to see where those key locations are that we can put some emphasis in to protect our watersheds. The legislators brought in a package of about $88 million last year to both proactively protect watersheds and after we have fires on the restoration side. We’re busy on implementing both of those right now.
WATERS: Governor, during your State of the State address you outlined 50 ways your administration is saving Coloradoans money. Do you have any priorities on that list?
POLIS: Costs have gone up, and we want to do everything we can with money, with policy to save people money and to reduce costs. That means the little things the state can do like reducing vehicle registration fees by $11.50 per vehicle, avoiding any fee increase on gas. Continuing to save people money on health care. We have preschool coming online in fall of 2023 free to any family, more affordable childcare, reducing taxes and fees. These are all the things, there’s no one silver bullet.