West needs water projects, Tipton says

The growing West needs new water projects, but federal regulations are hindering efforts to increase storage for agriculture and growing populations, a U.S. House subcommittee was told Tuesday.

“We need a sensible storage plan to plan for the future,” U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said during the hearing of the subcommittee on water and power.

Tipton, who lives in Cortez, sought the hearing and noted water storage remains a significant issue in arid regions, such as his 3rd Congressional District, which includes most of the Western Slope and much of southern Colorado.

The Animas-La Plata project, the last major water project to be built in the state, was constructed to meet treaty obligations, but its size was significantly reduced to what was described as “Animas-La Plata Lite,” Tipton said.

The Animas-La Plata project, authorized by Congress in 1968 to hold back 270,000 acre-feet of water to Colorado and new Mexico, is to be completed this year.

The project will contain 120,000 acre-feet of water at completion.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s plans for water storage were drafted half a century ago, when the United States had nearly half the number of people it does now, Tipton noted.

Environmentalists criticized the hearing as an effort to weaken federal environmental protections and one, Bill Midcap of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said Congress would do better to improve the aging network of irrigation canals and existing dams.

“These kinds of projects are the most likely to win strong public support and produce the kind of benefits that will last far into the future,” Midcap said.

While the Republican-dominated committee focused on regulatory hurdles to water development, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said the major problem stymieing dam construction is lack of money.

At one point in the hearing, John Salazar, now the Colorado Department of Agriculture commissioner and Tipton’s predecessor in the House, walked into the meeting to greet his former congressional colleagues, but he said nothing about the hearing topic.

Salazar and Tipton spoke briefly after the hearing, according to Tipton’s Washington, D.C., office.


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