Historically, water has never been a political issue, but a geographical one, and that axiom was borne out Thursday between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in comments at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2020 Summer Conference.

The two candidates agreed on several matters asked during a virtual panel discussion about how each would approach water issues while serving in Congress. Both had advanced knowledge of the questions asked, giving each time to research their answers.

Mitsch Bush said people back East don’t understand how water law works in the West. There, she said, they go by a system known as riparian water rights, which allocates water among those who possess land along its path.

Here, however, states follow a different process known as prior appropriation, a system of senior and junior water rights that work on the principle of first in time, first in line.

“It’s really, really critical for us, as Coloradans, that we have a representative that understands Colorado water law, that understands the issues of drought and scarcity, and understands what we need in terms of federal funding to deal with them,” she said.

Unlike Mitsch Bush, Boebert has no background in working on water issues. Still, the Silt resident said she’s brought in experts to teach her, and ended up agreeing with much of what Mitsch Bush said.

Both, for example, said it is unlikely the state will be able to get the funding and permits needed to build new water storage projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Instead, it should concentrate on expanding existing reservoirs to increase their storage capacity.

“The permitting and construction of new reservoirs can be up to a 20-year-long process, if not more,” Boebert said. “Cost and time matters, and taking care of our environment matters, too. So, yes, the enlargement of existing reservoirs is the quickest, least expensive and most environmentally sensitive manner to secure more water storage.”

Boebert didn’t attend the Zoom discussion live, submitting a prerecorded video of her responses, because she was in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of President Donald Trump to hear his acceptance speech at the GOP national convention.

Both also agreed that, should there be a squeeze on Colorado’s water allotment either by the federal government or downstream states, that Colorado should decide for itself where its water allotment goes.

The two also agreed how the state allots any funding for water projects should be dictated by the Colorado Water Plan, and said they would work with anyone in any state regardless of political affiliation who wants to help boost and protect Colorado’s and the West’s existing water supply.

“The specter of a curtailment was a major impetus for our Colorado Water Plan (which) clearly stipulates that burdens must be shared equitably,” Mitsch Bush said. “The federal Bureau of Reclamation cannot be permitted to dictate how we, Colorado, deal with our proportionate share.”

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