City capital for a day
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens paid a whistlestop visit to Glenwood Springs Tuesday morning, as part of a three-day bus tour of the state. The tour began in Fort Collins on Monday and ended today in Lamar.
Owens, turned out casually in blue jeans, an open-collared shirt and windbreaker, declared Glenwood Springs the state capital for one hour and signed into law Senate Bill 156, which allows the owners of existing absolute water rights – already in use and fully recognized by the courts – to convert them to instream flows.
He also spoke about issues on the minds of West Slope voters.
“Colorado right now is in the worst drought in recorded history. We’re at 11 percent of normal snowpack,” he said. “I don’t have to tell anyone in Glenwood how quickly a small fire can grow into a dangerous large fire,” he said, referring to the Storm King Fire that killed 14 firefighters in 1994.
Owens made a pitch to increase water storage in reservoirs as part of the solution to fighting the drought.
“Water storage is essential. Colorado sends hundreds of thousands of gallons of water downstream. We need to discuss how to better manage reservoirs and build more reservoirs. It takes a drought like this to motivate the political mind,” he said.
Another avenue for eliminating future catastrophic fires is to better manage forests by clearing underbrush and thinning forests, he said.
“If they’re overgrown, they will burn,” he said.
Owens also spoke to an issue close to the hearts of western Coloradans, chronic wasting disease, an incurable, degenerative brain disease that has struck deer and elk in the state.
“I made the choice to be more aggressive than less aggressive,” he said.
After killing hundreds of deer and elk on private hunting and breeding ranches, wildlife experts found only 1 percent of the animals infected with chronic wasting disease, he said.
“That’s not a bad number. We would have been fearful of 5 to 10 percent,” Owens said. “I want to do everything I can to promote the hunting season in western Colorado this year.”
To find out more about the spread of the disease, Owens said, the Colorado Division of Wildlife will sample hundreds of deer and elk carcasses taken by hunters.
“We will keep our eyes and ears open for any more outbreaks,” he said.
Owens also fielded questions from the audience.
Michele Howard Snode of Silt asked about the transportation of nuclear waste across Colorado if a planned federal waste repository opens at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
“It wouldn’t take much for terrorists to hijack the trucks,” she said.
Yucca Mountain is the only alternative for disposing of nuclear waste, Owens said.
At present, nuclear waste is stored at 180 sites across the country, including Denver’s Rocky Flats. All are vulnerable to terrorist attack, he said.
One site for waste disposal is a better idea strategically, he said.
Owens said nuclear waste already travels by truck through the state.
“It’s moving down I-25 through Denver to New Mexico. We just don’t advertise it,” Owens said. “I’ve looked at the containers. There has not been leakage. We’re doing everything we can to see they’re safely moved.”
Snode also questioned the governor about the skyrocketing cost of health care in Colorado.
“This is a national problem and no governor has solved it,” Owens said. “The national health care system is the best in the world and the most expensive in the world.”
He said Colorado health insurance policies are “Cadillacs,” offering mandated coverage for preventive care and treatment for catastrophic illness. Colorado needs to offer “Chevy” policies that offer basic coverage and allow people to add on the extra coverage they need, Owens said.
“We introduced a bill to allow a Chevy plan. It’s been defeated two years in a row. We’ll try again. I don’t have any easy answers right now,” Owens said.
Beth Dardynski, also of Silt, wanted to know what can be done to prevent natural gas drilling companies from “trampling property and knocking fences down.”
“We have increased oil and gas regulations on behalf of surface owners,” Owens said.
But he also pointed out that two private property rights compete in gas drilling. Owners of subsurface minerals have a right to access their property through the surface owner’s property, he said.
Those who buy property without the mineral rights, as is most often the case, must realize there is always the potential for mineral development, he said.
After about an hour of answering questions and signing the bill, Owens once again boarded his bus and headed off to his next stop, Buena Vista.
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