Western Slope water interests were buoyed this week with the appointment of freshman lawmaker Kathleen Curry to chair the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee.House speaker-elect Andrew Romanoff made the appointment, which he said was unique. “It’s unusual for us in the sense that she’s the only freshman in the House to chair a committee,” Romanoff said Tuesday.On Nov. 2, House District 61 voters elected Curry, D-Gunnison, to replace state Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, who did not seek re-election.Curry previously managed the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, and she made water the top issue of her campaign.Democrats won a majority of seats in both the Colorado House and Senate this month, after having been in the minority in both chambers. Their victory means that they take over the leadership positions in the legislature, and have the chance to push through Democratic agendas that have languished in recent years when Republicans were in charge.Romanoff said Curry’s experience and place of residence keyed his decision.”She knows water, she knows the Western Slope and she knows how to get things done,” he said. “And this building has been short on real solutions in the last few years.”He said he thinks one of the challenges in coming years is “to find a sustainable solution to our water needs, and one that doesn’t trample on the interests of the Western Slope. We need to respect the places the water comes from.”Curry said the appointment shocked her.”I’m not the ranking Democrat, obviously, on the committee. I have no rank at all,” she said.But she believes the appointment is good news for her constituents.”It puts the Western Slope in a good position and rural Colorado in a good position in that committee,” she said.She believes her chairmanship is particularly important because two targets for water diversions – the Roaring Fork and Gunnison river drainages – are within District 61.The Western Slope “is really like a target with a bull’s-eye right on this district,” Curry said.Romanoff said he doubts last year’s Referendum A would have made it out of the agriculture committee if Curry had been chairing it.Colorado voters defeated that proposal to finance water projects. Western Slope interests heavily opposed it out of fear that it would result in diversions to the Eastern Slope without the Western Slope approving of them or being compensated for them.Chris Treese, a lobbyist for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said he wondered whether Curry might receive the committee chair appointment, but still was surprised to hear it had happened.”She’ll be excellent. It will be good for District 61 and good for western Colorado,” he said.”The agriculture committee is the committee of jurisdiction for all water legislation. Having somebody with a solid background in water, water management, water operations will be invaluable,” he said.Curry said she worried some that Democrats already on the committee might take offense at her appointment, but has talked with them and hopes to have smoothed things out.Romanoff said merit counts for more than seniority for him, and Curry was the most qualified for the job.”I don’t believe all the solutions start from or end in this building, and her career didn’t start here either,” he said.Curry said the appointment raises her hopes for a bill getting passed to protect basins of origin when water projects are proposed.Treese said the change in leadership in the legislature offers new possibilities for water legislation. But any measures still would require the signature of Republican Gov. Bill Owens, he noted. In addition, because water tends to be more of a regional issue than a partisan one, Curry will have to work for the cooperation of Republican and Democratic Front Range lawmakers alike.But Treese said he believes Curry is prepared to seek those kinds of cooperation.It’s unclear what Curry’s appointment does for her hopes of pursuing legislative reforms to natural gas regulation. Though her committee oversees natural resources, Romanoff noted that there is a separate Transportation and Energy Committee.”Either way she’ll have a hand in solving that problem,” he said.Curry said she’s hoping to be appointed to that committee as well.Thanks to training she’s receiving, Curry is not too intimidated about the idea of running a committee with no prior legislative experience, she said. Besides, she noted, with the change in leadership, a lot of people will be adjusting to new roles.”I think we’re all kind of doing this together,” she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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