John Salazar supports our water interests
I was pleased when state Rep. John Salazar announced his support of water conservation easements three weeks ago in a speech to the Colorado Water Congress. This made me especially happy because Salazar, who has served as a water board member and a key supporter of preserving rural water for agricultural use, is running to represent us in Congress. In Congress, Salazar would be in a position to do a great deal of good furthering the water conservation easement program, which I have worked so hard on over the past five years. My excitement about Mr. Salazar’s position supporting our plan to keep water in rural Colorado was tempered by the fact that his opponent, Greg Walcher, attacked it as a “wacky water idea.” With the merits of water conservation easements being debated across Colorado, I knew it was time to describe exactly how they work.As a lifelong farmer I’ve watched a lot of family farms disappear permanently from the landscape. Friends whom I used to help harvest found themselves having to sell off their most valuable commodity – their water rights – to Front Range municipalities in order to pay off their bills. The sad irony is that after they became financially solvent, they could no longer farm because they no longer had any water. Worse, when the community loses the water, it can never be replaced. Future generations may never share their family’s agricultural way of life.When I was elected as a county commissioner in Otero County, I made it a top priority to find solutions to help farmers stay afloat while keeping local water in the community. The Board of County Commissioners, through its WaterWorks! Committee, started a water conservation easement program that did exactly that.The water conservation easement program works much like a land conservation easement. An irrigator is given cash (tax credits) for giving up development rights, effectively tying their water to the land. The farmer gets to continue using the water to irrigate his crops, and the community doesn’t have to fear losing its agricultural economy and lifestyle. This market-driven solution is only implemented by the voluntary choice of the farmer. In fact, many more farmers have applied for water conservation easements than the program can afford to support.Currently, we in Otero County want to expand our program to keep more water in the Lower Arkansas and more farmers growing crops. If Salazar were elected to Congress and helped us fund this program, we in rural Colorado could preserve our agricultural economy and heritage.Finally, Walcher’s opposition to this program is both troubling and surprising. Four years ago I sat in a room and listened to Mr. Walcher, then the head of the Department of Natural Resources, sing the praises of the work we were doing with water conservation easements. If he’s forgotten, he can always look in the Pueblo Chieftain’s archives from May 17, 2000, where he’s quoted supporting our program. He claims now that he’s opposed to federal dollars being used in Colorado to help protect water rights. This raises a new concern: Can we trust Walcher to protect Colorado’s water? The reality is we must put partisan ideology aside and support good water policy when it is presented. We must save agriculture and not bicker over tried, tested and proven programs. Mr. Salazar was right to support water conservation easements, and for that I commend him for his courage in standing up for this vital water protection program.Bob Bauserman is a third-generation farmer and a county commissioner from Otero County.
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