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Gardner: EPA should back off, let Colorado manage water quality

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner sounded traditional Republican themes when he spoke before the Colorado Water Congress Wednesday. Colorado needs more water storage, he said, and the federal government, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, must back off regulations that block job growth.

He ended by giving homage to Wayne Aspinall and other patron saints of Colorado water development.

Gardner didn’t take questions, so Steve Glazer couldn’t ask what crossed his mind: “You ran as a moderate in a very balanced district, and based on your voting record, how do you expect to get re-elected without support of the wacko Tea Party?”

For several decades, Glazer has looked after water affairs for the Crested Butte-based High Country Citizens Alliance. Gardner is in his first term in Congress, representing Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District, which takes in Fort Collins, Greeley, and most of the eastern plains, including the corn-growing community of Yuma, from which Gardner hails.

Glazer’s question was a dig at Gardner’s proud support of H.R. 2018, Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, which passed the House of Representatives in July by a vote of 239 to 184.

The White House in July said that it “strongly opposes” the law because it would “roll back the key provisions of the CWA (Clean Water Act) that have been the underpinning of 40 years of progress in making the nation’s waters fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.” Aides said they would urge President Barack Obama to veto the provision should it be approved by the Senate.

But Gardner, in his speech at the meeting of the Water Congress, Colorado’s top organization for traditional water providers, said that Colorado and other states should have the right to determine their own water quality.

“I just have to believe that Colorado knows what’s best when it comes to their water resources,” he said.

It was part of his broader theme that the federal government over-regulates, inhibiting job growth. But the federal government has plenty of jobs for those who do regulate, he said.

“In the federal government, there are more than 250,000 people whose sole job is to write regulations,” he claimed.

Gardner sits on the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, which has jurisdiction over the Environmental Protect Agency. In that capacity, he said, he was able to question an assistant EPA administrator. Did you, he asked, do an economic analysis when you promulgated a rule? Did you take into account the effect of this rule on jobs and job creation?

The answer, he reported, was no.

He said he also talked with Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the EPA. She had, he said, assured him that the economy of rural Colorado was going great.

“These serve as examples of why Washington D.C. is not the solution. It’s the problem,” he said.

Glazer’s response? “It’s nuts,” he said after the speech, of the proposed gutting of the EPA’s broad authority over water quality.

“For 40 years, every poll of the population has put water quality protection at the top of their values. And that costs money, and it requires a single overseeing agency to keep water quality in every state and in every watershed and every region equally protected.”

Becky Long, of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, also panned the idea of pulling back federal authority. Problems with hormones and petrochemicals persist, and the problem of nutrients creating dead zones isn’t just one found where the Mississippi River pours into the Gulf of Mexico. Grand Lake—the lake, not the town – has the problem too, she pointed out.

And while some states might do a fine job of regulating water quality, who’s to say?

Gardner also called for more water storage, a theme of many speakers at this conference. It was, after all, an epic year for water runoff in much of Colorado. A new record for snowfall was set in the state, with Buffalo Pass, located about 8 miles from Steamboat, still having so much snow by late May that there was still seven feet of water content.

“It was a year for the record books,” said Mike Gillespie, long-time snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Survey. But those records, he noted, did not extent to southern Colorado.

Gardner acknowledged that storage alone is not the answer to Colorado’s looming need for water. Earlier, Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer, reported that Colorado grew nearly 17 percent in the last decade, and is now poised to grow from the existing 5.1 million people to 8 million by 2040.

Recalling a recent visit to Israel, Gardner reported finding No. 1 and No. 2 buttons on toilets – the former for the smaller flushing jobs, and the second for more substantial needs. Colorado has much to learn from Israelis, he said.

But conservation isn’t enough, he said. Agriculture needs storage.

Again, environmentalists were not persuaded. “There are different kinds of storage,” observed Glazer. Dams to control floods must be kept empty, those to steel communities against drought should be kept full.

And who will pay for the storage, wondered CEC’s Long. Denver Water has been projecting $7,000 to $10,000 per acre-foot for additional storage in Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. That’s far more expensive than what farmers can afford to pay.

Decades ago, of course, storage was paid for by the U.S. government – a point acknowledged by Gardner in his tribute to Aspinall, a Democrat from Palisade who chaired the House Interior Committee during the 1960s, an era of massive dam building in the West.

As Gardner noted, Aspinall famously noted that when you touch water in the West, you touch everything. But a lot of that stored and diverted water was the result of federal loans and grants–something we aren’t seeing a lot of these days.

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