Steamboat Springs A public that does not understand the importance of its water rights today, jeopardizes its claim to that water in the future, state lawmakers said.
"I have a real concern about what the federal government is trying to do with our water in Colorado," Sen. JackTaylor, R-Steamboat Springs, said.
Taylor and several other members of the state Legislature voiced their concerns about threats to the state's water resources this week in a panel hosted by the Colorado Water Congress at the Sheraton Hotel.
The Water Congress is governed by a 26-member board that lobbies for protection of Colorado's water interests. The group's summer convention ran through Friday afternoon.
Since 1981, the Legislature has passed 286 of the 346 bills supported by the Water Congress, and 14 of the 19 bills that it supported earlier this year will become law.
Lawmakers agreed that the responsibility of representing their districts' rural interests has changed dramatically in recent years as urban centers like Denver have exploded.
"A rural legislator has a different perspective," Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, said.
The dilemma comes as the Legislature seeks to check urban sprawl in the Front Range, while sparser areas in the west are trying to stimulate growth, White said.
It can be difficult for one person to represent seven or eight counties when the Denver area has eight senators to speak for its interests, Taylor said.
"If one of us is gone," Taylor said, pointing to his neighboring rural colleagues on the panel, "one of our areas go without a voice. If one of them is gone, there are others to pick up the slack."
Despite their small numbers, Taylor and White said they and other rural legislators will continue to fight for their constituents' water rights.
It may be harder with new district lines in the future. Redistricting may draw representation away from the Western Slope and place it in the hands of legislators with more urban interests. But they hope to change their constituents' perception of water availability.
"You ask kids where water comes from, and they will tell you it comes from a faucet," Taylor said. People need to understand that the state's water resources are a precious commodity that must be protected from too much federal intrusion and careless use, Taylor added. "It's like thinking that milk comes from a grocery store," he said.
Yet understanding the many complicated issues that surround water rights can be tedious and unforgiving, County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
"For most of us, it's like going into a fog," she said.