Sen. Jack Taylor: Balancing uses

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Advocates of recreational water rights have been critical of ongoing legislative efforts to ensure recreational uses are compatible with the state's many other water needs. I appreciate their concerns, but as a member of the state Senate, I represent the wide-ranging interests of many different water stakeholders in our part of Colorado. I do not have the luxury of advocating for one kind of water right to the exclusion of all the others.

My goal always has been to balance the competing uses for one of our state's most precious resources -- whether for agriculture, municipalities, storage, development, recreation or whatever else. Water policy long has been among the most contentious issues in our region. So, it is naÃive to assume that innovations such as recreational in-channel diversions, or RICDs, should dominate Colorado water law simply because of their newfound popularity among kayakers. That would be like the tail wagging the dog.

It is also important to remember that RICDs represent a new and different kind of water right from the water laws that have effectively governed our state for more than 125 years. This is the only right in which water continues to flow down river and out of Colorado. Its sole purpose is to act as a pass-through for recreation. That is why pending legislation about the matter treats RICDs somewhat differently from other, more conventional water rights.

Yes, RICDs generate economic development dollars, but they also let water flow downstream and out of the state, unrecovered. That is why we must take great care to safeguard the tremendous economic benefit to our entire state of water's other, more traditional uses.

Senate Bill 37, which has bipartisan support, including my own, in the General Assembly -- and which passed the Senate 33-0 last week -- goes a long way toward achieving a reasonable balance. The bill offers safeguards for recreation and would not affect communities that already have RICDs in place. The bill also upholds the prerogatives of communities that seek to establish RICDs provided they submit their requests to a review process with reasonable checks and balances.

It seems, at times, that the more vocal advocates of RICDs, however well-meaning, wish to pick a fight with every guardian of historical water rights, whether it's the Colorado Water Conservation Board or members of both parties in the General Assembly, including me. Let's all come together instead. Only Calif--ornia wins in a water war.

Sen. Jack Taylor

Steamboat Springs

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