State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush discusses water, transportation at town hall

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— About 25 people attended a town hall meeting with state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, on Thursday in the Commissioners Hearing Room where water and transportation issues dominated the discussion.

Before getting to questions from attendees, Mitsch Bush stressed how important water issues were in this past legislative session and will be in the next session, with the first draft of the state water plan due in December.

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Diane Mitsch Bush

Mitsch Bush also addressed bills that streamlined the process for small-scale hydroelectric projects and allowed Western Slope agricultural users to implement conservation measures without risking their water rights.

House Bill 1030 passed the Legislature this year and assigns an ombudsman to guide those applying for small-scale hydroelectric permits through the six government agencies involved and the Federal Energy Regulation Commission process.

“There were so many hoops to jump through,” Mitsch Bush said about the old process.

The bill’s sponsors — Mitsch Bush and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose — sat down with the agencies involved and the other stakeholders and came up with the new system, which is designed to reduce the amount of effort needed on the part of the applicant to navigate the bureaucracy involved.

“A number of my bills this year have been about getting rid of red tape,” she said.

Responding to another question, Mitsch Bush explained how Senate Bill 23 is intended to allow Western Slope water users to transfer savings from efficiency measures to the Colorado Water Conservation Board without risking abandonment of their rights. The requirement that the transfer not hurt any other water rights holders is repeated multiple times in the bill, she said, and there might be few users who pursue the issue.

Speaking more broadly about water, Mitsch Bush said, the issues in Colorado involve quality and quantity.

“I am always vigilant about some of the euphemisms” used by those on the Front Range, she said. One of those is “new supply.”

“There is no such thing,” Mitsch Bush said.

Water is the basis for large parts of the economy in our area, she said, and the interim water committee on which she sits will hold six additional meetings across the state about the state water plan.

Mitsch Bush also spoke about her bill this past session that allocated $700,000 for the Safe Routes to School program. The grant recipients will be chosen through the same Colorado Department of Transportation process as when the money came from federal transportation dollars. Two additional stipulations in the bill, she said, are that special attention should be paid to applications from rural areas and those with a high number of students receiving free or reduced lunch.

Transportation funding in general is facing an extended crunch between growing population figures and miles driven and a stagnant funding source. At the federal and state levels, Mitsch Bush said, the excise taxes on gas that fund transportation haven’t changed since the 1990s. The excise taxes are a set amount of cents per gallon, meaning they don’t capture the increase in gas prices.

Public-private partnerships offer some options for tackling transportation projects, Mitsch Bush said, and other areas are experimenting with funding models based on miles driven rather than gas taxes.

Mitsch Bush also addressed the rumor that the Legislature could be called back for a special session to focus on oil and gas development and local control.

She said her concern about any potential legislation is that it would encompass issues that Western Slope counties like Routt County already have found their own solutions for.

“I am afraid that we may get a one size fits all bill,” she said.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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