A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
Loveland Reporter-Herald, July 6, on hope for lessons in wake of fire deaths:
Coloradans have experienced so many wildfires in recent years that too many state residents can say they know of someone who has been affected by a devastating blaze.
And we've gained a great appreciation for the Hotshot fire crews and others who go into fire zones to protect people's homes and properties.
So we mourn along with the Prescott, Ariz., area after 19 Hotshot firefighters were killed last Sunday, the largest loss of life of public servants since 9/11.
Coloradans know too well the pain that community is feeling.
Three pilots lost their lives battling the 2002 Big Elk Meadows fire near Estes Park as first an air tanker lost a wing in flight and crashed and then a helicopter crashed. Fourteen firefighters died when they were trapped when a fire blew up on Storm King Mountain west of Glenwood Springs on July 6, 1994.
Based on the lessons learned in the Storm King tragedy, the Bureau of Land Management reorganized its fire program in hopes of preventing other deaths. After the Big Elk Meadows deaths, the U.S. Forest Service said it would lighten the loads in World War II-era air tankers used to fight fires to lessen the risk of in-flight structural damage.
Initial reports from the fire in Arizona indicate the one firefighter who survived was the lookout for the team, and was busy moving a truck to get a better vantage point when his team members were overcome.
The lesson may be that crews battling erratic fires need more than one lookout, but that's for experts to determine.
We can only hope that, like after the Colorado firefighting tragedies, lessons can be learned that help keep firefighters safer. The best way to honor the firefighters who lost their lives will be to do work to ensure future Hotshot crews can do this very dangerous job as safely as possible.
The Greeley Tribune, July 6, on the need for more water storage and conservation:
In 1957, when the Colorado Big-Thompson water project went fully online, 85 percent of the water coming from the Western Slope of Colorado was owned by farmers in northeastern Colorado. The rest went to municipal and industrial use.
Today, farmers own 34 percent of C-BT water. During the past five and a half decades, farmers have sold their C-BT shares, mostly to cities in northern Colorado, because they learned that farming wasn't an easy way to make a living, or their water and land represented their 401K plan.
Because of the drought in two of the past three years in Colorado, the price of water is skyrocketing. Since January of this year, for example, a unit of C-BT water has nearly doubled, from $9,500 to $18,500.
Thankfully, farming has been more lucrative in the past three to five years as commodity prices have spiked. The result is that more farmers are holding on to their water. It's a simple supply-and-demand equation that has produced such a spike in water prices: More farmers are holding on to their water, and ongoing drought concerns have made less water available for sale.
As we look into the future, it becomes increasingly obvious how important water is in this part of the country. And it leads us to this point: More water storage and an increased emphasis on conservation are both necessary for the co-survival of agriculture and cities in northeast Colorado in the next several decades.
We remain surprised, for example, that more severe watering restrictions are not in place for Greeley and some other northern Colorado cities. After a wet spring, it didn't seem all that inappropriate that Greeley stuck with its three-times-a-week watering restrictions, even though many communities across the state have adopted tougher restrictions.
But after an extremely dry June, it seems time for Greeley to reconsider. Anything the city can do to save water, making more available to lease to farmers, strikes us as a wise decision, not only for farmers but for the entire northern Colorado economy.
It's a simple fact that if we want agriculture to survive in this area, municipal residents must back away from their infatuation with green lawns. As a community, we must become more aware of the benefits of xeriscaping and other landscaping methods that reduce our reliance on heavy water consumption.
And in the same breath, we must realize that there are limits to how much municipal water can be saved for ag use. We must remember that agriculture consumes nearly 85 percent of the water in the state, and it seems undeniable that more water storage is necessary to ensure the survival of the industry here.
If we don't have more storage, it seems likely that the trend of the past five decades will continue. More water will convert to municipal ownership, and in dry years, less and less water will be available for farming.
"It's certainly not farmers who are paying these high prices right now," said Brian Werner, spokesman and historian with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which operates the C-BT system.
By and large, it's municipalities and residential developers who have the money to buy water at today's high prices. Without conservation and more water storage, we can expect less and less water to be available for agriculture, and that's not good news for Weld County.
The Durango Herald, July 6, on waning immigration and immigration reform:
The U.S. Senate has passed a bipartisan bill to reform U.S. immigration policy. The measure is now in the House of Representatives, where it appears to have little chance of passage. House Speaker John Boehner has said he will not put the Senate bill to a vote and will only consider an immigration bill if it has the support of a majority of House Republicans.
This is both a farce and a tragedy, but as it applies to the issue the Senate bill's critics worry about most it may not matter. Much of the current debate is about a situation that no longer exists.
Broadly speaking, there are two components to any discussion of illegal immigration: how to stem the flood of people illegally entering the United States and what to do about the approximately 11 million people already here without permission. The problem with that debate is that the question of border security - keeping out all the would-be immigrants - largely speaks to a problem from the 1990s. Today, there is no flood.
The July-August edition of The Atlantic sums that up nicely. As it shows, both legal and illegal immigration from Mexico dropped off by more than 80 percent in the last decade. In recent years, more Mexicans have moved back to Mexico than have come to the United States. There has also been an increase in the number of U.S. citizens moving to Mexico.
A number of factors have contributed to these changes, and few of them seem to be temporary.
The recession, in particular the housing slump, drastically reduced the U.S. job market, especially in the housing industry in the Southwest. That market is coming back, but it remains to be seen if it ever returns to the feverish pace of a decade ago.
Other factors are more lasting. As the Atlantic piece points out, Mexico is becoming a middle-class country. Incomes there have been rising since the mid-1990s, and birth rates have been declining.
With that, the country's median age is rising; it is now up to 28. Not only is crossing the Sonoran desert a young man's game, but by the time people are in their late 20s or early 30s, they are much more likely to have a family and an established career - and far less likely to be interested in risking their lives for meat-packing jobs.
All that suggests increased enforcement efforts along the border will produce little in the way of demonstrable results. It is hard to stop something that is not happening. But focusing on border security remains the mantra of House Republicans opposed to the Senate's immigration bill.
That in opposing immigration reform they risk going the way of the Whigs seems not to matter to them. Most fear a primary challenge more than anything.
But with that, they ignore the 11 million people already here illegally. The Senate bill includes a pathway to citizenship for those folks, albeit an arduous one that requires payment of a fine, a 13-year wait and a background check.
Critics nonetheless invoke the idea of moral hazard. They argue that any path to citizenship rewards law breaking.
But such thinking ignores the simple reality that this country is not about to round up 11 million people and ship them off. Paranoia on both the left and right notwithstanding, this is neither Nazi Germany nor Soviet Russia. Recognizing that, critics of the Senate bill should explain exactly what it is they want. If not a path to citizenship, what?
The House should pass the Senate's immigration bill. With actual immigration waning, citizenship is the issue.
The Denver Post, July 8, on government deception and its legal authority to spy on its own citizens:
Across the nation on Independence Day last week, concerned citizens took to the streets in more than 80 cities — including Denver — to protest recently disclosed government surveillance tactics.
The breadth of the data being collected on ordinary citizens, allegedly justified by the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), is both unnerving and of dubious legality. And yet until recently, most of us had no idea, for example, that the government collected the phone records of millions of Americans.
This sort of indiscriminate data mining by intelligence agencies raises both privacy and constitutional issues.
So we hope the demonstrations add to the pressure on the Obama administration not only to explain its spying activities, but to disclose legal opinions it believes give officials the power to collect so much information on individuals not suspected of committing crimes.
Oh, and it would be nice if they stopped misleading the public about what they're up to, too. Administration officials have twice in recent months provided erroneous information to Congress about the scope of domestic spying.
We believe a rewrite of federal law may be in order to curtail spying power apparently ceded to the executive branch. It appears that rapidly evolving technology has given the government the capability to collect much more data than what was anticipated when today's legal framework was put in place.
The irony is that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was created by 1978 legislation, was supposed to protect civil liberties and provide a check to executive authority. But it may be that the non-adversarial, closed forum under FISA provides more of a rubber stamp than a true check on the executive branch.
Colorado's Sen. Mark Udall has been dogged in his efforts to call attention to the issue. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Udall knows things he cannot speak of publicly, but has worked the angles to highlight problems.
Recently, Udall called out the National Security Agency for posting a "fact sheet" that he said contained false information about its spying program. It was subsequently pulled from the agency website.
And last week a letter was released in which National Intelligence Director James Clapper admitted he provided "clearly erroneous" information in testimony to Congress about the scope of the NSA's data collection. He called it a mistake.
Clapper has been bobbing and weaving since a Senate hearing in March at which he denied that the NSA collected data on millions of Americans.
He may call it a mistake, but it looks an awful lot like a lie.
Slowly, a picture is coming into focus of a government that has taken liberties with our liberty under the guise of keeping the nation safe from terrorists.
It is time for a conversation about whether the government's legal authority to spy on its own citizens should be ratcheted back.