My great-grandparents homesteaded in the late 1800s near Grover, as far northeast as you can get and still be in Colorado. I eventually landed in Durango, in the state’s southwest corner. Border to border and corner to corner, Colorado has a spirit and charm that many of us find irresistible.

But Colorado stands to lose some of its most precious characteristics if we’re not careful.

In the most urgent and practical concern, we need to recognize that Colorado’s water resources are finite and at risk. Because our forests are the natural infrastructure that tie directly to water quality and supply, this should be a concern to all of Colorado, urban or rural. With another wildfire season ongoing, we have plenty of reasons to move improved forest health up much higher on Colorado’s “to do” list.

If we can’t get clean water supplied affordably and reliably, this most basic need will send people packing. Delaying our response to dead and dying trees in the watershed headwaters, and letting catastrophic wildfires grab headlines, property and even lives, make us all worse than fools.

Another cautionary note is keeping life in Colorado affordable by living within our means. My 10 years in the Legislature taught me how easily we can default to an assumption that all budgetary wants are “needs.” Saying no to constituents or advocacy groups isn’t easy and requires encouragement and self-discipline. But if not applied, we risk making Colorado a state where only the wealthy can live or play.

There really is no free lunch, and difficult choices must be made. How many Coloradans struggle to pay rent, let alone a mortgage payment? Do we want to reach a point of no return? My great-grandparents’ dreams of a sheep operation were dashed by poor weather and finances, leading to a wagon trail trip back to the Pennsylvania family dairy farm. Not every brave effort is rewarded with success.

Like many young Coloradans, past and present, I worked two jobs to get established. But how many jobs can a person realistically hold to make ends meet before deciding to move on? Policymakers deciding governmental budgets need to keep these things in mind.

Finally, Colorado needs to maintain its “purple” political identity. The heavy hand of partisan politics is increasingly creeping into state policymaking, and that’s not serving Colorado well. The diversity of thought and independent nature of historical Colorado thinking is being sacrificed to vapid party-line adherence, and it shows. I am encouraged by the new role that unaffiliated voters have during primaries, and perhaps that will have a positive effect on the hyper-partisanship drifting into Colorado from the national level.

From improving our forested lands and better protecting the watersheds they shelter, to using common sense, fiscal prudence and independent thinking, a good Colorado could be even better.

Ellen Roberts, a Durango attorney specializing in water law and natural resources, served 10 years in Colorado’s House of Representatives and Senate as a Republican.

Managing Editor, Colorado Politics

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