Rural Coloradans are watching the governor’s race with interested skepticism, hopeful that whoever is elected will tackle not only metro Colorado’s concerns but also the issues that folks outside of the urban corridor are facing.
Trying to speak for a geographical area that takes nearly eight hours to drive across is risky business. But I think there are two issues that tie all of rural Coloradans together: unaffordable health-care costs, and water supply shortages.
High health care costs put a huge drain on all Coloradans, and the problem is particularly acute for those of us who don’t live on the Front Range. To make progress on this issue, the executive branch will have to work with the legislative branch to find solutions, and that means putting political grievances and geographical divides aside.
There are several groups looking at rising health care costs and what can be done about it, so we probably don’t need to do another study. What we do need is action. The new governor should promote measures that help reduce the premiums for rural Coloradans (or at least slow the rate of increase) and address the unjustifiably high hospital expenses we face.
The new administration will have to deal with water-shortage issues right off the bat due to dropping water levels at Lake Powell on the Colorado River. Lake Powell is Colorado’s so-called bank account to be used to pay our water debts to California, Arizona and Nevada. This is not just a West Slope or rural issue; at present, 50 percent of Denver’s water supply comes from the Colorado River, so a shortage impacts everyone. The current administration and the Colorado Water Conservation Board are busily developing a strategy for maintaining water levels, and meanwhile, the lake continues to drop.
From a rural perspective, it is my hope that the new administration will push for solutions that are equitable; that respect historic agricultural water users’ rights; and that do not sacrifice rural Colorado to the seemingly irresistible force of growth in the metro region. We know that we will need to do our part in terms of ensuring adequate water deliveries to the lower Colorado River basin states. But we are asking that the new administration ensure that the burden does not fall more heavily on rural water users. With this being the third-worst water year on record, the situation on the Colorado River has become more critical. Urban demand is increasing, available supplies are decreasing, and rural water users are caught in the crosshairs.
During my tenure as a legislator, I was lucky to serve with state leaders who overcame the partisan and urban/rural divides. Former Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. and Gov. Bill Owens successfully worked with our legislative leaders on issues that were divisive and challenging, and they made progress. I know from experience that it is possible to develop solutions if there is a commitment from the top to try and improve the lives of all Coloradans, regardless of where they live.
Kathleen Curry, a Gunnison small-business owner and rancher, represented state House District 61 from 2005 to 2011. She is on the steering committee of Unite Colorado, a movement seeking to bridge the partisan divide.