Monitoring Colorado's Ongoing Feuds About Water

Smith, Jerd
March 2005
Nieman Reports;Spring2005, Vol. 59 Issue 1, p33
This article tackles the water beat in Colorado where no central regulating agency oversees water's use. Most of the entities that control water in Colorado do not report directly to an elected body though their constituencies are public. They operate in a parallel universe, neither wholly public nor fully private. Though water is a basic utility, there is no central regulating entity like those that oversee phone and electric service. Water quality is monitored by the state health department, and the state makes sure each entity gets its legal share. But that is about it when it comes to state regulation. There is no statewide water planning, policymaking or rules governing conservation. Instead, fragmented quasi-public water districts control the water and decide how it will be used. A five-year drought and a striking population boom are testing the limits of Colorado's water supplies and the fiefdoms that control them. Roughly 80 percent of the state's drinking water supplies are derived from melting mountain snows. As more and more of Colorado's water supplies are constrained by growth, chronic drought and environmental concerns, there is a sense that somehow the state's citizens need to demand a broader, less fragmented approach to allocating water.


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