Hick’s wise water pick

Governor-elect John Hickenlooper has critics and supporters alike chirping about his cabinet picks, but appointing Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp to the position of Special Policy Advisor on Water to the Governor should have bipartisan support.

Water is the preeminent economic development challenge in Colorado and the West. It’s commendable the new administration acknowledges the importance of the issue. But the appointment of Stulp to lead Hick’s water efforts raises the bar on what might be accomplished by the office.

Colorado is facing a 20 percent water supply shortfall by 2030. This so-called supply “gap” adds a sense of urgency to the water discussion from here forward. The Ritter legacy on water is decidedly mixed: South metro’s water future is tenuous and unresolved; no consensual action has emerged from million of dollars and several years studying Colorado River water availability; and while several regional projects have moved forward, like the Southern Delivery System between Pueblo and Colorado Springs, and Prairie Waters in Aurora, there’s still sparse agreement on how the state should proceed long-term in developing a sustainable plan.

Ag interests are likely breathing easier with Stulp’s appointment. Water has been flowing from the Ag sector to suburban users, an accelerating trend that Stulp has experienced first-hand. But other players in Colorado’s water community should also welcome the Commissioner to his new role. His exposure to the issue is impressively varied. He’s a farmer and rancher in Prowers County, Colorado. He’s served on the state Wildlife Commission, the State Land Board, is a CSU grad, and if that’s not enough, his family farming operation is home to the Lamar Light and Power Wind Farm, and Stulp is a principal in Prairie Wind Energy LLC. (Listen to my interview with Stulp.)

All of which suggests that Stulp may be uniquely qualified to help the Hickenlooper administration move the needle on water – from dialogue to action. Stulp will chair the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), a policy group formed several years ago to “facilitate” discussions between Colorado’s river basin representatives regarding statewide water issues. With the clock ticking, perhaps Stulp’s first order of business should be to move the IBCC process beyond dialogue to decisions on actionable items – like identifying future projects that will be required to deliver water to South Metro.

Whether the IBCC evolves or not, action is needed. Intra-and-interstate battles over water loom in Colorado’s future. With the clock running, Governor-elect Hickenlooper has taken a solid first-step in addressing Colorado’s water challenge by appointing John Stulp.

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