Water and wolves — those issues are emblematic of the misunderstanding more urban parts of the state have about the rural half, candidates for various Western Slope districts for the Colorado House said during Club 20’s fall conference on Saturday.
The debates, which normally are held in person but were done virtually from studios at Colorado Mesa University because of the COVID-19 pandemic, featured incumbents and their challengers from districts across the Western Slope.
During them all, candidates agreed on at least one thing: that whoever represents any part of the Western Slope, their first duty is to protect the region’s water resources from Front Range and downstream interests.
“Without our water being pure and abundant for tourism as well as our agricultural water, we stand to lose even more,” said Alice Marie Slaven-Emond, the Democratic candidate for House District 54, which includes Mesa County and parts of Delta County.
“Right now, we have water speculators from New York who are trying to buy and dry farms all over Mesa County and Delta County and send that water downstream,” responded Rep. Matt Soper, the Delta Republican who currently holds that seat. “Well, I was proud to be part of an effort in the Legislature to toughen Colorado’s water-speculation laws.”
Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, warned voters not to be complacent on water matters, particularly at a time when the entire West is dealing with a widespread drought.
“The Colorado River is trying to support everybody’s needs,” said Catlin, whose Democratic opponent, Seth Cagin, didn’t participate in the debates. “A call … under the 1992 Colorado River Compact would change life as you know it in western Colorado. One of the things that we’re doing right now is we are looking at how we can manage the demand. But in order to accomplish that demand, the Front Range in Denver, they’ve got to control their demand also.”
Those candidates, and a few others, said one of the main problems facing the Western Slope is that urban dwellers on the Front Range don’t understand the region’s way of life.
“They need to realize that people come to Colorado to be a tourist or be on vacation because of what we have on the Western Slope,” Catlin said. “I don’t think many people go to Denver to spend a two-week vacation. They come here. Urban Colorado seems to think that they should drive the agenda, that they should have the final say.”
Slaven-Emond said those attitudes can be changed if the region’s delegation to Denver spends more time educating Front Range urbanites about the Western Slope and its concerns.
Soper said he’s doing just that. Since getting elected to the district in 2018, he’s brought several Front Range residents, including Denver legislators, to the…