Farmers participating on a water panel during the joint summer meeting of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and the Colorado Livestock Association said efforts at building consensus seem to be bearing fruit.

Farmers participating on a water panel during the joint summer meeting of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Livestock Association said efforts at building consensus seem to be bearing fruit.

“Environmental groups are starting to recognize what agriculture does for society,” said Carlyle Currier, of Molina. “The next challenge is getting that message down to the rank-and-file. There’s a lack of trust that’s been well-earned between these two groups.”

Carlyle called the formulation of a statewide water plan “long overdue” for the opportunity it presents to bring everyone to the table to form shared priorities and goals.

John Stulp, who spoke at the meeting on the importance of the water planning process, said his main job as a special policy adviser to the governor was simply “to keep people talking.”

Robert Sakata, of Brighton, applauded CCA for finding common ground with environmental groups by convening a “results-based facilitation process,” funded through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation and conducted under the auspices of the Partners for Western Conservation. That group’s mission is to implement market-based conservation solutions benefiting wildlife, the environment, landowners and rural communities. It is best known for creating a private habitat exchange to proactively assist with protecting endangered species.

Even the contentious hot-button issue of climate change could be used as a pathway to progress, panelists said.

“If you believe in climate change — that our wets will be wetter and our dries drier — it doesn’t take a genius to know that to manage that you will need more water storage,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Still, compromise has not come easy. In recent weeks a measure to incentivize water conservation by allowing water savings on the Western Slope to be transferred to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for stream flow enhancement was supported by CCA but opposed by Colorado Farm Bureau, though the two groups normally march in sync.

Currier, a member of both organizations and currently Farm Bureau’s state vice president, said CCA likely supported the measure out of a desire to salvage something positive out of the lengthy consensus-building process, while Farm Bureau opposed it on grounds it could put costly engineering and legal burdens on farmers forced to defend their prior appropriation rights.
Currier said it was important for state leaders to take time to clarify any unresolved issues upfront.

“I think there will be something that comes back next year, so I think it’s good the governor vetoed it,” he said. “It was too divisive in its current form.”