The urban-rural divide in Colorado felt a little less on Wednesday, as Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two water bills in Rocky Ford.
Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, praised the governor and his trek to the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District office in Southeastern Colorado for the bill signings.
Crowder, the only Southern Colorado elected official from the legislature to attend the signings, said Hickenlooper left Washington, D.C., before 6 a.m. to make two separate Colorado events.
“He’s always putting the spotlight on Southern Colorado,” Crowder said of Hickenlooper. “There’s a division between metro and rural and we have to accept that.”
Crowder often cites the division between the two Colorados he sees, a stark contrast to Hickenlooper’s narrative that Southern Colorado is no longer far behind the Denver-metro area.
The bill signing itself highlighted the difference a 2 hour and 35-minute drive south of Denver can make. Despite the bills’ significance to the entire region there were only a couple dozen people attending the signing. Farther north, bill signings attract a gaggle of press, elected officials and curious community advocates.
Cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans were met by the pressed gingham button-ups worn by Hickenlooper’s aids.
This signing was more casual than normal. The governor shook every hand in the building and downed a root beer while he chatted before the ceremony.
Hickenlooper signed HB17–1248, which funds certain conservation board projects as part of the Colorado Water Plan, and HB17–1233, which protects water rights owners from having to give up water rights based on historical consumptive use analysis. HB17–1233 was sponsored by Crowder.
Reps. Clarice Navarro and Kimmi Clark-Lewis, who represent much of the Lower Arkansas Valley in the House, voted down Crowder’s ultimately successful bill.
“I love this guy because he’s a visionary,” said Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner, thanking Hickenlooper before the bill signings.
Winner told PULP he was pleased with Hickenlooper’s stop in Rocky Ford because water conservation means so much to the agriculture communities in the region.
“There have been other governors who never signed a bill here,” Winner said, highlighting the significance of Hickenlooper visiting the office on three separate occasions to sign bills.
“He recognizes us.”
Winner said it never seems to be a good year for water legislation because of the complexities, but that Hickenlooper seems to support the changes Winner sees as progress on water issues.
“We have it and they want it,” Winner said of the Lower Arkansas Valley’s relationship with more urban parts of the state.
But the two bills are a step in the right direction, Winner said.