On Aug. 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a capacity crowd at Pueblo’s Dutch Clark Stadium.
“I don’t think there is any more valuable lesson for a President or Member of the House and Senate than to fly as we have flown today over some of the bleakest land in the United States and then to come to a river and see what grows next to it, and come to this city and come to this town and come to this platform and know how vitally important water is.”
Kennedy had traveled to Pueblo to announce the Fryingpan-Arkansas project, an enormous trans-mountain project to divert Western Slope water to the Arkansas River basin. In all, it required six storage dams, 17 diversion dams and structures, hundreds of miles of combined canals, conduits, tunnels and transmission lines, and two power plants, switchyards and substations. The project took 10 years for authorization, spark-plugged throughout by Colorado’s powerful 4th District Congressman Wayne Aspenall, a Palisade Democrat, and another 20 years to construct.
“This is a national responsibility,” Kennedy said in 1962. “When Theodore Roosevelt became President after being Vice President, the leader of his state said, ‘my God, they have put that cowboy in the White House.’ Well, because he had been a cowboy in North Dakota, and had spent some of the most significant years of his life there, he became committed to the development of the resources of the West, and every citizen who lives in the West owes Theodore Roosevelt, that cowboy, a debt of obligation.”
These words uttered by one of this country’s most-iconic leaders, delivered in a football stadium in the heart of Colorado’s 3 rd Congressional District, are as prescient now as they were nearly 60 years ago.
Consider the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement among seven U.S. states within the Colorado River basin governing the allocation of the water rights among the parties to the compact. It serves to this day as a foundational document in water law.
Or the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest trans mountain diversion project in the state, which annually delivers some 213,000 acre-feet of water from the headwaters of the Colorado River to the South Platte River Basin.
Then there’s Dillon Reservoir and the Harold Roberts Tunnel, which delivers Colorado River headwaters to the North Fork of the Platte River to serve a thirsty Denver metro area.
The list goes on.
The point is, past projects to divert and share water have been expensive, generational endeavors involving participation and coordination, arm-twisting and teeth gnashing, among all manner of federal, state and local officials. And the fights over Colorado’s headwaters will only gain in importance over the coming decades, as global climate change influences our weather and thirsty citizens clamor for their piece of a dwindling pie.
In pondering the boundaries of a 3rd Congressional District that must by nature encompass nearly half of Colorado’s land area; water policy is the one, clear, universal “community of interest” that has historically impacted the entire area, continues to do so today, and will continue to do so well into the future.
In this context, I urge the Commission to give its utmost consideration to Commissioner Simon Tafoya’s redistricting plan, illustrated in the “P.005.Tafoya” map submitted Sept. 13, 2021.
Tafoya’s plan is the only one among the 120-or-so I have reviewed and continually reported on that puts this vital community of interest front and center in constructing the boundaries of the 3rd District.
It seems like the kind of plan that would have brought the rousing support of a young president from Massachusetts, a powerful Congressman from Palisade, and “that cowboy from South Dakota.”
It is a nod to our region’s past and a powerful recognition of our inevitable future.
Mark Craddock lives in Walsenburg