Water conservation will be a critical issue this year, warned state Sen. Gail Schwartz at a meet-and-greet held at BB’s Kitchen on Wednesday.
“We have a crisis on our hands when it comes to water,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz, who lives in Snowmass Village, opened the 30-minute, question-and-answer session emphasizing the need for state and regional government to protect the local watershed in light of the low snowpack year.
Drought conditions are worse this year than in recent memory, Schwartz said. That’s why it was so important that the state Water Projects Bill, which Schwartz sponsored, was recently passed, she said. The bill allocates $61 million to reservoir projects and watershed protection.
Schwartz then answered questions from the group of about 20 attendees.
One question posed was whether the practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) should be banned in order to protect the local watershed. It’s a technique used by oil and gas companies to release natural gas from the ground.
Fracking is not a threat to the local water supply and banning it altogether would be a bad choice, Schwartz said. About 80 percent of companies that use hydraulic fracturing not only comply with government environmental protection standards, but they exceed expectations to prevent spills, she said.
“I think that Colorado has a lot to show for a very difficult process,” Schwartz added.
Schwartz also answered questions on the increasing cost of higher education, blaming a complicated and inefficient state budget for underfunded educational institutions.
“We essentially have a train wreck,” Schwartz said of the state’s education budget.
In order to properly fund state universities, the rate of tax should be a percentage of the budget, and not fixed, Schwartz said. That is essentially what Proposition 103, which was voted down in the last election, aimed to do, she added. The measure would have sent an estimated $2.9 billion to K-12 schools and public colleges and universities by raising income and sales taxes for five years to revive schools decimated by years of budget cuts.
There’s not a simple solution, Schwartz admitted.
Over the next two years, Schwartz’s legislative priorities include focusing on ensuring funding for the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant. Schwartz co-sponsored the original legislation that created the BEST grants, which provide cash for capital construction in rural school districts. She also lobbied the BEST board to provide funding to the local Aspen Community School in 2010 and 2011, to no avail.
She said she plans to continue that effort this year, and has written a letter in support of providing funding to the Aspen Community School.
Schwartz, who is in the middle of serving her last allowable term, said that when she leaves the state senate she plans on continuing to serve the community.
Schwartz wrapped up the session with a call to young people to become involved in politics.
“You want to be a part of the future,” Schwartz said.