Just call John Hickenlooper the Silver Fox

 

John Hickenlooper, the recently re-elected (by a whisker) governor of Colorado, should be called the new “silver fox” for his work on water sharing, in memory of Delphus Carpenter, who earned that title back in 1922. That year, Carpenter cajoled seven Western states into signing the historic agreement that divvied up the Colorado River.

Hickenlooper was certainly wily as a fox when he brokered a difficult deal this summer between the oil and gas industry and Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Hickenlooper got Polis to back down from his campaign to put anti-fracking legislation on the ballot, and created a bipartisan commission to work out tougher fracking rules. Hickenlooper avoided a messy political battle while also spurring a fracking pact and developing a first-ever statewide water plan. It was the kind of thing Delphus Carpenter might have done.

Hickenlooper did something revolutionary when he signed a water plan for the entire state, and now, what he calls regional round tables are working hard to find ways to turn the plan into action. Early results show that some water providers east of the Rockies might agree to stop their destructive “buy up and dry up” programs on the state’s Western Slope. At the same time, stakeholders are working on water-conservation ideas, since we’re expecting a shortfall of a half-million acre-feet within the next decade.

This is not just a Colorado plan, because it offers relief to hard-pressed states downstream. That's important, of course, because water in much of the West begins in Colorado. If we can put more water into rivers that feed into the Colorado River, neighbors as far away as the Sea of Cortez will benefit. It will certainly help states like California, now ravaged by terrible drought.

When Delphus Carpenter, the first “silver fox of the Rockies,” got seven states to agree on how to share a river, he put a stop to legal water battles that were just beginning to get bitter and expensive. The compact wasn't perfect, organized as it was during some of the wettest years in recent history. And increasing drought continues to dim and challenge its assumptions. Changing realities over time will also affect the new Colorado water plan, as well as the oil and gas pact. 

Meanwhile, stakeholders have been asked to do something that is not in their natures. The oil and gas industry is seriously looking at ways to interfere less with local communities, which means that it’s talking beyond the mineral rights to which it’s entitled. The same is true with the water plan. Instead of trying to divert existing water for more supply in their own basin, the assembled landowners, water utilities and others are talking about ways to deal with shortages. They're talking about how much water they can save and how to help the whole state have water. Interstate water compacts are at the table as well, because these obligations don’t go away.

Hickenlooper is responding to many obvious factors, such as the big drought of 2004-’05, and especially to the frightening predictions that Colorado, like the rest of the West, is soon going to be at “peak water” yield. Peak yield will happen when the water resource is giving us absolutely everything it can give. Hickenlooper’s also responding to the political facts about oil and gas development. Fracking may not be popular, but it’s also a $30 billion industry.

I've never served on an oil and gas commission, but I have served on one of those water roundtables. I've seen how hard it is to look beyond the immediate water needs of “our” basin. It's also tough to preach moderation and quality of life to oil and gas drillers. How did this new “silver fox” do it?

Hickenlooper played what baseball managers call “little ball.” He didn’t hit for the fences, but made one little move at a time. He apparently aimed to be successful with just one person at a time. He is inclusive, he listens, and he’s persuasive: I still have the little silver water pin he once gave me.

Delphus Carpenter did the same thing. He urged representatives from the seven states that rely on the Colorado River to come together at Bishop's Lodge near Santa Fe 92 years ago. The basic compact they signed back then still holds. Years ago, Carpenter gave all the credit for the deal to President Herbert Hoover. Hickenlooper does much the same thing with his “aw shucks, it wasn't me” attitude. If that doesn’t sound like a Silver Fox, I don’t know what does.

Forrest Whitman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. He lives close to the Continental Divide of Colorado.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.