Carrying Their Water

Douglas County legislators led a fight to kill a bill that would have warned their own constituents about the county's rapidly declining water supply. The lawmakers--who count developers among their largest campaign contributors--recently joined with the real estate lobby to kill the legislation. And one lawmaker, Doug Lamborn, even insists there is no water crisis, and says he's angry that the legislation was proposed in the first place.

A water-use bill containing an amendment sponsored by state Representative Ken Gordon would have required pre-sale notices to be placed on homes that obtain water from underground aquifers, warning buyers that their water supply is nonrenewable and is being depleted. The amendment narrowly passed the state House but was defeated 5-2 in the state Senate agriculture committee.

Before the House vote, Gordon gave legislators copies of a recent Westword article ("Well Wishers," February 7), which detailed Douglas County's almost total dependence on water from the rapidly declining Denver Basin aquifer. State officials, including Governor Roy Romer, have expressed alarm over Douglas County's dependence on groundwater, but so far the legislature has refused to alter Colorado's laissez-faire water laws. Water experts believe Douglas County faces a major water supply crisis in coming decades as rapid development causes aquifer levels to drop.

Gordon argues that the massive development under way in Douglas County is shortsighted. "I don't like building homes without a sustainable source of water," he says. "We need to stop thinking about just our generation and start worrying about the future."

But it was Douglas County's own legislators who led the opposition to Gordon's amendment--helped by the interest groups that would be hurt by the measure. "Once [the amendment] got to the Senate, the real estate lobby and the home builders lobby were real active," says Gordon. The Douglas County lawmakers said they feared home sales in the county--one of the fastest growing in the nation--would be hurt if home buyers were warned about their nonrenewable water supply. Lamborn says a Denver lawmaker like Gordon has no business proposing laws that would affect Douglas County.

"Someone from a district with no development going on doesn't have a right to tell someone from a district with a lot of development what to do," says Lamborn, a Republican who represents southern Douglas County and northern El Paso County.

Lamborn thinks Douglas County's water problems have been overblown. "I'm more optimistic than some people," he says. "If water becomes more expensive, I think people will become better at conservation. We'll find solutions as the problems develop. It's a self-correcting issue."

Lamborn says he was not lobbied on the issue by development interests. He was joined in opposing Gordon's amendment by Douglas County's other state representative, Jeanne Adkins. The Colorado Association of Home Builders lobbied against the amendment when it reached the state Senate.

Both Adkins and Lamborn received large campaign contributions from the real estate industry in the last election. State records reveal that the Colorado Realtors Political Action Committee gave each legislator $1,000 in 1994. Adkins also collected $250 from Mission Viejo Co. (developer of Highlands Ranch), $200 from the Construction Cooperative Council and $500 from the Metro Housing Coalition, a political action committee funded by Denver-area home builders. Adkins raised a total of $27,252 for her campaign, while Lamborn took in $13,503.

As for Gordon, he's disappointed the amendment didn't make it through the state legislature, but he feels the publicity may serve as a warning to future home buyers.

"It was good to have this in the papers," he says. "Maybe people will think twice before they buy a house in Douglas County.


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