“The basis of this state and of this area is agriculture,” Catlin told members of the Southwest Colorado Livestock Association. “I’m a believer in that. I’ll do everything I can for agriculture.”
The livestock association held its annual meeting Feb. 11 at the Cortez Elks Lodge. Local, state and federal elected officials also spoke at the meeting, including Montezuma County commissioners and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.
Coram, R-Montrose, represents Senate District 6, which covers Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel, Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata, San Juan and Archuleta counties. He took over the seat from Republican Ellen Roberts, of Durango, who resigned in October.
Rep. Catlin, R-Montrose, took over Coram’s seat in House District 58, which covers Montrose, San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties. He has experience as a water manager in Montrose County, he said.
Both Coram and Catlin said water on the Western Slope will be a major focus for their tenures in the legislature.
Coram introduced SB 36, a bill that would change the appeals process for groundwater court cases, in January. It passed the Senate on third reading Feb. 14 and will be referred to the House. The bill would disallow parties from introducing new evidence during an appeal that was not presented in the original case.
Coram said he has talked with some farming and ranching families that have spent lots of money paying water engineers and attorneys to resolve such cases.
The senator said legislators will have to work harder to store more water and keep it in Colorado. He said he will be traveling around the state to try to come up with funding solutions for water storage projects.
“There is no new water,” Coram said. “We can do some conservation, but conservation and efficiency are not the same thing.”
Catlin said there is a divide between how the western and eastern Colorado think about water. Agriculture operations on the Western Slope should be prioritized over cities and towns on the other side of the mountains when it comes to water, he said.
Agriculture doesn’t get enough attention from people in the state as other industries, such as tourism, Catlin added.
“Agriculture is the No. 2 industry in the state, and it sure doesn’t get much talk,” he said. “The only time they talk about us is when we have a crop failure and it’s going to affect main street.”
Coram also said he would advocate for hemp development. Currently outlawed at the federal level but legal in Colorado, hemp production is limited.
Coram touted the crop’s potential, saying it could become a viable crop and have a huge impact in Colorado.
“I think hemp has a very, very bright future,” he said. “Anything we can do to bring another cash crop to agriculture, we need to be working on.”
Catlin said government needs to get out of the way of development of natural resources. Towns start shrinking and young people start moving away when natural resources are locked down, he said.
The top export for some of the rural communities in District 58 is their kids, Catlin said. That needs to change, through adding more agriculture or manufacturing, he said.
“We as a state need to take a good hard look at what we can do for some of these rural communities,” he said.