For Gunnison rancher Kathleen Curry, the term limits that will take Colorado House District 58’s current representative out of office at the end of 2024 mean voters will need another strong voice for water rights and agriculture. Curry is making a bid for the job, saying she will be that voice.
“I hope to earn people’s support based on experience and my desire to work for them. I would be asking them to vote for me, because I can hit the ground running and be a problem-solver right off the bat,” said Curry.
Curry served three terms in the Colorado Legislature, representing House District 61, a Gunnison-area district. Redistricting has since placed Gunnison County in the 58th, along with Montrose, San Miguel, Ouray and Hinsdale counties, plus some of Delta County. District 58 also includes Dolores County and portions of Montezuma County.
Curry was previously elected in 2004 and served through 2010, shifting her affiliation from Democrat to Independent in 2009. During her stint, she chaired the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee for five years.
Curry is now running as a Democrat, but pointed to House District 58 Rep. Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican, as one whose water-expertise shoes will need filled. Catlin, who has been serving since 2017, is term-limited.
“He has been a strong voice for water and ag. … He was the go-to person. I want to make sure I can continue the good work he’s been doing,” Curry said.
Water challenges abound in the West, which is undergoing aridification despite a few robust water years.
“One of the big issues has to do with the status of the Colorado River and where we stand with Compact compliance on the Colorado River,” the candidate said.
Use of the Colorado River is controlled under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which apportions the water between seven states. Mexico receives some of the river water under a treaty. The Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, and the Lower Basin — California, Arizona and Nevada — are at odds over the way the compact is interpreted, but also under federal pressure to come up with an agreement for conserving more of the water.
Curry looks to build on what the Colorado River Drought Task Force, recently established under Senate Bill 295, recommends.
“One solution would be to specifically protect the ag sector in the event of a call (on the river’s apportioned water rights),” said Curry, who is a member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District Board of Directors, as well as the vice chair of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable.
Curry lobbies for entities such as the Uncompahgre Water Users Association and represents the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association. She said she wants to see legislative clarity to ensure water rights holders are not liable for accidents due to misuse.
“I think the law needs some work to try to protect private landowners from being held liable. That would be another area I would like to (look at) again. I don’t think they should be liable if someone trespasses and gets hurt,” Curry said, stressing she means private irrigators who might face liability risks as more people recreate outdoors.
Curry also is part of her husband Greg Peterson’s family cow-calf operation and says it has taught her firsthand what ranchers endure to stay viable. “It’s my passion to try to help these guys stay in business and be respectful of how they do business,” she said.
Although water and ag are “top tier” issues in the district, there are other concerns, acknowledged Curry. She named health care costs, public education, mental health, substance abuse, affordable housing and transportation as issues she expects to tackle: “All those issues we face and have special challenges for the Western Slope, where we need solutions that work for us.”
Housing woes bedevil nearly every Colorado community and Curry said maintaining local control is important. Last legislative session saw Senate Bill 213 introduced, which critics such as the city and county of Montrose said would have placed key land use decisions related to housing density under state control.
“My thoughts there would be to continue to affirm local control over those issues, as opposed to a measure that exerts statewide authority at the expense of local control,” Curry said.
Curry also wants to see legislation brought back that would provide more management options for dealing with gray wolves, as the species is reintroduced on the Western Slope.
“Since wolves are going to be relocated in Gunnison County, we were pursuing legislation to make sure livestock producers were adequately compensated and the full range of (wolf) management options are supported,” Curry said, referring to Senate Bill 256 and the Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ efforts. The bill made it to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk last session, but fell to the veto pen.
Curry said no one debates whether the wolves are coming — they are, after the 2020 statewide vote to reintroduce the gray wolf. Rather, the idea was to manage the release and provide a spectrum of management options, including lethal take, she said.