Colorado could live a life less di­vided

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Me­gan Schrader

Borders are a funny thing, sep­a­rat­ing so much and yet so lit­tle. As a na­tive Coloradan, it’d be easy for me to be­moan the flood of peo­ple cross­ing the Colorado bor­der, us­ing the wa­ter, de­grad­ing our parks and driv­ing up the cost of liv­ing.

As a U.S. ci­ti­zen, it’d be easy for me to blame those who come here in pur­suit of a bet­ter life for … well, what­ever it is the pres­i­dent is blam­ing im­mi­grants (other than his wife) for to­day.

It’s an us ver­sus them men­tal­ity that makes sense to those who see a “them” in peo­ple who live be­yond po­lit­i­cal bound­aries. But just how far are we will­ing to di­vide our­selves?

Even within Colorado, there are di­vi­sions. On Sun­day The Den­ver Post’s Kevin Simp­son and Jennifer Brown be­gan a se­ries ex­plor­ing the Colorado Di­vide — the chasm in cul­ture be­tween ur­ban and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties within the same state.

That chasm is man­i­fest, in part, by the phys­i­cal bound­ary of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide.

It’s a mon­strous phys­i­cal di­vide. Win­ter storms still ren­der it im­pass­able from time to time, even with twin bore tun­nels cut­ting un­der the moun­tains west of Den­ver.

It’s a un­avoid­able cul­tural di­vide. West of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide is a world of boot-strap­spulling moun­tain town sur­vivors and a harsh desert slope hos­pitable only to rebels and rousers, a home for the less-than-po­lit­i­cally cor­rect that some­one com­pletely out of touch with the val­ues in­stilled by a ru­ral life might la­bel as “a bas­ket of de­plorables.”

East of the Di­vide lies the great me­trop­o­lis of of­fice-dwelling in­tel­lec­tu­als com­fort­able with their air con­di­tion­ing and lowrisk en­ter­tain­ment op­tions — an ed­u­ca­tion hub of in­no­va­tion and art.

And it’s a di­vider of re­sources. El­e­men­tary school kids are taught in Colorado that 80 per­cent of the state’s wa­ter falls on the west side of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide flow­ing away from the Front Range where 80 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion lives.

That is, un­less man in­ter­venes to over­come this most nat­u­ral of borders.

There was a time when transcon­ti­nen­tal di­ver­sion — pump­ing wa­ter up and over the Di­vide to the east — was a dirty word in pol­i­tics and a sub­ject politi­cians waf­fled on de­pend­ing on which side of the Di­vide they were stand­ing. Times have changed, and it seems now there’s at least main­stream ac­cep­tance of the re­al­ity that the West must share with the East.

Just look at the fi­nal mo­ments of bat­tle over the Gross Reser­voir ex­pan­sion, Den­ver Wa­ter’s plans to build a higher dam to store more wa­ter from the West. Cer­tainly there is op­po­si­tion, but un­like in days of old, it’s less in­tense and the bat­tle less bit­ter.

For those of us who grew up along the great muddy Colorado River on the West­ern Slope, there’s a pro­tec­tion­ist vis­ceral re­ac­tion to Den­ver Wa­ter’s plan.

And yet the Front Range has some­thing the other side direly needs — money.

With teem­ing me­trop­o­lises comes the rev­enue needed to run cities, coun­ties and the state. Simp­son and Brown an­a­lyzed one small part of the state bud­get — trans­porta­tion fund­ing — and found that the Colorado De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion spent half of its bud­get in 2014 on Den­ver alone. That left the rest of the state, in­clud­ing the sprawl­ing West­ern Slope, to fight for the re­main­ing funds. While schools in ur­ban cen­ters en­joy a pop­u­la­tion ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing en­hanced prop­erty taxes for schools, ru­ral schools strug­gle to get vot­ers to tax them­selves more to fund ed­u­ca­tion.

For tax­pay­ers in big cities, the idea that less pop­u­lated ar­eas should get a slice of state dol­lars pro­por­tion­ally big­ger per res­i­dent is a tough sell when stuck in traf­fic on In­ter­state 25.

The di­vi­sions never seem to end.

End­ing that which di­vides us isn’t easy; nei­ther is strad­dling it. But tak­ing the trou­ble to try can lead to a life more wealthy for some and less parched for oth­ers — and per­haps more mod­er­ate all around.

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