Colorado could live a life less divided
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.