“When people ask what my top three issues are, I say water, water, water.”
The above quote was taken from the website of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO). Though the Silt congresswoman might be best known for her string of controversial antics – recently including introducing a measure to impeach President Joe Biden to the disapproval of many fellow Republicans – Boebert also presents herself as a champion for her constituents in rural Colorado. Boebert’s district in particular is one where water is a pressing concern.
“I am a strong advocate for protecting local communities’ water rights and keeping our water in the Third District,” her website reads.
Boebert has not been idle on the issue, either. She successfully added millions of dollars in funding for water conservation projects in the 2023 House Appropriations bill, though she later went on to vote against the package. In a press release this month, she claimed millions more in Appropriations funding for various water projects in her district, though the bill has not gone to a vote on the House floor yet.
Boebert has also spoken in support of the continued construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a project also supported by Colorado Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, which would deliver drinking water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado.
“Congresswoman Boebert has consistently advocated for funding for this important project including submitting multiple appropriations requests and has worked extensively with local, state, and federal leaders to move the needle on this project,” a press release about a related hearing from her office reads.
Until recently, much of Colorado had been in a years-long drought. According to recent reports, uncommonly heavy rainfall across the state in the past few months has taken Colorado almost entirely out of this drought for the first time since 2019. However, precipitation in general has still decreased in Colorado, and the West as a whole, over the past few decades.
And overall temperatures have risen, with the planet breaking a record for the highest recorded global average temperature earlier this month. This is especially true for Boebert’s constituents in the Western Slope, who have experienced some of the hottest summers on record in recent years.
Unfortunately for Boebert’s aspirations of being a water champion, both of these issues stem from one source: climate change. And so far, the congresswoman’s record on climate change has been less than sterling.
“I don’t think that any of us are climate change deniers. I fully agree that the climate is changing. It happens four times every year. In Colorado, sometimes four times in one day.”-Lauren Boebert
Boebert has historically accused those who work to mitigate climate change of being “extremists.” Her personal remarks have indicated skepticism that climate change is happening at all, and in the past the congresswoman has associated with leading promoters of climate denial.
Most notably, she has been the Colorado delegation’s most fervent promoter of oil and gas in the years since she was first elected. The industry contributes to both the climate crisis and the water crisis in a number of well-documented ways.
The best-documented of these is emissions from the burning of oil and gas for fuel, emissions from which are causing global temperatures to rise.
Among the many ramifications of this: usable freshwater becomes more scarce. The United Nations estimates that globally, terrestrial freshwater storage has dropped by one centimeter per year over the last twenty years.
This is all the more dire for Colorado, where the water crisis is hitting hard across the state, including in the Colorado River Basin, a major source of water that is allocated between Colorado and multiple other states in the American West. A recent study estimates that global warming has drained the Colorado Basin of a volume of water equivalent to Lake Mead since 2000.
Additionally, many companies abandon wells rather than spend time and money to clean them up, leaving them to leak toxic chemicals into not just the air (again contributing to air pollution and ozone), but also any nearby groundwater.
The oil and gas industry also directly siphons large amounts of water from Colorado every year, with hundreds of millions of gallons being used within Boebert’s district alone.
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, uses water to facilitate production from oil and gas wells. Unlike other processes that use water, such as agriculture and everyday domestic use, water used for fracking is not returned to the water cycle: it remains locked underground, contaminated by various substances including dangerous radioactive materials.
Boebert has sung fracking’s praises in the past: “American innovation, in particular fracking, has allowed America to be the global leader in reducing emissions since 2000,” her website reads. She was also a proponent of the “Lower Energy Costs Act,” which if passed would have stipulated, among many other things, that Biden was no longer allowed to ban fracking.
In Boebert’s district, by far, the largest hotspot for freshwater-based fracking is Garfield County, which includes Boebert’s hometown of Rifle. According to data from FracTracker Alliance, an organization dedicated to investigating fracking across the U.S., in 2022 oil and gas companies injected more than 550 million gallons of freshwater for the purposes of fracking in Boebert’s district. 548 million gallons of that freshwater were used in Garfield County alone.
Without context, it can be difficult to immediately visualize how much water 550 million gallons is. While it is not an overwhelming amount of water for Colorado, it’s still nothing to sneeze at. According to the USGS 2015 Water Census, the average American uses 82 gallons of water per day for domestic use — including drinking, flushing toilets, and taking showers. 550 million gallons would cover all domestic water usage for just over 18,000 people for a whole year. That’s 3% of the Western Slope, which has a population of 593,105 as of 2020.
Not all oil and gas companies are using freshwater, however. One example is Terra Energy Partners LLC, also operating in Garfield County – which recycles wastewater from previous fracking operations. This is estimated to save about 100,000 truckloads of water per year.
Currently, oil and gas companies are not required to report how much freshwater they recycle for further use. A bill passed by the Colorado Legislature this year rectifies that starting in 2024, while also requiring “a rapid and substantial reduction of the use of fresh water and the increase in the recycling of produced water.”
Reached for comment via email, Jake Settle, Boebert’s Senior Communications Advisor, did not directly provide answers to questions regarding climate change and its impact on Colorado water, or on whether Boebert would support efforts to increase water recycling by oil and gas operations. He did provide links to multiple of Boebert’s previous statements on water and conservation issues.
An organizer with Western Colorado Alliance, an advocacy group dealing with, among other things, environmental issues on the Western Slope, also did not respond to an email asking for a local perspective on these issues. This story will be updated with any response received.