Colorado agrees to pay debt to Kansas over Arkansas River water |

Colorado agrees to pay debt to Kansas over Arkansas River water

DENVER ” Colorado has agreed to pay its $34.7 million debt to Kansas for taking too much water out of the Arkansas River, settling a 21-year-old dispute.

Gov. Bill Owens signed a measure authorizing the payment Thursday, hours after the Legislature approved it.

Kansas sued Colorado in 1984, charging that Colorado farmers had taken too much water out of the river in violation of their water compact. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kansas in 1995 but a decision on damages wasn’t made until last year.

Kansas had sought $53 million, including interest dating to 1950. The Supreme Court ruled the debt should be $29 million, the amount recommended by a special master.

Interest on the debt, amounting to about $5,000 a day, increased the total to $34.7 million.

Colorado will pay the debt using oil and gas tax revenue that would normally fund grants to local communities. That troubled some lawmakers.

“I understand that this needs to be paid and I support that. I don’t like where they got the money to pay for this,” said Rep. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, one of 16 House legislators who voted against the bill.

The Arkansas, a tributary of the Mississippi River, flows 1,450 miles east and southeast through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Kansas and Colorado have fought over the river’s water for more than a century and first took their case to the Supreme Court in 1902.

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