River board opposes Colorado’s $2 billion bonding referendum
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board voted Tuesday to oppose Referendum A, a $2 billion bonding initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot to build more water supplies.
Opponents say the referendum doesn’t guarantee the Western Slope, including Summit County, protection against the economic and water supply impacts of transmountain water diversions.
Part of the board’s displeasure concerns mitigation for moving water from one basin to the other, such as occurs today with Dillon Reservoir water flowing to the Front Range.
According to Peter Roessmann, CRWCD education specialist, mitigation appears only to be a recommendation in the ballot language.
CRWCD board member and Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, however, said even a mention of mitigation is better than what is in place.
“It mentions it specifically,” Stone said. “Right now, there is no specific mention. This is certainly more detailed than it was in the past.”
The referendum would allow the state to bond up to $2 billion to build water supply facilities for public and private entities. The beneficiaries would be responsible for paying back the debt.
“I think there’s widespread acceptance and acknowledgement that all of Colorado is short on water storage,” Stone said. “It’s time we moved ahead. We have a new opportunity for new storage and providing for increased conservation of our water, protecting and enhancing agriculture and providing environmental benefits to our streams and rivers.”
If voters approve the referendum, Gov. Bill Owens will have to pick at least one water project by 2005 proposed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).
State Rep. Carl Miller of Leadville, who represents Summit, Eagle and Lake counties, said he doesn’t like the referendum because it is not site-specific.
He said one of the projects must be on the Western Slope “and we don’t know where it would be,” he said. “I don’t think that’s feasible at all.”
Stone said there are hundreds of proposals, and $3 million has been set aside to do a basin-by-basin study to determine which ideas could be funded.
“We need to strengthen our dams, enlarge our reservoirs, build new areas and work on conservation,” he said. “We need to look at where the growth of the state is going to happen over the next 30 years. We need to look at new ways of funding those projects.”
Miller said the way the referendum was run through the Legislature clouds the issue with suspicion, but Stone says the “boogeymen” he refers to – namely Denver Water – already exist.
“It bypassed the agricultural committee where water bills go – that’s unprecedented,” Miller said. “There was no testimony, no public hearing. Then they “supermotioned’ it to the finance committee, which is made up of Front Range legislators. They say they don’t see the mischief in this bill, and I said there’s at least some suspicion because of the way it was handled through the Legislature.”
Stone said he wants to develop “our full entitlement to the Colorado River.” His reference is to the Colorado River Compact which assigns river water Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California. Colorado is not using an estimated 350,000 to 400,000 acre feet of its apportionment. California is overusing the river, which is why the state is on notice by U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to change its ways or be cut off.
“I’m against continuing West Slope communities being concerned about which days they can water so we can let water run downstream so people in Las Vegas can keep their lawns green,” Stone said.
State Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald of Golden, Senate minority leader and Summit County’s representative, said she’s been opposed to the referendum since it was a bill.
She also wants to know if some of the money will go toward the so-called Big Straw project, proposed to bring water from the Colorado River at the Utah border and pump it back to Dillon Reservoir.
Stone is frustrated with what he sees as backpedaling on the part of Democrats.
“Some state legislators are stuck in the past but haven’t learned from the past,” he said. “I’m disappointed they are against progressive thinking, yet they have failed to offer solutions of their own.”
The CRWCD board did approve another motion supporting the district’s participation in the Statewide Water Supply Investigation (SWSI) to identify “reasonable and prudent” water storage options for providing drought protection and water for Colorado’s future needs.
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