Search for water continues |

Search for water continues

Jane Stebbins
Special to the Daily/Carl ScofieldWith Referendum A dead in the water, Coloradans will have to figure out other ways to deal with the state's lingering drought.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Colorado voters defeated Referendum A in Tuesday’s election, but the search for water continues.

The referendum would have allowed the state to spend up to $2 billion for water storage facilities to hedge against future droughts. The measure was defeated by huge margins on both the Front Range and the Western Slope. No county in the state voted in favor of the question.

“I thought it was going to fail until the beginning of last week,” said County Commissioner Tom Long. “Surveys were showing it was failing 52-to-30 percent. To see it go to 67-to-33 warmed my heart. But I think it’s incumbent on all of those who opposed it to go back and work with these folks and see if there’s some viable projects.”

Opponents said the ballot question was nothing more than a blank check for Front Range water interests. Others said they didn’t like the ambiguity in the question, particularly that the governor would have to have two – unnamed – projects underway by 2005.

“This election result shows that Coloradans want water policy solutions based on uniting, rather than dividing, the state,” said Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, who represents Summit County.

“People also want to know what they are paying for, and the proponents of Referendum A could never satisfy the public beyond saying “trust me.’ A majority of Coloradans have spoken and have resoundingly said, “‘no thanks.'”

Many of those who voted against the measure said they realize the severity of Colorado’s water shortage, particularly after having watched reservoir levels plunge in the last few years’ drought. But they didn’t think Referendum A was the way to solve the problem.

Breckenridge officials have hired a consultant to figure out where the town might be able to build a large reservoir to capture the water to which it is entitled.

The county and Breckenridge Ski Resort are also considering pooling their water rights so the three entities can make one large facility rather than several small ones.

“I want to work with all sides to come up with an approach to address our state’s water needs,” Udall said.

“That approach should be sensible and could involve several strategies, such as expanding existing reservoirs, repairing existing dams so that they can hold to their capacity, increasing efficiency measures across the board, getting serious about conjunctive use and looking for new storage.”

The Colorado Water and Power Authority is authorized to spend up to $500 million on water projects.

“All along, people said campaign financing wasn’t the issue; financing can be found,” said Udall press secretary Lawrence Pacheco. “The issue is in identifying things that need to be upgraded.”

Currently, a Statewide Water Supply Investigation is compiling information from eight water basins to identify dams that are impaired and which reservoirs might be able to be expanded.

“We need to find a good project,” Long said. “We need to see where that takes us and look at projects basin-by-basin.”

Some of those projects could include enlarging Dillon Reservoir.

“We need to get everyone together to work on this,” Udall said. ” If we use this study effort, it needs to be a more inclusive effort. I’m willing to help with federal assistance if that is needed and appropriate.”

Voters in the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s 15-county service area defeated a ballot question, 51,840 to 40,142, that would have allowed the district to keep excess revenue rather than return it to taxpayers as required under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Summit County voters approved the measure, but it was defeated in Mesa, Saguache, Rio Blanco, Ouray, Moffat, Delta, Montrose and Mesa County.

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