End the state’s water insanity; pass Referendum A
It’s no mystery why farms along the Arkansas and South Platte rivers are being dried up to satisfy thirsty Front Range cities: because that water is the cheapest and easiest to obtain.
Colorado uses every drop of water legally available to us from the Arkansas and South Platte. Meanwhile, Colorado allows hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of our legal entitlement from the Colorado River to be used for golf courses in Phoenix, fountains in Las Vegas and lawns in Southern California.
That’s enough water to sustain at least a million Colorado households without taking any more cropland out of production.
Put bluntly, Colorado allows our own farms and ranches to be cannibalized rather than store and use water which is legally ours.
This is absolutely insane – not to mention devastating to rural communities.
However, Colorado voters can end this insanity by passing Referendum A, “Save Colorado’s Water,” this Nov 4.
Referendum A not only provides financing up to $2 billion to construct new water storage facilities, it also requires that a minimum of $100 million be available for conservation measures and rehabilitation of existing water structures.
The measure provides for fair mitigation to the basin of origin and enhancements for fish and wildlife.
Most importantly, Referendum A requires action. Too often, Colorado’s water woes wind up being “studied to death” with no resulting progress.
If approved, Referendum A would require the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) – one of the few state boards dominated by rural residents – to recommend projects to the governor who must pick a project to begin in 2005.
Some opponents argue that more water storage will result in more agricultural water being sold for municipal use. This argument ignores the reality that sales of ag water have escalated without Referendum A.
If the referendum fails, further purchases of ag water will continue to be the cheapest, easiest option for growing cities.
That’s not the only opposing argument that doesn’t, uh, hold water:
One argument goes something like, “Agriculture will be left out because there isn’t enough profit in farming to build expensive storage projects and repay the bonds.”
Once again, that’s exactly the problem today without Referendum A. As long as food is plentiful, water will cost more when sold by the gallon to city-dwellers than when bought by the acre-foot from farmers.
That’s why, without expanded storage, cities prefer to buy farm water that can be stored in existing reservoirs.
Although this debate focuses on water in our rivers and streams, nothing currently prohibits cities from coming after groundwater, like that in the Ogallala Aquifer, which they most certainly will do if we bar them from saving spring runoff that now goes
to California, Arizona and Nevada.
Critics also contend that Referendum A is a “blank check” because it doesn’t select a specific water project. Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that if the referendum did pick a specific project the critics would be nitpicking that project instead.
Referendum A wisely leaves the selection process to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is composed of one member from each of the state’s eight river basins, one from Denver, plus the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.
Only three CWCB members live along the Interstate 25 corridor. From their recommendations, the governor must select at least one project which is ready to start in 2005.
Rural Colorado has experienced the loss of cropland, empty storefronts, and shrinking schools that result from water sales. Referendum A may finally ease the pressure to dry up farms in order to water Front Range lawns and golf courses.
State Sen. Mark Hillman
(R-Burlington) is a wheat
farmer who represents 12
counties on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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