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Opposition to state water referendum swells

Matt Zalaznick

Opposition to a November referendum that would vastly expand the state’s ability to go into debt over water storage has grown by one local government.

The town of Vail is the latest among a slew of Western Slope agencies and politicians to formally oppose Referendum A, which would allow Colorado to issue $2 billion in bonds to build reservoirs or upgrade water storage facilities.

“Other drought solutions are available to produce results more quickly and at less financial risk than incurring approximately $2 billion of debt as contemplated by Referendum A,” states the resolution passed unanimously recently by the Town Council – with scant discussion among its members.

“Front Range water grab’

Western Slope politicians – Democrats and Republicans – have lined up against the referendum, calling it a “Front Range water grab.” Opponents argue there is no guarantee the region will be compensated if mountain water is diverted to Front Range metropolitan areas, such as Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone is almost alone on the Western Slope in backing Referendum A, which also is supported by Gov. Bill Owens. Stone and other proponents say Colorado desperately needs to expand its water capacity.

But Vail Town Council members appear to agree with politicians like Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi – a Democrat – and state Sen. Jack Taylor – a Republican – who say Referendum A is a threat to the High Country.

Menconi is among the organizers of Vote No on A, a campaign to raise money to defeat Referendum A. In its resolution Tuesday, the Vail Town Council endorsed the opposition’s arguments.

“Referendum A provides no assurances that projects will provide adequate mitigation for adverse effects on communities and the environment,” Vail’s resolution says. “It is the opinion of the Town Council of the Town of Vail that sound economic policy and inventive conservation strategies designed to protect Colorado’s water supply are important to the Town’s citizens.”

“East Slope-West Slope issue’

Taylor, who is based in Steamboat Springs but also represents Eagle County, has been a vocal opponent of Referendum A. He spoke to the Vail Town Council Tuesday night before it passed the resolution.

“If we can’t maintain our streams the way we should, these beautiful green valleys are going to dry up,” Taylor said.

Opponents say they are most concerned High Country water will be pumped to the Front Range but Western Slope communities won’t be compensated when their water is taken.

Taylor says Western Slope lawmakers attempted, but failed, to put such a guarantee in Referendum A when its was still a Senate bill.

“This shouldn’t be an East Slope-West Slope issue,” Taylor said. “(Water) is a Colorado problem.”

Town Councilman Chuck Ogilby, who has been the board’s most active member on water issues, said Vail’s resolution should encourage the Front Range to tap its own water resources.

Using the aquifer

The Denver Aquifer, which extends from the Front Range metropolitan areas into the eastern plains, is estimated by experts to hold a 1,000-year supply of water. There has been resistance, however, to using the aquifer.

Taylor said that resistance, along with Referendum’s lack of a compensation guarantee, make Western Slope opponents “very, very nervous.”

The bonding power granted by Referendum A, Taylor said, is unnecessary because revenue streams already exist for water projects.

“Most people in the state of Colorado believe we need to build more storage,” Taylor said. “These can be built and there is a funding mechanism.”

Ogilby said the High County has to continue to defend its water while trying to cooperate with Front Range interests who are thirsting for mountain water.

“We’ve had a lot of fights up here over reservoir construction, and we’ve won them to date,” Ogilby said. “The East Slope has come away a winner and so have we on the Eagle River. We’ve been successful working with the Front Range on the Eagle River.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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