Ref. A bears too much risk |

Ref. A bears too much risk

Scott McInnis/U.S. Representative

I strongly support new water storage. It is critical to Colorado’s future. But I oppose Referendum A – the $2 billion water bonding issue on the Nov. 4 ballot – because of a few simple facts.

When you add them up, these facts represent significant risk for the Western Slope and rural Colorado, and our essential needs for a sufficient quantity and quality of water, a strong economy and the preservation of the environment.

The governor of Colorado has been fair to the rural Colorado and he has worked on the referendum in good faith. I trust the governor’s word, but I cannot help but be concerned about what could happen when he leaves office. We will be at the mercy of individuals unknown.

When it comes to water, keep in mind that the nice guy finishes last, or perhaps I should say is left “high and dry.”

To think of it another way, perhaps President Ronald Reagan said it best: “Trust but verify.” Unfortunately, there is no way to verify in this case.

Let me outline the facts that lead me to conclude that Referendum A is not a balanced approach, right for the whole state of Colorado:

n The authority to bond water projects in Colorado already exists. The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority already have authority to finance water projects, and thirsty cities on the Front Range already have the financial resources to pay for water.

Financing sources are not the problem. Affordability, getting necessary permits and approvals for projects, and conflicts related to mitigation remain the big problems.

n Referendum A will create a $2 billion pot of money, with the imprimatur of the state of Colorado, which can be used to hire the best water lawyers and engineers to buy water rights and divert water from the Western Slope and rural areas.

Bear in mind that about 80 percent of the state’s precipitation falls in the mountains, while most of the state’s population is in the cities.

n As noted above, the population of Colorado’s cities and metropolitan areas greatly exceeds the population of Colorado’s rural areas, which means that when push comes to shove, the votes are with the cities.

n There is no ironclad mitigation in Referendum A for the basin of origin (like the Western Slope or other rural areas in Colorado) for out-of-basin water transfers – zip, zero.

If it is not in writing, you leave it up to future power struggles, and I have already noted above the cities have the advantage there.

n We all move on and know that our personal word is not binding on those who follow us. An issue as important as mitigation must be cemented in the law, with sufficient clarity and detail, so those who follow understand and will live by that promise.

The first advice in business is “get it in writing,” and that advice rings true in this case.

n There is an inherent conflict between those who represent the cities and population centers and those of us who represent rural areas. Referendum A doesn’t appear to end that conflict. Indeed, the referred measure could lead to a zero sum process, with big winners and big losers.

I recognize that it is the job of those who represent the cities to provide their constituents with what the rural areas have – water – and they have a fiduciary duty to obtain that water under the best deal possible. But this duty is what causes me such alarm. Metropolitan planners are doing a “good job” for the city when they can divert more, at the least possible cost. Their gain is rural Colorado’s loss, and we simply cannot expect them to voluntarily mitigate or be “fair” in a water diversion project unless they are bound to do so.

To believe otherwise is, to me, naive.

n Colorado is one state and one family. Any solution to our water challenges must work for the whole family, both the population centers and the rural areas. It must be balanced and must contain assurances that provide security to the entire state.

Let me be clear, I believe concrete and binding mitigation for basins of origin benefits the whole state. Protecting the character and beauty of the Western Slope and rural areas of Colorado is a value the whole state can appreciate.

Moreover, I am not interested in perpetuating past conflicts between rural areas and cities. I believe that solutions to Colorado’s water challenges will require balanced approaches that recognize and respect all parts of Colorado.

After considering the facts, though, I have concluded that Referendum A is fundamentally flawed, and I cannot support an initiative that does not provide binding assurances and protections for each and every part of Colorado.

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, a Republican from Grand Junction, represents most of Western Colorado in his 3rd District. He formerly represented Eagle County until redistricting put the county in the 2nd District.

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