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Ref. A crucial for Colorado

Tom Stone

Colorado voters will decide on this November’s ballot whether we should support Referendum A. Without raising taxes, Referendum A allows communities to access funds for three important components of a comprehensive water policy:

1) Conservation.

2) Improve-ment and repair of existing facilities.



3) New storage capacity.

Color-ado’s current water supplies are woefully inadequate to meet all of our needs. This is obvious after last year’s searing drought, which was the worst in over 300 years. Because of our natural hydrology and dry climate, we must store water in reservoirs to live, work, and raise our families here in Eagle County.



Referendum A is a statewide solution to our water shortages that gives assistance to local users at their request. It provides a funding mechanism and prioritizes the improvement and rehabilitation of existing water facilities as well as the development of new storage facilities.

If this initiative is approved, local water districts, municipalities and private companies can access new funding alternatives – through the issuance of bonds – to complete water supply projects.

For the first time the State Water Conservation Board will be able to prioritize and build new storage projects to store Colorado’s compact water share, provide state support for projects that allow for increased conservation, protect and enhance agriculture, provide environmental benefits and provide fair mitigation to the affected basin of origin.



This last feature concerning “basin of origin mitigation and protection” deserves additional explanation.

Western Slope communities, like ours, always remain vigilant to the threat that Front Range cities will take water from our area (basin of origin) for their use without compensation, mitigation or protection of our needs.

However, basin of origin mitigation is now state law (C.R.S. 37-92-302). In addition to this law signed by Gov. Owens last month requiring mitigation for any out-of-basin water transfers, Referendum A specifically prohibits building any projects that do not meet the basin of origin mitigation requirement.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board may only recommend projects that meet the standard enumerated in the legislative declaration of the statute (C.R.S. 37-60-201(2)(d)(VI)) – i.e. fair mitigation for the basin of origin.

Don’t be fooled by misleading hype. Eagle County is protected twice over against unfettered water grabs under Referendum A, and that’s a fact.

The combination of drought and lack of infrastructure planning have created a situation that calls for our immediate action to ensure that we don’t run short of water resources for people, agriculture or the environment.

Many of our streams would run dry, killing all of the fish, if we did not have water stored in reservoirs to release late in the summer or during the winter.

While we were all heartened by a better spring runoff this year, the fact is that too much of it is running away to other states. While farms are drying up and cattle are being sold off in Colorado, our water is keeping lavish Las Vegas fountains running all night. And while we carefully consider which day we are allowed to turn our sprinklers on in Eagle County, California lawns are lush and green – thanks to our water that they take for free.

Even now as Colorado is unable to make use of our full water rights, California takes more than its legal share of the Colorado River.

In the words of Gov. Bill Owens: “We can shape the future by learning the lessons of the past. That is our mission. We must act now to solve our water shortages. We must expand Colorado’s ability to save its own water.”

Unfortunately, some West Slope residents and legislators haven’t learned from the past. They ignore the fact that if we don’t make beneficial use of our water, someone else will take it and use it.

It’s too bad that a visionary on the Western Slope wasn’t alert 100 years ago while Denver Water was busy collecting huge water rights in our back yard. If we had developed water for West Slope use then, Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs would all have to be buying the water from us. Instead, Denver Water owns Dillon Reservoir.

What will people say 100 years from today? The fact that no projects have been decided upon in advance gives the Western Slope and Eagle County the ability to guide the process and influence which projects should be built. This is a power previously unheard of, and we should not let it pass us by.

The Statewide Water Supply Initiative – the process that will determine which projects are recommended to the governor – will be a very public process that will allow Eagle County to protect our water for generations to come by submitting specific projects for consideration.

Passing Referendum A this November is critical to the future economic prosperity and environmental quality of Colorado.

Tom Stone is an Eagle County commissioner. He received his degree in biology and environmental management from Fort Lewis College. Stone is a director of the Colorado River Water Conservation District and a member of the NWCCOG Water Quality and Quantity Committee. He can be reached at tomstone@eagle-county.com or 328-8616.


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