Ref. A secures state water
Editor’s note: The following is Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s letter to Gov. Bill Owens supporting the passage of Referendum A, the ballot measure that would provide $2 billion to improve Colorado’s water storage capability.
Dear Governor Owens:
Thank you for asking my opinion of Referendum A.
First, let me say that Mark Twain’s old adage, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting,” is certainly manifesting itself in the debate on Referendum A.
I would hope that before folks all reach for their guns, we could agree on some obvious facts. Let me list just a few:
1. As the population in Colorado, the nation’s third-fastest growing state, increases, so to will the water demands.
2. Conservation alone, while very important, will not solve the “need” problem all by itself.
3. Almost every underground aquifer in Colorado is being depleted faster than it is recharging.
4. Colorado cannot presently put to beneficial use the water it owns under the Interstate Compacts without additional storage.
5. The federal government, i.e. the Bureau of Reclamation, will not be building any more water projects in the West after the completion of the Animas La Plata (which has taken me almost 20 years of work to have reauthorized)
6. Neither the state of Colorado nor the federal government, both of which face huge deficits, will be in a position to build future water projects with appropriated money.
7. More and more, cash-strapped farmers are selling their water rights. This leads to barren land, higher food prices, less tax revenue for towns and counties and stagnating economies.
Referendum A may not be the best opportunity to secure a stable water supply for Colorado, but since no one has proposed a viable alternative it may be the only way.
Shooting the messenger of tough choices does not solve the problem. Therefore, Governor Owens, after carefully reviewing the proposed language of Referendum A, I would like to offer my support for your efforts to secure a stable source of water for all the citizens of Colorado.
There is no doubt in my mind that the time has come to deal with scarce water problems from a statewide standpoint. Although parochial concerns are important and must be addressed, the water needs of a fast-growing state are beyond the talking stage, and must be dealt with at our earliest opportunity.
I would like to add my voice to support your efforts to pass Referendum A because it contains five principles that I think are key for guaranteeing Colorado’s future water supply.
First, Referendum A is the first statewide ballot measure that contains specific language requiring the Colorado Water Conservation Board to include fair mitigation to the basin of origin for transferred water.
Referendum A, combined with legislation you have signed into law recently which required fair economic payment to basins of origin, will go a long way to protecting the interest of the people in the rural part of the state.
We all know what happened in the Owens valley of California when the city of Los Angeles obtained the water rights in the valley. No one wants Colorado valleys to become Colorado deserts.
Second, I support this measure because for the first time it allows for water project funding for environmental and recreational benefits that are separate and apart from the water storage projects, which should provide a new source of revenue for our western slope-based tourism industry.
Third, because the projects must be recommended by the Water Conservation Board, each river basin in the state is represented. The final guarantee of protection for each river basin is that any project must be approved by the governor on a one-by-one basis.
I know that Colorado has a long tradition of electing common sense leaders that represent all corners of the state equally. You have continued that tradition set by people like Senator Hank Brown and Congressman Wayne Aspinall, who both had rural roots, as I do.
Fourth, because these water bonds must be paid for by revenues from the water users themselves, this measure not only has built in conservation incentives, but also guarantees that the water bonds will not be used for speculation, no third party straw purchases will be allowed. I applaud that concept.
An additional protection is already in the state law in that no water can be sold out of state without the approval of the Colorado Legislature. No one fought harder than I did to prevent AWDI from purchasing and exporting water from the San Luis Valley 12 years ago. In fact, as an appropriator, I just earmarked the last $10 million to purchase the Baca Ranch for the national park system to ensure that water grabs can never happen again in that basin of origin.
I assure you, if I thought Referendum A was a danger to basins of origin, I would be the last one to support it.
Fifth, Referendum A also encourages water conservation and efficient use because it rewards repair of existing structures and actually provides a funding mechanism for conservation efforts.
I believe incentives for conservation are better than punitive actions to arrive at the same objective. Being a person who owns a water right and who understands the important of water to water users, I know your efforts will not be met with universal support.
Let me commend you and the Legislature for acting carefully to deal with an extremely difficult issue. It is being dealt with in the proper way – by voter referendum – not federal action.
The problem, of course, is that the voters of Colorado (i.e. the recipients of water diversions) are many while the voters of the basin of origin are few, so we cannot just rely on sheer numbers.
We must also have protection for the minority interests, which are small rural communities. Referendum A does that.
Hopefully my support will help people to understand that this is the best answer for the complex problem of ensuring drought relief for the future.
In closing, let me encourage you to work closely with all the parties involved in this dialogue. It is extremely important to secure support for Referendum A from Club 20, both Action 20 an the Progressive 15 associations and citizens in the basins of origin.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell