Referendum A nixed statewide
Eagle County voters voted down the proposal 4,830 to 963 with 5,300 voters out of 16,000 participating.
That news that the measure was defeated cheered opponents who feared its potential impacts if it passed. A rancorous debate over the measure rekindled an age-old Eastern Slope versus Western Slope water battle.
“This election result shows that Coloradans want water policy solutions
based on uniting, rather than dividing the state,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, who represents Eagle County in Congress. “People also want to know what they are paying for, and the proponents of Referendum A could never satisfy the public beyond saying, “Trust me.’ A majority of Coloradans have spoken and have resoundingly said, “No thanks.'”
Local voters expressed their doubt about the measure after casting their ballots.
“I think it’s (reservoirs) needed,” said Edwards resident Ray Buchannan, who voted against it. “It’s just not written right.”
Jim Chapin, also of Edwards, said he opposed it because it would have consolidated too much power in one place. The governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is appointed by the governor, would have decided which projects would be funded and built.
“Referendum A gives the governor too much authority,” Chapin said.
But Tim Swift had another take on it. “I buy the blank check argument,” he said, noting that the proposal did not provide specific enough information on how the money would be spent. “We need to keep as much of the water here as is possible.”
Referendum A proposed funding constructing additional reservoirs in Colorado with $2 billion in bonds from Wall Street. With interest, those bonds would generate a total debt of $4 billion.
The key issue polarizing supporters and opponents of the measure was the lack of protection the measure afforded the water-rich Western Slope from the effects of diverting water to the arid and populated urban centers of the Eastern Slope.
It typically divided voters according to where they live. Those on the Western Slope, with a few exceptions, opposed it, fearing a water grab. Much of the support for the measure seemed to spring from the Eastern Slope.
Eighty or more percent of Colorado’s moisture falls on the Western Slope, mostly as snow, and 80 percent of the state’s 4.2 million people live east of the continental divide.
Opponents like U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, decried the measure’s language. They said it would have left the Western Slope vulnerable to water diversions to the Eastern Slope.
“There is no ironclad mitigation in Referendum A for the basin of origin for out-of-basin water transfers,” he said.
Tom Stone, an Eagle County commissioner, was one of the rare Western Slope politicians to champion the proposal. Referendum A was developed a year after the worst drought Colorado has experienced in three centuries.
That drought drained reservoirs and forced water conservation regulations to be imposed.
The nonpartisan Legislative Council, the research arm of the state legislature, found there was no language in Referendum A that would have provided funding for mitigation measures in basins of origin subject to diversion.
Opponents demanded one-for-one compensation, with one gallon in storage funded for each gallon diverted.
There was one point of agreement on the issue. Both proponents and opponents agree that more reservoirs are needed.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 x450 or email@example.com