Water project funding bill splits Western Slope leaders | VailDaily.com

Water project funding bill splits Western Slope leaders

Matt Zalaznick

A bill that would give agencies and voters wider power to fund major water projects has been approved by the state Senate and is likely on its way to a full vote of the House of Representatives. But the bill would have been killed in a House committee this week if it had been up to Eagle County’s representative, Carl Miller, a Democrat based in Leadville.

“There’s only one intention and that is to get more water from the Western Slope,” says Miller, who had no success pushing the Front Range to tap the large Denver Aquifer instead of looking to the mountains for more water.

The bill is sponsored by a pair of Republican representatives, Jim Dyer of Littleton and Lewis Entz, who comes from an agricultural district north of Alamosa. Their bill would vastly increase the power of agencies, cities and towns to issue bonds to build or expand reservoirs. The bill would allow supporters of a water project to issue up to $10 billion in bonds.

Miller, fearing a Front Range water and funding grab, says a major flaw is that the bill doesn’t specify where the money will be spent.

“We’re actually giving them a blank check. Then they can come in and do whatever they want,” Miller says. “If they’ve got a vision for new major water projects, we should say by statute where they’re going to be.”

The best way to bolster the state’s water storage capacity is not to spend vast sums on new dams and reservoirs, Miller says.

“I think what we have to do as a state is to repair and enlarge existing storage before we go to some major project,” Miller says. “If we would just repair and expand existing storage, I’ve been told we could recapture 250,000 acre-feet a year.”

That’s about 250,000 football fields worth of water.

Supporters of the Dyer-Entz believe say it has the entire state’s interests at heart. Entz says the bill will benefit metropolitan, mountain and agricultural areas of Colorado.

“This represents a consensus of varied interests – both rural and urban

interests – in order to address the state’s most challenging water issues,” Dyer says. “It’s important that this General Assembly be proactive – while the effects of drought are fresh in our mind – to assure that those future generations are better prepared than we are today.”

Mary Brown, a lobbyist for Western Slope interests such as Vail Resorts and mountain water authorities, says the mountains aren’t threatened by the Dyer-Entz bill.

“I don’t see it as detrimental really to anybody,” she says. “It’s just a funding opportunity.”

The Dyer-Entz bill does not weaken environmental, financial or other approvals water projects will require, Brown says.

The bill could simply remove a financial hurdle once a project has received all the necessary approvals, she adds.

“If the only stumbling block was funding, this bill could provide a way to get over that stumbling block,” Brown says. “It creates new mechanisms that weren’t there before.”

Dozens of water bills have been drafted by state lawmakers this year, but so far, there doesn’t appear to be a raid on Western Slope water, Brown says.

“The concerns of the Western Slope, by in large, have been mitigated,” Brown says.

But Miller, who claims agencies and towns are not using their current bonding powers, says Western Slope water is most definitely at risk.

“The water bills down here in the Legislature are not in best interest of the Western Slope or other water-producing counties,” Miller says. “If they develop any more water, it’s going to come from the Western Slope.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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