Taylor schedules debate over water

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— In November, voters will be asked to accept or reject a referendum that would add $2 billion dollars in state debt, money that would be used to pay for water infrastructure improvements.

State Sen. Jack Taylor, R- Steamboat Springs, is a strong opponent of the measure, Referendum A, and will be in Steamboat on Wednesday to debate Rep. Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling, on its pros and cons.

The debate is part of the Colorado Water Congress' annual meeting. After the debate, the Colorado Water Congress will take an official position on Referendum A.

The debate is open to the public but time constraints will not allow for public comment.

Referendum A has stirred a lot of confusion and raised controversy, pitting the Western Slope against the Front Range in a battle over water, Taylor said.

Taylor's opposition lays with a handful of unanswered questions, he said.

First, Taylor is wary that Gov. Bill Owens' referendum does not specify which projects will be financed by the referendum.

"We should know what these project are before we vote on them," Taylor said. "If we vote for this, we are signing a blank check."

Taylor also worries that there is no revenue stream in place to pay for the new debt.

"(Colorado residents) will be asked to tax themselves (to pay back the bond)," Taylor said. The debt will be paid with sales taxes, property taxes or, most damaging for agriculture, fees for water.

"It's hard to say how they will do it," Taylor said. "If comes down to higher fees for agricultural water use, they can't afford it."

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that Referendum A will help agricultural water users, he said. If the revenue is generated through usage fees, even if new projects make more water available to them, farmers and ranchers will not be able to afford to pay for it.

Taylor is also concerned that there is no "basin of origin" protection written into the bill. If water is diverted from the Western Slope, we will never see that water again, Taylor said.

"They will not compensate us," he said. "I've tried very hard to get that kind of language added to the bill and failed.

"They say, 'Trust us.' But who is 'us?' The Western Slope has been abused too many times. We need it in writing."

The Colorado Water Congress' annual meeting will be followed on Thursday evening with of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB has been funded to conduct 81 meetings around the state to come up with a list of potential water projects by determining basin-to-basin water supplies and demands. The study is called the Statewide Water Supply Initiative.

The CWCB will describe the Statewide Water Supply Initiative and explain to residents how they can get involved.

If Referendum A is passed, the CWCB will be given the responsibility to review which projects receive funding and give a recommendation to the governor, Taylor said.

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