Water Congress OKs bonds

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The Colorado Water Congress voted Wednesday to endorse Referendum A, the controversial initiative that would allow the state to issue $2 billion in revenue bonds for water projects.

The vote was 14-7 and came after state legislators debated the issue for an hour. The Colorado Water Congress is holding its 2003 Summer Convention through Friday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Debating in support of Referendum A were state Rep. Diane Hoppe, state Sen. Jim Dyer, state Sen. John Andrews, Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone and Commissioner of Agriculture Don Ament. Those against were state Sen. Jack Taylor, state Rep. John Salazar, state Sen. Jim Isgar and state Rep. Matt Smith.

Referendum A would allow the state to issue $2 billion in revenue bonds for projects such as dams and new reservoirs. Projects would have to be approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the governor. Gov. Bill Owens is a proponent of the initiative.

Supporters said the bill is a powerful funding tool that will allow the state to increase water storage capacity. "The best thing about Referendum A is that it is a mandate for policy-makers in Colorado -- city councils, legislators, the governor and others -- to get off their duffs," Hoppe said. "This is a chance to do something for Colorado."

Among the opponents' primary concerns are that Referendum A does not require mitigation for areas affected by approved projects and that it gives the state a blank check to approve projects.

Taylor argued the referendum does not provide for legislative oversight, requires a level of indebtedness that agricultural organizations cannot finance, politicizes water and isn't necessary. "Financing of projects has not been a problem," Taylor said. "Projects can go to the Water and Power Authority and other groups for funding. If it's not a good project, it won't be funded."

Several of the opponents said the referendum divides the Western Slope and Front Range. Western Slope legislators fear that without protection in the legislation, Referendum A will allow projects that reduce the Western Slope's water supplies without mitigating for the losses.

Ament said the mitigation argument doesn't wash. "It really crawls under my hide when you guys say this bill does not require mitigation," Ament said. "Refer-endum A does not take away one bit of current law. The point is, Referendum A does not address mitigation because mitigation is already written into Colorado law."

Opponents won a concession from Andrews, who said he will not pursue changing the makeup of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to weaken Western Slope representation on the board.

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