Tuesday, September 2, 2003
Little is as precious to this state's economic vitality as the preservation of its water resources, and years of drought have reinforced the importance of water storage capacity to that preservation.
That said, the initiative proposed in Referendum A seems to be an unnecessary way to go about securing additional capacity.
Voters will decide Referendum A in November. If approved, it would allow the state to approve up to $2 billion in revenue bonds for projects such as dams and new reservoirs. In essence, it is a tool that governments, water districts, private entities and others can use to finance projects. The referendum calls for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to review and recommend projects to the governor, who ultimately would approve them.
Supporters, including Gov. Bill Owens, say the referendum is a powerful way for Coloradans to work together to address the state's water needs. They tout the measure's safeguards, including a requirement that projects have a proper revenue stream to repay the bonds. They argue the initiative allows projects to be driven by communities and water districts that best understand their regions' water needs.
But advocates of the referendum are woefully lacking in specifics. It seems a little naÃive to expect voters to endorse giving the state the power to approve $2 billion in water projects without even a hint of the projects contemplated.
Several Western Slope legislators fear supporters of the initiative are being purposely vague. They are concerned the measure will allow projects benefiting the Front Range at the expense of Western Slope resources to slip under the radar.
State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, is a leading opponent of the referendum. Taylor argues the initiative gives the state a blank check to approve projects that might deserve closer scrutiny. The referendum, Taylor says, does not provide for legislative oversight, requires a level of indebtedness that agriculture does not have the means to finance, politicizes water, does not require mitigation for the affected basins of origin and simply isn't necessary.
Taylor is right, particularly when he questions the need for Referendum A. Numerous projects have been accomplished without the referendum in place, including Stagecoach Reservoir and Wolford Mountain Reservoir.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District did not need Referendum A to finance the expansion of Elkhead Reservoir. That $19.5 million project is being funded through a combination of federal, state and local funds, including a loan through the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Referendum A proponents are right to advocate increased water storage capacity in Colorado. But their efforts would be better spent helping worthwhile projects secure funding from existing resources instead of trying to create another level of bureaucracy.
Referendum A isn't needed, and it should not be approved.