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Referendum Aims to Get $4 Billion to Create Dams and Reservoirs
Colorado Governor Bill Owens has proposed damming the Colorado River at the Utah border and pumping the water back to Denver to prevent too much of this precious commodity from running downstream to other Western states.
The "Big Straw Project," as it is being called, shows just how serious the fight over water has become out West.
An alternate, less extreme referendum proposed to the Colorado legislature would help finance Colorado water projects has the same intent. Referendum A, a $2 billion loan program, would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board to issue bonds for new private and public water projects. It also would appropriate $2 billion for interest payments. Proponents say Colorado needs new reservoirs and dams to keep the water in the state.
"Colorado has a lot more rights to water than we actually use," Owens said in an interview with the Denver Post. "That means in the good years, prior to this drought, we had a lot of water that we had rights to that we simply didn't store. As the reservoirs filled, the water simply went downstream."
Colorado is entitled to more than 16 million acre feet per year but stores only 6 million acre feet per year. Owens and other supporters of the referendum say Colorado water should support state agriculture and growth rather than Californian lawns and Las Vegas fountains.
The Colorado River Compact of 1922 divides the Colorado's water among the seven states of the river's basin. Some states, like Colorado, do not use all the water they have rights to, while others, like California, use more than their allotment.
Opponents of the referendum say it has too many unknowns.
"We're going to pay $4 billion to build what? And we're going to pay this money to whom?" said John Powers, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. "We're voting on a blank check that is for unknown projects. Knowing how inefficient government spending is, do the taxpayers of Colorado really want to give the state a blank check?"
Former governor Dick Lamm, now executive director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Denver, and the state's two other living former governors have expressed opposition to the loan program. "It's simply too much money to give to the governor without any stipulations," Lamm said.