U.S. Water News Online
ARVADA, Colo. -- Wally Welton shielded his eyes from the
hot sun and stared across the blue-green waters of the new 9,800
acre-foot reservoir that bears his name.
``I call it the stealth reservoir. There was a deliberate effort
not to advertise it,'' the president of the Consolidated Mutual Water
Built largely under the public's radar, the $20 million reservoir
was completed on time and on budget in 2001, with enough water to
supply 21,000 taps near a former nuclear weapons plant in Jefferson
Dozens of similar projects could be completed if voters approve a
$2 billion bond referendum in November aimed at easing the effects of
the multiyear drought.
The plan is drawing strong opposition from Western Colorado
residents who fear it could be a conduit to send their water to the
thirsty Front Range. Others are wary because it does not specify
projects that would be financed by the referendum.
``Who does this bonding referendum help? No one is able to answer
that question,'' said Reeves Brown, president of Club 20, a group
that represents Western Slope business interests. ``That's why we
believe there is a hidden agenda.''
Sen. Jim Dyer, R-Littleton, who sponsored the referendum in the
Legislature, refused to identify any projects that could be built
with the money. He wants projects to come from user groups, both
public and private, which will have to pay for it through revenue
The measure was one of several bills enacted this year to tackle
problems stemming from the drought, one of the worst in recorded
Proposed projects must be reviewed by the Colorado Water
Conservation Board and approved by the governor.
Gov. Bill Owens said the money could be used to repair existing
facilities, improve their efficiency, and to build new storage.
``Reservoirs leak and facilities age. That means that we are
failing to store water that we have the capacity to store, and
storage is the best way to protect us against drought, since 80
percent of Colorado's water comes from snowmelt,'' Owens said when he
signed the bill to put it on the ballot.
Potential projects include the Big Straw, a plan to pump water
back from the Colorado River at the Utah border and reuse it. Owens
said that is where the state could reap the biggest benefit because
the state is entitled to 400,000 acre feet a year it cannot store.
A private consulting firm has been awarded a $2.7 million contract
to conduct 81 meetings around the state to come up with a list of
potential projects by November 2004. The meetings began in August.
Owens, who is backing the referendum, has told Western Slope
politicians that there are hundreds of other potential projects that
could help every region. He insisted no decisions have been made on
which projects would be financed if the referendum were approved.
A Club 20 committee recently voted overwhelmingly to recommend
that voters defeat the referendum. The full group takes up the
recommendation in September.
Brown said his region is not opposed to water storage projects as
long as they help farmers and protect the western region's growth
Brown said the problem with the proposal is not the financing
details, but that the water is too expensive. He said it could end up
costing users $500 an acre foot or more, making it prohibitive for
Western Slope farmers accustomed to paying $20.
Trout Unlimited spokesman Dave Nickum said environmentalists
recognize new water projects are needed and will support those that
address their concerns.
He said environmentalists opposed big projects like Dominguez
Reservoir near Grand Junction because they will harm wildlife. ``We
aren't targeting all projects. Some projects do make sense,'' Nickum
Environmentalists suspect the state is avoiding mention of
specific projects to forestall criticism, Colorado Environmental
Coalition spokeswoman Monica Piergrossi said. She said the statewide
study should consider all viewpoints.
Brown said late is better than never for the state to draw up a
list of projects that could be built over the next 30 years.
``It would have been better if they had done this 40 years ago,''
Welton said small projects like the reservoir his company built
are the best answer for Colorado's water crisis. He has identified
two projects of about 5,000 acre feet each he could build if he could
get the water supply and permits to build it.
Welton said he would apply for the money if bond companies can
offer him a better rate than he could get from the state. Under the
referendum, the state is not backing the bonds, it just allows
public-private partnerships previously barred by state law.
Welton agreed with the state's hands-off, market-driven policy to
let private owners, municipalities and the bond markets decide which
water projects to build.
``I don't think things go as well when the government gets
involved,'' he said.
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