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Referendum A is vague and dangerous

Editor’s note: This is the first of several election endorsements The Aspen Times will be running in its weekly and daily editions over the next three weeks. We will also discuss, in depth, the Basalt library question, the Mother Lode arts center proposal, the Aspen school board election, and will finish with a roundup of all the other local and state issues.

Roaring Fork Valley voters, and Western Slope voters in general, should kill Referendum A on the Nov. 4 ballot. It’s a measure that’s bound to end with Western Slope water getting sucked eastward to irrigate the sprawling Front Range suburbs.

There’s nothing in the language of this measure that says anything about trans-basin diversions; in fact, there’s nothing about any specific water project. But there’s unallocated water on the Western Slope, including a fair amount in Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River, and clearly the populous and powerful Front Range would love to bring it eastward.

Referendum A is well-suited to do just that. It would grant authority to Gov. Bill Owens and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (which is appointed by Owens) to build $2 billion worth of water storage and delivery projects of their choosing. The state would borrow the $2 billion, and total principal and interest could not exceed $4 billion.

That is a lot of money to hand over to any politician, especially with little or no public or legislative oversight. It comes down to trust, which counts for little or nothing in the world of water politics.

This measure is being sold as a solution to the drought, and a way to keep water from crossing the border to “downstream states.” But beyond those platitudes, Referendum A is as open-ended and vague as can be. That’s dangerous for Colorado’s taxpayers and its environment.

There’s nothing in Referendum A that requires the governor to compensate communities that lose water as a result of new storage or diversion. The governor is not required to consider cheaper and simpler alternatives to dam-building, such as conservation or temporary purchases from farmers and ranchers (who use 85 percent of the state’s water).

If this measure is truly a solution to drought, then proponents should demonstrate how it will work – before voters allow them to incur one of the largest debts in state history.

Another thing they should do is commit to serious and permanent conservation measures, including summertime watering restrictions. Building dams and boring tunnels through the Rockies to support lawns, golf courses and backyard “water features” in the metro suburbs is an offense to both nature and fiscal propriety.

This vague, costly and deservedly controversial measure has “boondoggle” written all over it. Vote No on Referendum A.


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