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Referendum A no friend to Colorado ag

DENVER—Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) sent a letter to Gov. Bill Owens today, calling for a special session of the Colorado Legislature to address the shortcomings in Referendum A.

“The RMFU Water Task Force, meeting since 2002, has recommended programs to increase the state’s water storage capacity for combined municipal, recreational and agricultural uses,” said John Stencel, RMFU president. “However, we do not believe Referendum A will do this, and, in some cases, the agricultural sector could be worse off with it than without.” Referendum A is a measure that asks Colorado voters to approve a $2 billion increase to the state’s debt in order to authorize the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to issue revenue bonds for the construction of small- and medium-sized water projects. RMFU believes that the referendum could be significantly improved if the following provisions were made: 1) the $5 million floor on projects is removed, and financial assistance is made available on projects costing less than $5 million that truly benefit agricultural water users, 2) basin of origin mitigation is included in the referendum, and 3) the CWCB construction fund includes the financing of feasibility studies for small water projects.

“Few ditch and reservoir companies and small water districts would be able to fully pay back the minimum $5 million projects specified under Referendum A,” said RMFU Water Task Force Chair Richard Wolf, Ault, Colo. “There is already adequate funding for most water projects—in other words, those projects that can pay for themselves. The problem is being able to afford the feasibility and environmental studies, which can cost up to $1 million.”

An equally worrisome element of Referendum A is that it contains no provisions for basin-of-origin mitigation. Due to this oversight, according to RMFU, rural communities and metro areas could quickly become caught in legal wrangling over water.

“We also find it problematic that Referendum A completely bypasses oversight by the Colorado Legislature, leaving the decision on multi-million dollar projects in the hands of the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board,” Stencel said. “This creates a dangerous situation where water projects could be selected due to political factors, rather than on the merits of the project.”

“Referendum A may make Gov. Owens and Colorado legislators feel they have addressed drought in Colorado by referring this $2 billion program, but it will not help agriculture, and it could price agricultural producers right out of their water.”