Lawsuit over Aurora long-term contract with Reclamation put on hold for two years

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer put on hold for two years a lawsuit challenging the contract. He said a landowners group opposed to it could ask him during the two years to reinstate his consideration of the group’s lawsuit. The judge’s decision was a victory for Aurora, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

The two-year stay of Native’s challenge is to give time for Congress to consider approving legislation authorizing the contract. The legislation also would include a plan for funding the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit municipal water supply project. “If it (the contract) is lawful, they don’t have to go get the legislation,” Native’s attorney, Sarah Klahn, told the judge…

Brimmer, at the end of an hourlong hearing, listed three reasons for granting the stay that the Lower Arkansas District, Aurora and Reclamation had asked for. He said the Native group “has not identified any concrete harm its members will likely suffer.” He also said the public interest is served because the legislation, if approved, would result in “various improvements” that would benefit water users in the valley. The judge’s third reason was that it is more likely Congress will pass the legislation because the district supports it. The district’s attorney, Peter Nichols, told Brimmer, “We believe it’s likely to have the support of (the state’s) entire congressional delegation.”

Native’s attorney, Sarah Klahn, challenged Nichols’ assertion. She told the judge there is no indication Rep. John Salazar, D-5th District, has changed his opposition to part of the legislation. Salazar, whose congressional district includes part of the valley, is a key figure in whether Congress will approve the legislation. Lower Arkansas’ attorney said Salazar, Rep. Betsy Markey, D-4th District, and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-7th District, will conduct a hearing in the valley about the proposed legislation. Markey’s congressional district includes the eastern part of the valley. Perlmutter’s district includes Aurora.

Somach, in answer to a question from the judge, said the contract does not result in more water being exported during the two years. He said the amount of water exported will be the same as it has been for the past 23 years under the authority of annual contracts between Aurora and Reclamation. Klahn challenged Somach’s assertion, citing Reclamation records that she said show there will be “a decrease in the amount of water in the river. There will be less water for my clients to divert.”[…]

Brimmer granted the district’s request to drop one of its claims, that the contract violates the federal Water Supply Act of 1958. Klahn said she and her clients “are evaluating our options.” She said they “are disappointed in the decision mostly because the stay will allow Aurora to continue stealing water from the Arkansas Valley.” When Klahn used the term “stealing” during the hearing, Somach objected, saying Aurora is importing valley water only as allowed by state water courts. Klahn, after the hearing, replied, “The contract is going to allow Aurora to take additional water from the valley and we believe the contract is illegal, so we think the term ‘stealing’ is appropriate.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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