Arkansas Valley Conduit: Lamar town hall meeting

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U.S. Representatives John Salazar and Betsy Markey were howling with the locals in Lamar yesterday. The primary focus was how to get the Arkansas Valley Conduit funded and built and legislation that would allow Aurora to move water out of basin using the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

U.S. Reps. John Salazar and Betsy Markey, both Democrats, said they would continue to work for farmers and the Arkansas Valley Conduit, but were noncommittal on how they would proceed with proposed legislation to allow Aurora to continue to use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the valley.

“Why do we need this legislation?” Salazar asked at one point, saying that the Bureau of Reclamation already acts as if it has authority to enter a 40-year contract to provide space in Lake Pueblo for Aurora to store water and to exchange it upstream. Colorado water law should protect existing water rights and should not be circumvented by federal legislation, Salazar said. “I’m here because I care and love agriculture. I’m here to keep farmers on the land,” Salazar said. “It will be a sad day in America if we ever depend on another country for our food and fiber.”

Markey said her priority is making sure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is funded. “We’re very close to getting this issue off the ground,” Markey said.

Salazar emphatically agreed. “I can assure you that before I leave office we will build the conduit. We have made it our No. 1 priority,” Salazar said.

Congress has been asked by Aurora and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to pass legislation that would authorize Reclamation to enter contracts with Aurora as part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit. The Lower Ark district sued Reclamation in 2007 over the Aurora contract…

Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water, showed Salazar and Markey a copy of the 1965 contract that linked the Homestake Project, a separate transmountain diversion, with the Fry-Ark Project. Homestake, a project Aurora and Colorado Springs jointly operate, was already in motion when Congress approved the Fry-Ark Project in 1962. “At that time, the federal government saw a need for cooperation,” Pifher said.

Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer said legislation is needed to quell arguments over Aurora’s place in the Arkansas Valley. “We do believe when a federal project is built, it can have other uses so long as you don’t injure the designated users,” Tauer said.

Rawlings said the agreement between Lower Ark and Aurora needlessly ties the conduit to federal approval of legislation to let Aurora use the Fry-Ark Project. “The conduit has already been approved by Congress and should not in any way be tied to Aurora,” Rawlings said.

After the meeting, Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said Aurora’s participation in excess-capacity leases would reduce the burden of local costs for the conduit. Earlier, when federal legislation sought an 80-20 federal cost share, Aurora’s participation was not critical, he said. But the final legislation changed the cost share to 65-35, meaning that Aurora revenues could be key to keeping local costs manageable.

Several area farmers said the potential to lease water to Aurora would be critical to obtaining maximum value for water under the newly formed Super Ditch. “We market our water to the highest beneficial use, whether through crop production, livestock production, vegetable production or leasing to municipalities,” said McClave farmer Fred Heckman. He said the valley would not be dried up through leases, and said leasing the water to cities in the north is preferable to urbanizing rural Colorado…

Prowers County Commissioner Henry Schnabel said water rights owners have the right to sell or lease water, but urged his neighbors to use caution. “The impact to other water users in the valley is very important,” Schnabel said. “There is the possibility of less and less water in the river. I would like to see the system for transfer of water out of the valley, but it has to be done in a cautious and thoughtful manner.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, here, here, here and here.

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