Gary Barber: Aurora is the brother-in-law you wish your sister had never married

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Here’s a recap of this week’s town hall meeting with U.S. Representatives John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter in Rocky Ford, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Listening to everything that’s been said . . . Aurora is the brother-in-law you wish your sister had never married,” said Gary Barber of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority. “But he does the dishes at Thanksgiving, so you learn to live with him.” Barber was speaking to Reps. John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter, both Colorado Democrats, at a town hall meeting on the possibility of changing federal legislation to allow Aurora to use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the Arkansas Valley…

The meeting brought out arguments on both sides centering on the basic question of whether Aurora is needed in the Arkansas Valley to make big projects like the Arkansas Valley Conduit and Super Ditch work. Some contended that Aurora has been a valuable partner, while others objected to removal of water from a high desert valley…

“I was not part of the negotiations, but we’ve been asked to move legislation,” Salazar said. “It’s no secret; I’ve always been a strong opponent of moving any water out of a basin.”[…]

[Pete Moore, chairman of the Lower Ark board] argued that the only way farmers in the valley will realize the full value of their water rights is to bring in outside money by leasing to Aurora. [Bob Rawlings, publisher of The Pueblo Chieftain], both as a party in the lawsuit and through newspaper editorials, has opposed using the Fry-Ark Project to move water to Aurora. Rawlings also argued with Moore over the nature of so-called leases because they are actually sales of water.

Another Lower Ark board member, Pueblo County Commissioner Anthony Nunez, also supported allowing Aurora into the Super Ditch. “If we do not support the idea of the Super Ditch, the farmers will have no choice but to sell to the highest bidder,” Nunez said…

[Gary Barber of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority], however, noted El Paso County communities that are in the Arkansas River basin would also like to lease water and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Lower Ark district nearly three years ago agreeing to lease from the Super Ditch. In fact, analysis by the district during formation of the Super Ditch showed El Paso County users were willing to pay a higher price for temporary sales of water, or leases, from the Super Ditch…

Rocky Ford Mayor Matt Holder said his family’s sale of water rights on the Rocky Ford Ditch to Aurora provided the money to save a lumber and supply company that was in danger of closing. Brian Burney said the $1.5 million Aurora paid to help Rocky Ford schools offset ill effects of the sales has been invaluable. High Line Canal Superintendent Dan Henrichs said at least 13 irrigators would have lost their farms were it not for a 2004-05 lease of water from the canal by Colorado Springs and Aurora…

Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer said the agreement would prevent Aurora from acquiring water rights beyond the 37 years left on a previous agreement with other water users. He characterized Aurora’s ability to participate in valley activities like water storage contracts and Super Ditch is a “way forward,” while continued court cases will produce winners and losers. “Let’s go down a different path and see how we can do things together,” Tauer said…

“I do not like to see water separated from the land,” said Betsy Brown, a Beulah rancher. “I would like to see future growth on the Front Range thwarted by not moving water from this basin.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Conduit will be built with or without Aurora, U.S. Rep. John Salazar said Thursday. The Colorado 3rd District Democrat said his position on the House Appropriations Committee puts him in good position to shepherd funding for the conduit through Congress. Along with Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., Salazar is backing a $9 million appropriation for the 2010 fiscal year to advance work on the conduit. “That will begin the work that needs to be done,” Salazar said. “These communities after 40 years will finally get built. It’s my No. 1 priority.”[…]

Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the city of Aurora’s ability to obtain long-term leases for water storage and exchange at Lake Pueblo will help greatly in meeting the local cost of the conduit, which is 35 percent under legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama. That amounts to $105 million under current estimates, or $212 million when interest is applied over 50 years. Aurora’s contracts over that period would contribute $75 million toward that cost and other costs of the Fry-Ark Project…

Without the conduit, communities are facing higher costs to treat salinity, radium and uranium that are commonly found in the valley’s wells. May Valley, for instance, serves 500 people and would have to pay $26 million for upgrades suggested by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in a recent study, Long said. The conduit is the most affordable option for the 42 valley water systems that could benefit, even though its expense is a burden to low-income communities.

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

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