2010 Colorado elections: Scott Mcinnis background

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From The Denver Post (Karen E. Crummy):

Two years out of St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, McInnis was an associate at Delaney & Balcomb, a Glenwood Springs firm specializing in water and energy issues. McInnis said he handled mostly mechanic liens and divorce cases, although Scott Balcomb, son of firm co-founder Kenneth Balcomb, said McInnis also worked on water rights and lease disputes. When McInnis pondered running for the statehouse, Balcomb said, the firm encouraged him. “It was good to get our name out there — the firm’s name, his name,” he said. “We got quite a bit of business that way.”[…]

Early on in his statehouse career, McInnis started sending copies of proposed House and Senate bills to Kenneth Balcomb for his review. Most focused on water issues, according to letters from the firm to McInnis. McInnis said that it was common for legislators to pass water issues by Balcomb because he was legal counsel to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the primary policy and planning agency for the Colorado River Basin. Balcomb wrote back his thoughts, often on each bill, and often with directives. He doesn’t mention the water district in any of his letters, and some of his comments show his concerns were with his firm’s interests. “There is hardly a client in this office, or one who would come in in the foreseeable future, who would not be irreparably damaged by such legislation,” he wrote. Or “this is a bad bill” and “you should be absolutely opposed.” A review of those bills shows most never made it to floor votes. Of those that did, McInnis voted four times in line with Balcomb’s position and three times against it…

The year after McInnis was tapped for Ways and Means, the U.S. Forest Service proposed changes to the management plan for the White River National Forest. The proposals included restricting users to marked trails and closing 676 miles of roads and user-created trails. Ski areas would be prohibited from expanding beyond current permits and timber-cutting reduced. McInnis objected, and despite the fact that study groups and public hearings had been held, he quietly assembled a coalition of special-interest forest users — motorized users, ski, timber, cattle, water users — for strategy meetings. Conservation groups and environmentalists were not invited.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: How much water does agriculture need?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The problem is, there have not been many good studies quantifying how much water will be needed for agriculture in the Arkansas River basin in the future. “A city can reliably tell you what their demand is every year, but we don’t even have an idea of what we currently need for agriculture,” said Mike Bartolo, director of the Colorado State University Agricultural Research Center at Rocky Ford. “Agriculture is way behind the curve.”

Statewide water supply studies by the Colorado Water Conservation Board have mostly concentrated on the Colorado River Basin with the twin goals of compact compliance and urban supply. Hardly any work has been done on assessing what a study of the supply for growing food should look like…

The irrigation system of the Arkansas Valley is a complex network of more than 12,000 water rights, return flows and variable weather conditions every month, much less year-to-year. There are also interactions between thousands of wells in the alluvial aquifer and surface flows that would take years to assess.

Even if the amount of water available could be predicted, it would be hard to estimate consumptive use. The state in the last five years has installed a weighing lysimeter at the Rocky Ford Research Center to look at consumptive use of alfalfa, the valley’s most common crop. Actually weighing the water used in this area is thought to be the most accurate way to estimate consumptive use for all crops. “Some days, I’ll look at the lysimeter readings and say, ‘Wow, did it use that much?’ ” Bartolo said.

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable gets ‘tipping point’ study pitch

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From Wikipedia:

In sociology, a tipping point or angle of repose is the event of a previously rare phenomenon becoming rapidly and dramatically more common. The phrase was coined in its sociological use by Morton Grodzins, by analogy with the fact in physics that adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object can cause it to suddenly and completely topple.

Here’s a report about the proposed tipping point study of dry-ups in the Arkansas Valley, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

At the roundtable meeting, economists Richard Gardner and George Oamek stressed they are doing preliminary work, and could not readily answer questions about deeper economic impacts. Roundtable members wanted to know if the study would look at the relative wealth of the people who remain in an area, and whether they would be newly affluent sellers of water or welfare recipients. The economists said that could vary by community, and they were unwilling to draw a broad conclusion.

Turns out, the answers — for Crowley County, at least — were already detailed in a background paper for the study.

Gardner, Oamek, David Kracman and Ken Weber prepared a community economic profile for Crowley County that weighs the gains and losses to the county, factoring in the development of prisons to replace the agricultural jobs lost.

The result is a distressing template for other communities, showing that population growth has come only in the form of prison inmates, that new jobs went to people in other counties and that poverty is increasing.

“Crowley County is a testament to the negative externalities that communities bear when large amounts of water rights are sold out of the region,” the report states. “The loss of an important basic industry can ripple through Main Street and take down communities.”

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.