North Colorado secession: Rio Blanco County commissioners rightly question the disposition of water rights

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Rio Blanco County commissioners on Monday said they share the concerns of rural counties wanting to secede from Colorado, but they fear if they pursued the idea it could jeopardize water rights in the county. County Commissioner Shawn Bolton said it’s his understanding that if a county such as Rio Blanco left the state, it might no longer be a part of the 1922 Colorado River Compact and the door could be opened to local water rights being taken away. “That’s a breaking point for me. The water is too critical,” Bolton said.

Western Slope counties considering secession would be hit the hardest, he said. Most of the state’s surface water comes from the Western Slope.

Despite the water concern, the commissioners said during their meeting and in an interview that they agree in principle with the movement among northeast Colorado counties and now Moffat County to secede. Like them, the Rio Blanco commissioners take issue with the actions of the state legislature earlier this year. “It was a pretty blatant attack on rural communities,” Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said.

Particularly upsetting to Rio Blanco commissioners was the passage of a requirement that rural electric cooperatives get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources. That has implications for coal mining and coal-fired power generation in northwest Colorado and for electric customers’ bills. Commissioner Jon Hill said what made it worse is that legislators rejected the idea of considering sources such as hydropower as renewable.

Eskelson said while secession might not be the answer, he likes an idea that’s circulating that would require one of the chambers of the state legislature to have one representative from each Colorado county. “To me that would give rural Colorado more of a voice,” he said.

Bolton said Rio Blanco commissioners have been approached about the secession idea and have looked into it a bit but not gone further with it because the water issue raises such a red flag. He said the issue is far from clear, but he’s hearing water rights would remain in the state of Colorado and those in a 51st state couldn’t file for a historical use and keep them. “It’s a huge bunch of questions,” he said.

The Colorado River Compact addresses allocation of river basin water between seven states within the basin. If a county seceded, it’s possible that it “wouldn’t even be at the table at that point,” Bolton said.

Hill said that might be avoided if a county joined another state such as Utah or Wyoming that also has signed the compact.

From The Denver Post (Matthew Patane):

Not far over the county line, the first of thousands of natural gas wellheads and crude oil collection tanks that define Weld County and helped inflame the secession movement come into focus. County commissioners riled by laws to more tightly regulate the industry that pays many of the bills, the passage of stricter gun laws and worry over the quality of rural roads, floated the notion of secession at the end of the legislative session. They cited a disconnect between the wants and needs of rural areas of Colorado and the governing being done in Denver, and recruited other northeastern counties to the idea that something had to change. “The level of frustration and the level of disconnect that people feel is pretty high,” said Chad Auer, mayor of Firestone, in southwest Weld County. “I think there’s something to be said for why this process is taking place in the first place.”

The vast Pawnee National Grassland consumes much of Weld’s northern reaches, along the Wyoming border, which keeps most of the county’s population in the southwestern half. Some of Weld’s towns — such as Roggen, Keenesburg, Ault — might be missed on a high-speed highway trip. Others closer to Interstate 25 — Firestone, Windsor, Severance — show signs of growth as new neighborhoods spring up around historic old towns within commuting distance of good jobs.

But the county remains mostly rural, with Greeley, the county seat, an urban island in the sea of farmland.

Although Weld is leading the movement for a 51st state, support for secession has not permeated the entire county.

Many people said they unfamiliar with the 51st state movement or knew little about it. Others said attempts to secede from the state are the wrong move, even if there is a rural-urban divide.

Greg Polese, 27, and Sam Harvey, 26, said they don’t support creating a 51st state and don’t think the urban-rural conflict is as divisive as others have suggested. Polese and Harvey work in Fort Collins, but moved to Severance for cheaper housing. On an issue they care about — the condition of roads — they had few complaints. Some of Weld’s roads could use maintenance, Harvey said, but every county has its share of poor roads that are fixed when they need to be.

After agriculture, energy dominates Weld’s economy. Rigs and wellheads dot the countryside, often placed next to or in farmland and residential neighborhoods. Ongoing attempts to more strictly regulate oil and gas, especially chafes county politicians. Of the more than 51,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado, more than 20,000 are in Weld County, making it the top oil and gas county in the state. So far this year, 952 oil and gas wells were drilled in Colorado, 607 of which were in Weld, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“All your oil, gas and agriculture is up here. But when it comes time to vote, we don’t have representation down there.” said Gerald Haffner, 53, while attending the South East Weld County Fair & Rodeo in Keenesburg. Haffner, a Weld County telephone technician, said he would not vote for secession. Instead, he said, the counties should focus on gaining more representation at the state house. “Making us a new state, to me, is not the right answer,” Haffner said. “Fixing what we have is.”

By the numbers

Weld County

2012 population 263,691

2010 population 252,825

Percent change 4.3 percent

Median household income $55.825

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 13.8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 66,594

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 3.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 3,987.24

People per square mile 63.4

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Aguilar) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

For Erie, the burgeoning secession movement in northeast Colorado is doubly troublesome as half the town lies in Boulder County while the other half is in Weld County, which last week referred to the November ballot a measure that will ask voters whether they want to break away from Colorado and form a new state, dubbed North Colorado…

Erie Trustee Jonathan Hager doesn’t think the 51st state initiative will get very far — it would need the approval of the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress to become a reality — but he said it does raise some interesting issues about the town he represents and its peculiar geography. If Erie broke into two, Hager said, the Boulder County side would be at a distinct disadvantage in terms of municipal services and civic identity.

“Everything we own as a municipality is on the Weld County side,” he said. “If the state was formed and Erie was forced to split up, maybe those of us on the Boulder County side would become part of Lafayette, or Longmont or Broomfield.”[…]

Aside from the November vote, he said, both the U.S. Congress and the Colorado Legislature would have to agree on the formation of North Colorado — a very unlikely scenario given the fact that it would be a heavily Republican state. “Colorado would have to concur with the loss of territory and Congress would have to agree,” he said. “You’re not going to get broad agreement to create a new state that is dripping red.”[…]

Feelings on a possible secession right down the middle of Erie ranged from intrigue to good riddance during a quick survey of townspeople this week. Theresa Williams, a Democrat who has lived on the Boulder County side of town for nearly 15 years in the Country Meadows neighborhood, said the whole notion of secession is “ridiculous.” “I think they’re throwing a temper tantrum because they don’t believe in sensible gun laws,” she said of those pushing for the measure. “I don’t think it will happen but if it does — bye.”

From The Denver Post (Kiki Turner):

Nestled between a Colorado Rockies poster and a calendar of pinup girls was a small green bumper sticker that read “No Farms, No Food.” The sticker stood out among hundreds of posters and pictures plastered on the walls of R.D’s Bar in Sedgwick, a town of roughly 180 people in extreme northeast Colorado. Three-year-old Jennifer Toyne swung on a bar stool while her father sipped a beer during a break from his 12-hour workday. “How many baby moo cows do you have?” Jason Toyne asked as his daughter climbed into his lap. Jennifer held up three small fingers, nails painted with sparkly polish.

Like many people who live in Sedgwick County, Toyne has farmed all his life. And like many farmers, he worries the disconnect between government in Denver and the work being done in rural Colorado will be disastrous for his corn, sugar beet and soy bean operation. He’s concerned, especially, about the thirsty Front Range cities buying up water rights he would otherwise lease to irrigate his crops. “If farms don’t get water, there won’t be food,” his friend Kyle McConnell said. “But I guess people like having green lawns.”

McConnell, who also farms in northeastern Colorado, is all for the proposed creation of a 51st state, but said “it’s not going to happen.” He’d settle for what he described as more equitable representation in the statehouse. “That would be a step.” McConnell said votes in the statehouse this session worked against rural areas financially and fundamentally. “They need to quit making laws for us when they don’t have a damn clue how we live,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to farm. Our costs are astronomical.” McConnell estimates to earn $20,000, it takes an investment, on the high end, of $10 million in land and equipment .

R.D’s co-owner Gena Kinoshita said in-town business costs also are rising, including the cost of water, which recently quadrupled. “We barely make it with what we have now,” said Kinoshita, whose bar is one of five businesses still open along Main Street, a dirt road marked with wooden street signs. Small farming towns like Sedgwick have languished over the years, she said.

Bob Blach runs a New York Life office in Sterling, the Logan County seat, where people who don’t work in agriculture can find jobs at a state prison, a college or other government agencies. He said agricultural areas are withering, despite their importance. “We’re one of the largest industries in Colorado, and we don’t get any attention,” Blach said.

A lack of representation, along with social issues like the approval of new gun laws and civil unions, helped fueled secession talk. But many said they the real trouble is rooted in differences between country and city living. “The mud, manure, the flies, in a weird way, we like it,” said 18-year-old Drew Carlson. “It’s just a part of home.” Home for the Carlsons is a 120-acre farm in Atwood, just south of Sterling. Atwood has no skyscrapers, only rounded tops of corn silos and metal roofs of grain elevators break the skyline.

While the town is troubled by an occasional traffic jam, the clogs are caused by swine, not cars. “We take our pigs for a walk every morning,” said Drew, as she and her 6-year-old brother Beau ushered a herd of 250-pound hogs down a dirt road. The hogs were five times the size of Beau, but using only a flimsy pig whip, the boy directed the animals back to the family’s barn, where his 12-year-old brother, Cooper, concocted breakfast for dozens of animals. The Carlson children fed, watered, and walked their animals all before the sun had risen above the corn tassels in their farm fields.

At the Logan County fair, Jay Hill was watching two of his sons show their steers. Most days, he works with beef cattle ranchers, selling semen to help improve their herds. He said the early-to-rise tendencies common among country kids, may be foreign to city folk. Hill said there has always been a chasm between urban and rural worlds, but despite the differences, each lifestyle depends on the other. “Urban doesn’t know rural, and rural doesn’t know urban. Nobody wants to look beyond their own front gate,” Hill said. “But it takes both. The country lifestyle wouldn’t succeed without the urban — who would we feed?”

Kiki Turner: 303-954-1221, kturner@denverpost.com

By the numbers

Logan County

2012 population 22,631

2010 population 22,709

Percent change -0.3 percent

Median houshold income $42,324

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 15 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 5,286

Non-farm percentage change from 2010 -1.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,838. 55

People per square mile 12.4

Sedgwick County

2012 population 2,383

2010 population 2,379

Percent change 0.2 percent

Median household income $36,797

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 371

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -9.55 percent

Land area, in square miles 548.04

People per square mile 4.3

From The Denver Post (Matt Phillips):

Rolling east on Colorado 86, housing tracts give way to cattle and horse ranches outside Castle Rock. A few miles farther, crossing into Elbert County, the landscape steadily becomes more rural. In Elizabeth, Elbert County’s largest town, there isn’t much talk about the 51st state initiative — if any talk at all.

Larisa Coonce, 25, who works at a liquor store in town, said she hadn’t heard about the initiative. Coonce, though, said there is a disconnect between Elizabeth residents and urbanites in Denver. She said Elbert County residents take pride in being self-sufficient. “If we can’t make it, we don’t need it,” said Coonce, who also runs a baking business on the side called Reesa’s Pieces . The issue people are most vocal about, she said, is gun control.

Kiowa , the county seat, is 7miles east. It’s a quintessential, small American town. At Patty Ann’s Cafe smiling waitresses greet customers and everybody gets a one-of-a-kind coffee mug. Conversations about children, grandchildren and good food float across the cafe.

An August county commissioners’ meeting in Kiowa began with a prayer — “my heart is heavy with the many, many things that are wrong in our nation,” said a local pastor — and a hearty pledge of allegiance to the American flag.

Commissioner Robert Rowland said that the 51st state initiative could be on Elbert County’s November ballot. But commissioners haven’t made any decisions about that or any other ballot initiatives. The bigger issue is Elbert County’s lack of cash. “At some point we will have to increase revenues in this county,” Rowland said.

The oil and gas industry is poised to enter the region, according to residents, but there is dissension about how much — or how little — the industry should be regulated.

Rick Blotter, a retired teacher who owns 60 acres in the county, said giving drillers unregulated access would have a negative environmental and economic impact. The money that comes in, he said, would be concentrated in the hands of a few landowners and wouldn’t benefit the entire county. “What does that do to the cost of living in that community — it goes up,” he said.

Past Kiowa, the highway unravels across the rest of the county — a picturesque landscape of rolling plains dotted with livestock. The two-lane highway is pockmarked and weather-worn in places.

Neighboring Lincoln County , too, is absent overt support for the 51st state initiative. In Limon , the county’s most populous town, people had only heard about it through news outlets.

Brittin Keenan, 37, is a librarian at the Limon Memorial Library. She’s lived in the region for nine years and thinks Lincoln County, a large ranching region, is very conservative. But that doesn’t mean people want to form another state. “I haven’t heard of it (the initiative) here,” Keenan said. “The only reason I heard is I saw it on the news.”

Keenan said gun rights are an issue for many people in the county. She doesn’t vote along party lines herself, but she implied that many people do and it’s partially because of that issue.

Lincoln County administrator Roxie Devers said there are no plans for the county to throw its lot in with the 51st state initiative. “The commissioners have only had a handful of citizens approach them,” Devers said. “They’ll wait to see if it (the initiative) gets on the state ballot and people can vote on it that way.”

By the numbers

Lincoln County

2012 population 5,453

2010 population 5,467

Percent change -0.3 percent

Median household income $43,375

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 11.1 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,229

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 0.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,577.63

People per square mile 2.1

Elbert County

2012 population 23,383

2010 population 23,086

Percent change 1.3

Median household income $79,367

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 5.8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,933

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -3.8 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,850.85

People per square mile 12.5

From The Denver Post (Ally Marotti):

Children often lose track of summer days biking and playing in Cheyenne Wells, but parents aren’t worried if they’re not home by dusk. There are no “Children At Play” signs, no speed bumps in the streets — Cheyenne Wells just doesn’t need them. “Kids go out to play ’til the lights go dark,” said Sherrie Nestor, as she simultaneously watched over her three grandsons and volunteered at the Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Museum.

She pointed out people in historical pictures on the walls who still live in town, and consulted a 1972 phone book — change doesn’t come often in Cheyenne Wells.

No matter where you are in the largest town in Cheyenne County, you can see the other end of town. Strangers only come through in big rigs to pick up oil or crops and are soon on their way, leaving down one of the roads that quickly turns to a dirt ribbon winding across the vast prairie. “Out here, it’s a different economy. Whatever happens up there (in Denver) doesn’t happen here,” said Marilynn Jacobson, a reporter at the town’s weekly paper, The Range Ledger. “We try to remain independent. We like our freedom and we like open spaces. And we like to feel safe.”

The nearest grocery store is almost an hour away. The closest mall is in Colorado Springs.

“The only thing you got out here besides good people is tumbleweeds, fence posts and barbed wire,” said local contractor Danny Donnelly.

Most of the town’s 800 residents were born there, and if they do leave, they’re not gone long.

The town shut down one rainy day in August for a funeral. Even the afternoon coffee crowd at Nan’s Convenience and Liquor Store — a mix ranging from retired farmers to oil drillers — was sparse that day.

People know their neighbors in Cheyenne Wells. They know the town’s history, and it’s riddled with hard work.

Most are up before the sun to work in the oil fields or farm. Many go straight to the local bar after work, oil smeared from head to toe as a trophy of the day’s accomplishments.

But some feel Cheyenne County is forgotten among state lawmakers. “Rural life is not understood,” said Gerald Keefe, the city and county judge, former superintendent of the Kit Carson School District and a hospital board member.

New laws require the town’s 10-bed Keefe Memorial Hospital — named for Gerald’s father — to hire more nurses, which would exceed budget. Keefe is fighting to keep the hospital operational, as the next nearest facility is in Burlington, about 40 miles north. “It’s like we’re in an episode of ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ ” Keefe said, suggesting people in the city forget the small town exists. “We are really here.”

But 45 miles to the north, Interstate 70 slices through Kit Carson County, bringing visitors and business at a level unheard of in Cheyenne Wells.

Burlington, the county seat, has fast food, hotel chains and roadside attractions, including a 108-year-old carousel. The Colorado Junior Rodeo finals drew 120 contestants and their families to town Aug. 9-11, said CJR president Cade Spitz. But at its core, Burlington is a rural farming community. “I’ve lived here all my life,” said Darwin “Dog” Stolz as he repaired windows one afternoon. A coach nicknamed him Dog, and now that’s how he’s listed in the phone book.

Stolz said he loves small-town life, but most young people leave Burlington unless they help on family farms. “I told my kids, ‘I’m not a farmer, you’ve got to get out of here,’ ” said Stolz, whose two children live in Washington, D.C . “They’ll never come back. They got the night life there.”

Ally Marotti: 303-954-1223, amarotti@denverpost.com or twitter.com/AllyMarotti

By the numbers

Kit Carson County

2012 population 8,094

2010 population 8,270

Percent change -2.1 percent

Median household income $43,194

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 11.3 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,860

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -6.3 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,160.82

People per square mile 3.8

Cheyenne County

2012 population 1,874

2010 population 1,836

Percent change 2.1 percent

Median household income $47,188

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 929

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 9.7 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,778.28

People per square mile 1

From The Denver Post (Adrian D. Garcia):

Political thoughts are usually far from the minds of residents of Morgan and Washington counties. With children to rear and crops to raise, fighting to have rural needs better met in the statehouse is not typically at the top of most people’s to-do list.

Local elected officials will make the right decisions for the counties’ larger picture needs, said Dave Baugh as he sat eating a cheeseburger and fries at a tavern in Weldona, northwest of the Morgan County seat, Fort Morgan.

Leaders are considering changes to the way the region is represented in the state Senate and House, as well as, discussing secession from Colorado. “(Seceding) seems like a good idea but I have enough stuff to worry about,” Baugh said as farmers nearby joked and discussed when they were next going to cut and bail hay. The tavern had two beers on tap, Coors Light and Bud Light. “It hasn’t hit close enough to home yet.”

Baugh lives in Morgan County and drives to work at the oil and gas company DCP Midstream in Weld County. He said the bumps on Interstates 70 and 76 and Democratic led initiatives like SB 252 — that doubles the amount of renewable energy rural electric cooperatives must use to 20 percent by 2020 — haven’t yet dramatically altered his day-to-day life.

But the mood of Washington County ranchers Don and Linda Cullip got hot as they ate strawberry ice cream at Cornerstone Coffee in Akron. They said they are passionate about seceding from the state. Linda said that’s partly because legislators in Denver don’t take into account what consequences new regulations and laws have on a farm. “They don’t really care what we need out here,” she said. “The people in the city don’t have a clue what life is like in rural areas. They just think that their hamburgers just show up at McDonald’s and they don’t realize it comes from cattle like ours.”

Even though modern farming equipment is highly sophisticated and costs thousands of dollars, Don said, residents in metro areas view rural residents as dumb and behind the times.

Fort Morgan’s Lee Mills, 82, said there are few options for young adults in the area, even with businesses like the Great Western sugar factory, Cargill Meat Solutions and Leprino Foods Company.

About 665 20-somethings left Morgan County between 2000 and 2010. In the same period, nearly 245 people in their 20s left Washington County, according to data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

It’s hard to make a living wage and some have to “rely on food stamps especially if they have a family,” said Mills, who retired from concrete work in Denver and moved to Morgan County more than a decade ago.

Life is easier for the older people, he said. “You get your social security and pension check and live laid back.”

Adrian D. Garcia: 303-954-1729, agarcia@denverpost.com, Twitter/ adriandgarcia

By the numbers

Washington County

2012 population 4,766

2010 population 4,814

Percent change -1.0 percent

Median household income $43,945

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 2.19 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 488

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 2.5 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,518.03

People per square mile 1.9

Morgan County

2012 population 28,472

2010 population 28,159

Percent change 1.1 percent

Median household income $42,792

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 8,815

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 4.2 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,280.43

People per square mile 22

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

If it’s attention the northeastern Colorado counties threatening secession wanted, they’ve got it. Weld County officials irked by action during the Democrat-dominated legislative session recruited 10 other counties to the idea of leaving the state to form their own.

They said their interests were ill-represented by metro-centric lawmakers who ignored rural sensibilities when they voted for tighter gun laws and threatened the livelihood of farmers and ranchers with new renewable energy standards that may hike the cost of doing business. “They feel they have been ignored. That’s what this is all about,” said state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who is running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper. His district includes all or part of all 11 dissident counties. “People need to be heard.”

But as elected officials publicly debated formation of North Colorado, circulated petitions and surveyed citizens deciding to put question the fall ballot in eight counties so far, the message was received — loud and clear — in Hickenlooper’s office. “If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it’s destructive,” Hickenlooper said. “But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening.”

However, he said, the hurt being felt in rural counties is not due to background checks on gun sales, civil unions for gays or expanded renewable energy. “In fact, these are popular proposals across communities large and small,” Hickenlooper said. “The same is true of our efforts to protect water for agricultural issues, expand broadband into rural areas and promote tourism and economic diversity across the state.”

The notion of breaking up with Colorado has evolved into an almost heroic calling for some supporters. “I would argue that this is not radical, but is something that our framers envisioned,” said Jeffrey Hare, a Weld County man who founded the 51st State Initiative Facebook page, which has attracted more than 11,000 likes.

Critics, however, say the North Colorado proposal is short on detail and long on petulance. “I think some people in northern Colorado are frustrated that the party they are usually aligned with (the GOP) does not dominate the state legislature nor the governor’s office,” said long-time Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer. “It’s mostly about blowing off steam. A lot of sound and fury but not much else.”

If the secession effort is successful, there will be a lot of expensive infrastructure to purchase from the state of Colorado, including a prison system and maybe even a state university — which presumably would be the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. “There would be a whole host of things they would have to work through,” said said University of Colorado political science professor Kenneth Bickers.

But if the counties do depart, North Colorado would pack a mighty economic punch. The secessionist counties contain much of Colorado’s breadbasket and a good chunk of its oil and gas production. Four of the top five ag-producing counties in the state, at least in terms of dollar value, could be within North Colorado’s borders. Weld County alone is the top producer of grain, beef cattle, dairy product and sugar beets.

Weld is also home to more than 20,000 active oil and gas wells, the largest number of active wells of any county in the U.S. and producing 81 percent of the state’s oil and and 18 percent of Colorado’s natural gas. All that production helped contribute $1.6 billion to the state and local governments, school districts and special districts in 2012.

The new state could also become a philosophical nirvana to those now chafing within the confines of the Centennial State. They could frame new laws and policies that discourage gun control and abortion while encouraging more tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

The new state of North Colorado could even raise the speed limit if it wanted, Bickers said.

“There are a whole lot of things and policies that could be adopted that would likely be more in tune with the preferences of people living in those counties,” he said.

But the 51st state would lack political might as the least-populous state in the Union, with about 60 percent the population of Wyoming. And secession might not work out to break-even for the rogue counties — including Moffat, which this week said it will put a secession question on the ballot with the intention of joining Wyoming.

Together, the counties collected $106 million in state and other government funding in 2009, the last time the figures were tabulated by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Those same counties — whose main commerce depends on an adequate and certain supply of water — would probably find access to that resource even more difficult to come by, said state Rep. Dave Young, a Democrat, whose district includes Greeley. “We depend on water that comes from other places other than Weld County,” Young said. “How much is it going to cost us to get that water?”

From The Denver Post (Dana Coffield):

Can it happen? Voters in secessionist counties may signal they wish to proceed with creating a 51st state, but completing the process will take some serious political might and will. The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to admit new states to the union. However, new states may be formed from within the boundaries of another state or by joining two or more states or parts of states only with consent of the concerned state legislatures and Congress.

Prof. Richard Collins, a Constitutional law expert at the University of Colorado law school, said the last time a state consented to the loss of territory was when Maine split from Massachusetts in 1820 and slavery was at the heart of the conflict.

Colorado’s consent would come by a bill voted on by both chambers of the legislature, or by citizen initiative — akin to what happened in 1998 when voters OK’d a constitutional amendment to allow the city of Broomfield to secede from Adams, Weld, Boulder and Jefferson counties to form its own county. “You can speculate on the state politics that would generate, but any way you slice it, it is hard to imagine state consent,” Collins said.

Getting the blessing of the U.S. Congress presents its own political hurdles, chiefly changing the balance of party power with the addition of the two senators guaranteed all states by the U.S. Constitution. U.S. representatives are allocated based on population. Wyoming, with about 576,000 residents, has one. The 11 proposed North Colorado counties have about 375,000. “The problem in Congress would be opposition to giving a new state two senators certain to be conservative Republicans,” Collins said. “As we know, it is very easy to stop Congress from acting.”

From The Denver Post (Katharina Buchholz):

Greg Larson wants Gov. John Hickenlooper to think of him when he eats his popcorn. “We should get him some,” Larson said, “so he can think of us out here.” Larson, 40, farms 1,300 irrigated acres of feed corn, wheat, millet and popcorn in Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick and Yuma counties in Colorado’s northeastern corner. He doesn’t like that the rural renewable-energy bill, which mandates rural energy cooperatives to double their renewable energy use, will drive up his operating cost. But that doesn’t mean Larson supports secession from Colorado under the 51st state initiative, like some of his commissioners, who cite a recent tightening of energy and gun laws as reasons to attempt the split from Colorado. Surrounded by high corn stalks, Larson was checking one of his eight wells, where more than 800 gallons of water churn from the ground every minute. During the 4-month growing season, the wells run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

While there is no official estimate, David Churchwell of the Highline Electric Association, where Larson buys his power, said the increase could be significant. “It could cause someone to go out of business,” Churchwell said.

But Larson, whose home is in Logan County, is also the vice-president of the local Republican River Conservation District and knows that lawsuits about excessive water use have been brought against the state by Kansas in the past. “All the money, all the legal fees, the time engineers put into it, we would lose all that,” Larson said. “They would come after our little state.”

Steve Deaver, 52, supports secession. Deaver is the locksmith and gun dealer of Holyoke in Phillips County, a town with a population of about 2,300 located 13 miles from the Nebraska border. “The gun laws are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Deaver said while his four grandsons fooled around on his front porch. Deaver said the laws were unnecessary, but also acknowledged that sleepy Holyoke wasn’t a place that had to deal with problems of gun violence. “The lifestyle out on the plains is so different in all capacities from the metropolitan lifestyle,” he said.

Yuma County Commissioner Trent Bushner said his county put secession on the ballot after collecting 706 signatures, equalling about 15 percent of the county’s voters in the 2012 election. “We wanted to hear from our constituents to see if it stuck, and it did,” Bushner said.

In neighboring Phillips County, frustrations were obvious during a recent county commissioners meeting. “I’m just ashamed to say that I live in this state,” commissioner Joe Kinnie said.

County Administrator Randy Schafer would like to see every representative in the state House assigned to a Colorado county. The so-called Phillips Plan is similar to the system of representation in the U.S. Senate. “When we lost population, we also lost representation,” he said.

In Phillips County, efficient agriculture practices produce high yields with few farmers.

Larson said he has tripled his acreage in the last 16 years by renting land from neighbors who moved away. He said he will continue his farm — secession or not. “Farmers,” Larson said, “have learned how to deal with what’s put in front of them.”

By the numbers

Phillips County

2012 population 4,367

2010 population 4,442

Percent change -1.7 percent

Median household income $44.717

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 966

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 0.3 percent

Land area, in square miles 687.93

People per square mile 6.5

Yuma County

2012 population 10,119

2010 population 10,043

Percent change 0.8 percent

Median household income $44,991

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 2,556

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -2.8 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,364.41

People per square mile 4.2

More North Colorado Secession coverage here.

An introduction to Castle Rock’s new treatment plant

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From 9News.com (Will Ripley):

The town’s renewable water plant, which went online earlier this year, currently supplies 35 percent of the town’s water. It will eventually expand to meet 75 percent of the town’s demands. “We hope eventually to be able to treat 12 million gallons a day through this plant,” [Mark Marlowe] said.

While the thought of transforming treated toilet water to tap water may leave some with a bad taste in their mouth, Marlowe says high tech filters guarantee the water is clean and safe. In fact, he says most of today’s tap water is reused. Wastewater goes through a purification process before it is released downstream. “Everybody lives downstream of somebody,” Marlowe said.

The town expects its $22 million investment in the new plant, combined with a commitment to water conservation, will help the town save to up to $100 million over the next 20 years.

And perhaps more importantly, it’ll help conserve billions of gallons of our most precious resource.

More water treatment coverage here.

EPA: Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment Fifth Report to Congress

Click here to read the report.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo County is setting the stage for 1041 hearings

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It looks like Pueblo County is about to get back in court with Colorado Springs, this time over compliance with the 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System (which is largely complete in the county). Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Stormwater, revegetation, roads and other details of a county permit for the Southern Delivery System will be discussed at a public meeting next month. The Pueblo County commissioners want to hear comments from the public and discuss the progress of the project with Colorado Springs Utilities, leaving open the possibility of 1041 permit compliance hearings at a later date. “What we envision is a chance for Colorado Springs to respond to questions,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the commission. “We definitely want the ability for public participation.”

The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 20 in the commission meeting chambers at the Pueblo County Courthouse.

Commissioners Monday reviewed issues surrounding SDS that have surfaced in recent months. They include issues of revegetation on Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County.

Also at issue is a dispute over the interpretation of Colorado Springs stormwater data by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Colorado Last month, water attorney Peter Nichols told the Lower Ark board storm flows have worsened and water quality deteriorated, while stormwater funding decreased from 2009-12. Mark Pifher, SDS permitting manager, responded that there is no correlation between the demise of the stormwater enterprise in 2009 and water quality or volume of flows. He disputed the trends that Nichols found.

Commissioners plan to get more information from Nichols in advance of the Sept. 20 meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, commissioners also looked at the possibility of prepayment on interest from the $50 million Colorado Springs pledged for Fountain Creek flood control.

They also want to review the U.S. Geological Survey study that shows the effectiveness of dams throughout the Fountain Creek watershed.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Three Takes on Climate Change

Your Water Colorado Blog

What’s your side of the story and your political position? Last week, NPR’s All Things Considered featured two professional views on climate change– the ‘consensus view’ and the ‘uncertain’ side… different opinions on the same topic, preparing for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) release of their fifth consensus report. Read or listen to theses stories and share your thoughts, then take a moment to localize them. The Colorado Foundation for Water Education offers our Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Climate Change, web content on Colorado’s climate and a Climate Tour in early 2014 as resources to help you delve further into Colorado’s climate future.

From our website:

Climate change will bring huge impacts to Colorado’s water, which in turn will affect our way of life – the water we drink, the water for our crops and livestock, the water for our forests and wildlife, the water and snow…

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