From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
One of the fears when the state Legislature created the Interbasin Compact Committee and basin roundtables in 2005 was that the jaded “water buffaloes” would take over the process.
One of the hopes was that fresh, new voices would join in a conversation about how to deal with Colorado’s water problems.
One of those fresh new voices was Jay Winner, who had just six months under his belt as the general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which formed in 2002 to keep water from being siphoned off of farmland.
Somewhere along the line, Winner believes, he must have sprouted horns and hooves, taking on the shaggy countenance of a water buffalo himself.
Next month, Winner, now 58, will step down after 11 years of chairing the Arkansas Basin Roundtable needs assessment committee, the clearinghouse for water project funding through the Water Supply Reserve Account. He’ll also be leaving the IBCC after nine years this fall, hoping for fresh blood.
“We need new people,” Winner said. “It’s the only way you’ll create a change. You need new people with new ideas.”
Winner hasn’t done a bad job. The roundtable has secured $34.28 million with 76 grants and 15 loans since 2005, when the WSRA was created.
That’s roughly 15 percent of the state total for nine roundtables, so an above-average showing for the basin. All of those projects came through the needs assessment committee before gaining roundtable approval.
Most were massaged in the process to iron out wrinkles, and a few ideas never saw the light of day.
By the time the roundtable sees a project, the road to acceptance has been paved with adjustments and compromises.
Some projects that broke out of the committee without consensus led to ugly battles within roundtable meetings.
Winner broke onto the Arkansas Valley water scene in memorable ways, trying to apply a lifetime of management experience — he essentially ran a Kremmling gas station for its owners at the age of 13 and has been running things ever since — to a basin divided by water worries. The drought of 2002 had spawned the Lower Ark district and from the first day at its helm, Winner began ruffling feathers. Maybe even throwing rocks at cozy nests.
He sent a message to Congress in late 2004 that stopped a water storage bill which everyone else had assumed was a lock. He spoke before a congressional committee visiting Pueblo the next year to torpedo a different version of the Preferred Storage Options Plan. The Lower Ark district filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 that derailed yet another rollout of the PSOP plan.
He mixed it up with Aurora in 2009 to get some concessions about future withdrawals of water from the Arkansas River basin. And, as he likes to point out, the Lower Ark district is the only government entity in Pueblo County that hasn’t signed off on Colorado Springs stormwater projects.
That’s the Jay Winner that makes headlines most often.
When the roundtables formed, Winner jumped in as the chairman of the needs assessment committee, heading a loose collection of people with diverse interests from throughout the 22-county basin.
“When I got into it, no one else wanted to be chair,” Winner said. “As I worked on it, I began to see it was such a good opportunity to bring dollars into the basin.”
Winner doesn’t claim credit for thinking up the projects that the roundtable approved. In his familiar cryptic corporatespeak, he calls himself a “B-to-Y man.”
“A lot of people are A and Z people,” Winner said, stretching his hands to frame his point. “I provide the B, C, D and all the way to Y that you need to get the job done.
We (the Lower Ark district) pay people to write grants for projects. A lot of people know the problem, and the answer, but don’t know how to get from one to the other.”
Winner often pulls out little lessons like this in front of a room full of adults in a way that usually makes them feel like schoolchildren and even bristle. Despite that, Winner always makes them listen — and sometimes even agree with him.
One of his high points was a $275,000 grant from the CWCB that paired up with a $2.8 million loan to provide a water line to the Ordway Cattle Feeders, the largest agriculture- related business in Crowley County.
“That helped out the county so much,” Winner said.
On the other hand, he rejected a proposal by Pete and Nancy Moore for a gray-water line in Ordway because it had no local buy-in.
“They were nice people, but someone had to say no,” Winner said.
Oh yeah, and Pete Moore chaired the Lower Ark board, so was Winner’s boss at the time. Nancy Moore was the mayor of Ordway.
Another attempt was made to get funds that basically would have sent a girl to a beauty pageant, which was easier to reject.
“People ask for all sorts of things,” Winner said.
“Those that wouldn’t succeed, we kicked back.” Winner is stepping down at a time when he believes the criteria for grants will begin to tighten. Funds are more restricted following a state Supreme Court decision on mineral severance taxes that fund the WSRA. Projects also will need to line up with Colorado’s Water Plan and have multiple purposes and funding sources.
Winner said he plans to stay on the committee, but he’s running out of time and energy to continue leading the charge.
“I’ve got an RV trailer that I’ve used once,” said Winner, who plans to take his wife Lori, a Pueblo City Council member, on a vacation soon. “It’s time for someone younger to step in.”