DENVER - A plan to buy water in the Animas-La Plata project won support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board on
The idea pushed by Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, now needs approval from the Legislature.
The 10,460 acre-feet of water at stake is more than enough to cover any city water shortages predicted for Southwest
Colorado in the next 20 years.
Whitehead had pushed for the $36 million deal in his previous job as a CWCB board member, but the state never had
Now, it appears that the stars have aligned, and this may be possible," Whitehead said.
The latest predictions of natural gas and oil tax money - which funds water projects - shows the potential for up to
$40 million next year to refill the nearly empty savings accounts for water.
The state always has had the option to buy water in the new reservoir southwest of Durango, but the window of
opportunity to complete the sale probably will close next year, after the reservoir is full.
If the state does not buy the water, it would go to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian tribes, which already
own 33,050 acre-feet each.
There is great support in the Southwest Colorado basin for the state's involvement in this," said April Montgomery,who represents the area on the water board.
The board voted 7-0 to support the concept, but it would have to vote again later this year to complete the sale.
Colorado could use the water to help hold off an interstate water war. If the four states in the Upper Colorado River
Basin have to send water downstream to fulfill the Colorado River Compact, this state could use its share of Animas-La
Plata water to keep downstream states satisfied, according to a water board memo.
If the state buys into Animas-La Plata, it would get a vote on the seven-member board that will operate the
The Southern Ute tribe supports more state involvement in Animas-La Plata, said Scott McElroy, a lawyer for the tribe,during Monday's water board meeting.
However, if the state does not make the multimillion-dollar purchase, the Ute tribes would get the water for no cost.
In that case, the tribes might be willing to sell the water to districts in Southwest Colorado, McElroy said.
Congress requires the water to be used by cities and industry, not farmers.
Under the plan Whitehead proposes, Colorado would buy the water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which built the
dam.The cost originally was
$28 million, but because the state waited so many years to buy, the federal government will add interest charges of
$6.7 million, according to the CWCB memo.
If the Legislature approves, the water board could choose to spend up to $12 million for three consecutive years to buy
some or all of the 10,460 acre-feet in the reservoir.
Gov. Bill Ritter and his Department of Natural Resources back the idea, said Jim Martin, the department's head.
The plan will be offered as an amendment to House Bill 1250, a bill that funds water projects around the state. The
Senate Agriculture Committee has not scheduled a hearing for the bill yet.