Peak & Prairie
February / March 1998
by Sandra Eid, Legislative Coordinator
Possible $ for Some Endangered Species
If you have difficulty believing that our state legislature can be convinced to support endangered species conservation, you may have even more difficulty believing that one committee--the interim Water and Land Resource Issues Committee--has already cast a unanimous vote for such a proposal.
On October 23, 1997, the twelve-member committee endorsed a draft bill which "recognizes a responsibility on the part of the state associated with the conservation of native species", and establishes a trust fund for programs designed to promote such conservation. Since only the interest from the fund (not the capital) is envisioned to be used, the fund itself will have to be substantial. Testimony during a committee hearing suggested a sum of $60 million.
When you learn who developed this proposal and who brought it to the legislature for consideration, you may again be struck by disbelief--but only for a short time. The environmental community played no part in this plan for a species conservation trust fund. This proposal is the work of the Colorado Water Congress representing the water development community throughout the state.
It takes only a few minutes of reflection to realize that the water developers--seeking permit renewals for existing facilities on federal lands and new permits for new projects--have a great deal to fear from the Endangered Species Act. This proposal is their effort to conserve species currently listed as endangered or threatened, and to prevent the listing of additional species that might interfere with water development plans.
As a headwaters state, Colorado is already involved in a number of cooperative agreements which place conditions on the use of our rivers. The most recent of these is the agreement between Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the U.S. Department of the Interior to protect endangered species in the Central Platte River Valley in Nebraska. In order to meet its obligations under this agreement, Colorado must contribute $15 million over the next fifteen years--$10.8 million in cash and $4.2 million in water from the Tamarack water regulation project (near Crook). In addition, our state must mitigate the effects of future development by creating additional water regulation projects that shift river flows to summer months.
Since 1987, Colorado has been party to a Recovery Implementation Program for the Endangered Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River. Since 1992, we have been involved in a similar program for the San Juan River. It is not unreasonable to expect that future programs may address endangered species in the Rio Grande, the Arkansas, and the other rivers flowing out of our state. There will, undoubtedly, be considerable demand for the money in a species conservation trust fund. Of course, no mention has been made of endangered species not closely tied to riparian corridors, and this trust will have to compete for its funding with the other needs of Colorado--schools, highways, and prisons.
As of this writing, the General Assembly has not convened and the bill described above has not been officially introduced. If you are interested in following its progress, you are urged to subscribe to the Chapter Legislative Update. You may also access the General Assembly Homepage at http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/stateleg.html
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