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Archive for Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Damages dispute may send water case back to court

January 17, 2001

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— A long-running water dispute between Colorado and Kansas could be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court because the two sides continue to disagree on a financial settlement.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that Colorado depleted Kansas' water entitlement under the Arkansas River Compact, and a special master assigned to the case recommended Colorado pay $38 million in damages.

Based upon the water's value since the compact began in 1950, lawyers for Colorado argued that damages should be closer to $9 million, while Kansas countered with a figure of about $64 million.

"We expect that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule sometime within a year, probably in the next six months, on how much Colorado owes Kansas in damages," Colorado Atty. Gen. Ken Salazar said. "We expect it to be less than the special master's recommended $38 million."

Salazar met privately Monday with members of the Joint Budget Committee to discuss the status of the case and the state's likely financial exposure.

"How ultimately the court will rule is anybody's guess," he said. "We feel Colorado has a strong case for less than $38 million."

California water lawyer Arthur Littleworth, the special master assigned to the case, recommended $38 million by calculating prejudgment interest back to 1969. He said Colorado either knew or should have known that excess well-pumping on its side of the state line was depleting flow into Kansas.

Colorado disputes that it knew of the depletion before Kansas filed the lawsuit in 1985.

In addition, Kansas contends Colorado remains out of compliance with the compact.

Colorado claims it has been in compliance since the mid-1990s, when State Engineer Hal Simpson adopted new rules requiring meters and other limits on Lower Arkansas Valley irrigation wells.

"To achieve a settlement on the Arkansas River Compact, to me, requires a global solution," Salazar said. "All the issues have to be resolved as a package."

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