Topeka Colorado has agreed to pay a $34.7 million debt to Kansas for taking too much water out of the Arkansas River, settling a 21-year-old dispute.
"All in all, we're very, very pleased with this development," Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said during a news conference today. "It is a victory for the state of Kansas. It is a victory for those who have suffered an inappropriate depletion of water as it flows through the state of Kansas, and it will benefits all Kansans."
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens signed a measure authorizing the payment Thursday, hours after the Legislature approved it.
Kansas sued Colorado in 1984, charging that Colorado farmers had taken too much water out of the river in violation of their water compact. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kansas in 1995, but a decision on damages wasn't made until last year.
Kansas had sought $53 million, including interest dating to 1950. The Supreme Court ruled the debt should be $29 million, the amount recommended by a special master.
Interest on the debt, amounting to about $5,000 a day, increased the total to $34.7 million.
Under a 1996 Kansas law, the funds will first go toward paying the state's litigation costs. Any leftover funds would go to water conservation projects, two-thirds in southwest Kansas, the rest throughout the state.
Kline said his office doesn't know yet how much money will be left over but, "There will be millions of dollars available for water conservation projects."
Colorado will pay the debt using oil and gas tax revenue that would normally fund grants to local communities. That troubled some lawmakers.
"I understand that this needs to be paid and I support that. I don't like where they got the money to pay for this," said Rep. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, one of 16 Colorado House legislators who voted against the bill.
The Arkansas, a tributary of the Mississippi River, flows 1,450 miles east and southeast through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Kansas and Colorado have fought over the river's water for more than a century and first took their case to the Supreme Court in 1902.
Kline said Kansas' important victory was gaining a 15 percent increase in the flow of water into the state.
"The economic base of southwest Kansas is vitally dependent upon water," Kline said. "The money's important, but it's about the water."
Kline said his office and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers' office continue to negotiate over technical issues concerning how water use in Colorado is monitored and how disputes between the two states will be settled in the future.
On the Net:
Kansas attorney general: http://www.ksag.org
Colorado attorney general: http://www.ago.state.co.us