Topeka — Colorado paid a $34.7 million debt to Kansas on Friday for taking too much water out of the Arkansas River, but some issues in the a 21-year-old dispute remain unresolved.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens signed a measure authorizing the payment Thursday, hours after the Legislature approved it, and the money was wired to Kansas Friday morning, Colorado Deputy Atty. Gen. Jason Dunn said.
Dunn said the states were still negotiating two issues: how much Colorado owes Kansas for legal costs, and what type of measurements will be used in the future to determine each state's share of the river.
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.
"All in all, we're very, very pleased with this development," Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said Friday. "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."
Under a 1996 Kansas law, the money will first go toward paying the state's legal costs. Any leftover funds would go to water conservation projects.
Kline said he 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 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 more important than the money was winning a 15 percent increase in the flow of water into Kansas.
"The money's important, but it's about the water," Kline said.
Kline he and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers continue to negotiate over technical issues about how water use in Colorado is monitored and how future disputes will be settled.