Colorado officials mystified by Brownback’s letter on water deal

After years of negotiations, Colorado officials have agreed to drain a reservoir and send the water to Kansas in order to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a long-running dispute.

But as the plan was unfolding, Gov. Sam Brownback indicated he had problems with it.

In a recent letter to a Colorado resident, Brownback said the Bonny Reservoir in Yuma County, Colo., which abuts the border of northwest Kansas, is a valuable recreational area for many residents in surrounding communities. He added in the letter to Audrey Hase, who is trying to save the reservoir from being drained, “Because Colorado is a party to this compact, it is named in the lawsuit, but Kansas seeks no relief against Colorado at this time.”

The statement caused alarms to go off in Colorado.

Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolf said Brownback was off base.

“I’m not sure what the basis for that statement is,” Wolf said Monday. “We do know that it is wrong,” he said.

The release of water from Bonny Reservoir is necessary for Colorado to make up a water debt it owes Kansas and comply with the 2003 settlement of the 1942 Republican River Compact between Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, Wolf said.

“We are taking steps to completely drain the reservoir,” he said.

And, he said, the release benefits Kansas.

Wolf said he spoke with Kansas water officials to make sure Brownback wasn’t signaling a change of plans. He said they told him the plan hasn’t changed.

Brownback’s office maintained that draining Bonny Reservoir isn’t part of the compact negotiations. Wolf, however, maintains it is the only plausible way to fulfill the compact.

“It was the best of our worst options,” he said.

Colorado will start draining Bonny Reservoir after Labor Day.