THE BLOG
06/21/2010 12:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Ken Salazar Trying to Soak Colorado Springs?

Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Page Editor Wayne Laugesen must be a very alert reader. One would have to be in order to pick out this paragraph, buried near the end of a long Pueblo Chieftain article, for special attention:

Collins explained that federal laws give Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar broad concessions to set rates, and did not attempt to argue the basis with the Colorado Springs team.

The passage jumped out at me, too, because it at least hinted, if not strongly suggested, that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had some direct involvement in the exorbitant, some might say extortive, rates the Bureau of Reclamation wants to charge Colorado Springs for storing water in Pueblo Reservoir, which is part of a water project this city bankrolls. I appreciate Laugesen's effort to drill a little deeper (so to speak) into this potentially-troubling question.

Having a Coloradan as interior secretary should be a help, not a hindrance, to the folks back home. If Salazar is trying to soak Colorado Springs for using the reservoir, while other users, like Pueblo, enjoy discount rates, we need to know about it. Salazar's muppet denies the secretary is so intimately involved in such decisions, and denies, as well, that Salazar has any anti-Colorado Springs bias . . .

"The secretary has had no involvement in the development of the rate proposal," Interior spokesman Daniel DuBray wrote in an e-mail. "The Secretary has delegated this authority to the Bureau of Reclamation. The federal negotiating team, led by Mr. Michael Collins of the Bureau of Reclamation, developed the proposed rates for storage, conveyance, and exchange of non-federal water within the federally-owned facilities of the US Bureau of Reclamation's Fryingpan-Arkansas Project."

DuBray denied that his boss sides with Pueblo to spite Colorado Springs.

"It has been Secretary Salazar, more than any other elected or public official in recent memory, who has tried over the years to bring Pueblo and Colorado Springs together to work cooperatively on water issues," DuBray wrote.

... but I find it extremely hard to believe that the bureau is making such significant decisions in the secretary's home state without implicit or explicit approval from Salazar. And the fact is that Salazar sometimes has been a divider, not a uniter, in the Pueblo-Colorado Springs water feud. As senator, Salazar did seem to walk a middle ground, at least publicly. But before that, while serving as attorney general, he played a much more divisive role. It was AG Salazar who urged Pueblo County and other SDS obstructionists down south to use so-called 1041 regulations to delay or derail our Southern Delivery System project. And Pueblo County made the most of such advice.

Obstructionists have used this and whatever other levers they have to shake down Colorado Springs for various "concessions" (it's Colorado Springs' water, for instance, that helps keep a kayaking course in downtown Pueblo frothy), driving up the price tag on an already-costly project. So this would be the latest, but perhaps most outrageous, of numerous shakedowns Colorado Springs has endured while simply trying to run a pipe north from Pueblo Reservoir. We have tried to be good neighbors. But some of our "neighbors," in Pueblo and points south, aren't content to borrow a cup of sugar, but seem to want a pound of flesh. At some point, we need to say "enough."

That's all water over the dam, perhaps, but it's important to remember that Ken Salazar and his brother, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, have always been more closely aligned with Democrat-leaning Pueblo than with Republican-voting Colorado Springs. The anti-Springs bias of brother John (who serves on the House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which puts him in a strong position to influence bureau decisions) is overt. But Ken, when he was senator, needed to appear more even-handed.

Michael Collins could have said that federal law gives the bureau broad latitude to set such rates, but he specifically used Salazar's name, which raises suspicions that the interior secretary is more deeply involved than his muppet lets on. That suspicion grows when the bureau can offer no clear and coherent explanation for how it determined that this city should pay $50 per acre foot of stored water, when Pueblo pays about $22 per acre foot. The missing methodology makes the charge appear arbitrary and capricious -- almost as if the number were pulled from a hat, by someone very high up the federal food chain.

This particular food chain, if you follow it to the top, leads to Ken Salazar.