County turns thumbs up on water tax |

County turns thumbs up on water tax

Cliff Thompson

With last summer’s drought apparently fresh on their minds, Eagle County voters narrowly approved the water tax designed to increase water supply in the Colorado River District, according to unofficial results.

The measure was especially timely and poignant after a summer that saw water restrictions enacted virtually countywide. Eagle County voters approved the measure 3,842 to 3,107.

But the results of the other 14 counties in the 15 county district were not available at deadline. Heavy voter turnout in some counties has slowed vote counting.

If approved districtwide, the tax is expected to raise $2.7 million annually. That money will be used as matching funding to secure federal grants from the 2002 Farm Bill to improve and expand existing reservoirs and irrigation ditches and even build more.

In the mind of voter Don Cohen of Edwards, it was a simple issue: “I voted for it.”

But for Pat McDonald, also of Edwards, it wasn’t that clear-cut.

“It’s not an easy issue,” he said. “I’m against it because we’re about maxed-out on taxes. The purpose is good, but that’s not the way to do it.”

Rick Pirog of Edwards may have summed up the feelings of many when he said, “Coming off the year we’ve had, it’s difficult to say no.”

The summer’s drought was caused by an unusually rapid melt-off of the mountain snowpack and far drier-than-normal conditions. Area streams reached 25 percent or less of normal flows until heavy September rains and late October snowstorms helped replenish them.

The tax would add $2.20 per $100,000 of residential assessed valuation to members of the Colorado River District.

In addition to on-the ground improvements, the money would also be used to purchase additional stored water in facilities like Reudi Reservoir in Eagle County and Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County, for release when streamflows are low.

Colorado’s water laws are like mining claims. The first to claim has the right to use water. The situation has many streams facing potential dewatering, as there are more claims than streams can satisfy during drought years.

But most of the state’s water is generated by snowmelt that at peak in early summer provides more water than can be used. The solution to keeping the rivers flowing in low flow months is to build and enhance reservoirs to capture some of that excess for later release.

The tax would be in effect for 20 years.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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