Referendum 4A seeks more, better reservoirs
That will require money, and next month voters in Eagle and the 15 other Western slope counties that comprise the Colorado River Water Conservation District will decide whether to fund water supply improvements by increasing their property tax.
The cost for a home valued at $500,000 would be $11.50 per year, but how this and other pocketbook issues fare may depend on the overall health of the economy.
“Looking at the future we need to have solutions that can realistically increase our water supply. Even with a decent snow year, many reservoirs will not fill next year,” said Water Conservation District general manager Eric Kuhn. “New storage projects will take a long time to construct.”
The Water Conservation District is charged with developing and protecting water in the heavily diverted Colorado River basin. Last summer’s drought-strangled flows proved inadequate for many water users and created low streamflows that threatened the well-being of aquatic species and the rivers themselves.
The demand for water has created streams that have been reduced to a trickle or that have severely diminished flows. A two-mile stretch of the Colorado River below Shoshone Dam in Glenwood Canyon is de-watered because the river’s flow is piped through a hydropower plant.
Storing the excess flows generated by the spring snowmelt is widely seen as a solution to keeping rivers flowing in dry months.
Opposition to the water referendum has been sparse to non-existent. So far it has been difficult to find a group that opposes the measure. By the deadline for comments in the Legislative Council’s Ballot Information Book, no opposing statements had been filed.
If approved, the tax should raise $2.7 million. The tax would remain in effect for 20 years. The money would be used to leverage matching federal funds from the 2002 Farm Bill to:
– Reworking dams and reducing leaks in 78 reservoirs restricted now by safety concerns.
– Purchasing water controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation held in Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County and Reudi Reservoir in Pitkin County. Releases of water from these two reservoirs will increase available flows in the heavily diverted Gunnison, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers.
– Lining earthen irrigation ditches to prevent leaks and installing piping on others to reduce evaporation and improve river water quality and quantity.
– Build, or participate in building, several small reservoirs.
More serious was the inability this year of Summit County’s Green Mountain Reservoir to supply augmentation water to rejuvenate stream flows reduced by water use. Local users were nearly left high and dry when the Bureau of Reclamation decided Northern Water Conservancy users along the Front Range held a higher water right than Western Slope water users.
That situation on the Western Slope was resolved when the oil company, Exxon, agreed, under Water Conservation District urging, to release 5,500 acre-feet of water stored in Reudi Reservoir that it did not need.
Colorado’s water rights are like mining claims. The first person to claim it and secure legal rights to it can use the water. In the Eagle and Colorado rivers there are many more water rights than typically there is water to supply them, particularly in dry years.
The Water Conservation District intends to purchase 6,000 acre-feet from the Bureau of Reclamation that is stored in Reudi Reservoir and 4,000 acre-feet in Blue Mesa. An acre-foot is enough water for a family of four for a year and will cover a football field a foot deep.
Many of the projects will require matching grants from governments and water user organizations.
Two local creeks, Alkalai and Muddy Creeks, both in Wolcott, foul the Eagle River with sediment, particularly after precipitation or snowmelt. Kuhn said some sediment in the creeks could be reduced if the water referendum is approved by voters.
Water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents many Western Slope water users, feels the proposal is a a sound one.
“They do really good work. They are an important agency for the Western Slope,” he said. “You need an organization with clout and muscle to compete with the presence of Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.”
SHALL THE COLORADO RIVER WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT TAXES INCREASE $2,700,000 IN THE YEAR 2003 AND ANNUALLY THEREAFTER THROUGH THE YEAR 2022 IN SUCH AMOUNTS AS ARE RECEIVED EACH YEAR BY THE IMPOSITION OF AN ADDITIONAL PROPERTY TAX MILL LEVY NOT TO EXCEED TWENTY-FIVE HUNDREDTHS (0.25 OF A MILL UPON THE TAXABLE REAL PROPERTY AND PERSONAL PROPERTY WITHIN THE DISTRICT; THE REVENUES FROM WHICH SHALL BE DEPOSITED IN A SPECIAL FUND AND USED SOLELY FOR THE PURPOSES OF CAPITAL FUNDING OF WATER SUPPLY, WATER DEVELOPMENT AND WATER QUALITY PROJECTS OR PROGRAMS THROUGH THE DISTRICT; AND SHALL THE DISTRICT BE AUTHORIZED TO COLLECT AND SPEND OR RETAIN ALL SUCH REVENUES AND INTEREST EARNED THEREON, GENERATED AS A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE, NOT WITHSTANDING ANY REVENUE OR EXPENDITURE LIMITATION CONTAINED IN ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION OR IN C.R.S. 29-12-301?
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or firstname.lastname@example.org