As state’s well runs dry, locals dig deep
Post Independent Staff
Colorado’s budget shortage cost Beth Brock $760 this week.
Brock motored down to Rifle Monday morning, thinking she would pay $60 each for the two new water well permits she needed. When Brock arrived at the West Divide Water Conservancy District office to ask about the permits, a clerk told her the well permits now cost $440 each.
“I was dumbfounded,” said Brock, who lives on Taugenbaugh Mesa south of Rifle. “I hadn’t heard they were going up. If I knew, I’d have gotten in there to get them.”
In Senate Bill 181, the Colorado General Assembly increased new well permit fees to $440, due to on-going budget shortages. The bill was introduced in the current legislative session, and Gov. Bill Owens signed the law into effect on March 5.
In the past, the state’s general fund subsidized the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ groundwater department, which issues well permits and regulates related activities, said division director Hal Simpson.
Simpson said of the previous $60 fee for a well permit, $25 went to the state’s general fund, and $35 went to the division’s groundwater department.
Now, $25 from the permit fee will go to the general fund, but the remaining amount, $415, will go to the groundwater department. Simpson said the groundwater department’s $3.4 million budget will now be completely funded by well permit fees.
“It seemed like the people benefiting from the permits should pay,” Simpson said.
Colorado has required well permits since 1965, Simpson said. Permits and a state review process are necessary, for example, to prevent water wells from being drilled too close to septic systems.
“There are several levels of review,” said Marta Ahrens, spokeswoman for the Division of Water Resources. “It can be quite time consuming.”
The Colorado General Assembly is looking for ways to find $870 million in budget cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Simpson said the budget shortage is caused by shortfalls in income tax and sales tax collections, and the TABOR Amendment and Amendment 23.
The TABOR Amendment was passed in 1992, and requires voter approval of tax hikes. It also restricts the amount of revenues Colorado can keep, and caps spending. Amendment 23, passed in 2000, forces the legislature to increase spending on public schools annually by 1 percent more than inflation.
Simpson said the General Assembly discussed whether to cut the Division of Water Resource’s budget by 10 percent rather than hiking well permit fees.
“But in the long run they decided it was better to increase the fees,” he said.
Up on Taugenbaugh Mesa, Beth Brock said she will drill wells on a pair of building sites she plans to sell. She said her brother also has land in the Rifle area and will need to buy well permits.
“This just makes selling land more expensive,” Brock said.
Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534
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