Drought prompts river district to propose tax to boost supplies
The 15-county Colorado River Water Conservation District plans to ask voters to OK a 20-year property tax increase of 0.25 mill to raise $2.4 million a year to buy dry-year water supplies.The funds could be used to purchase water stored in federal reservoirs on the Western Slope, and could be used to build new projects for water supply or improved water quality.River District board members voted 14-0 Tuesday to move forward with the ballot question, which would come before voters Nov. 5.The added tax would double the River District’s current mill levy of 0.251. It would add $4.80 to the property tax bill on a $200,000 home or $36.25 to the property tax bill on a $500,000 commercial property.Revenues from the new tax would pay for capital investments, not for lawsuits, engineering studies, staff or operations, said River District manager Eric Kuhn.”This is the time to do it, because of the drought,” said Tom Stone, Eagle County’s River District board member. Stone said the ballot question campaign should clearly show how water projects in one area will benefit another.For example, purchasing unsold water in Ruedi Reservoir would benefit water users in Eagle County, he said.Tom Dunlop, Pitkin County’s River District board member, said the Pitkin commissioners oppose the tax increase because of the difficult economy.”This would be another tax burden on the people of Pitkin County, not that the causes are not more than worthy,” Dunlop said.Kuhn cited four projects the funds could be used for in the first few years of the tax:-Buy about 5,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir, beating steep yearly price increases. This could aid water users in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties.-Buy water stored in Blue Mesa Reservoir to offset uses by Gunnison and Saguache county users.-Provide a local match for a costly canal piping project in the Uncompahgre Valley to cut down on selenium and salinity picked up by water flowing through the canals.-Buy water in Elkhead Reservoir, just off the Yampa River, to augment flows for irrigators in Routt and Moffat counties.River District board members agreed the new tax should not be subject to Amendment No. 1 constraints, so revenues could rise with the district’s overall assessed value.At present, the 15-county district’s tax base is $9.4 billion, but it’s projected to grow to $12.8 billion by 2011, yielding $3.2 million a year.The River District is not hurting for money.It has $25 million in the bank earned through sales of water to Denver from its Wolford Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling. But that money is in the agency’s enterprise fund, and it’s earmarked for other projects that can be expected to yield a financial return.Capital projects such as those outlined by Kuhn won’t make any money for the River District, but would help water users in dry years and address thorny water quality problems.The River District takes in the Gunnison, Uncompahgre, Roaring Fork, Eagle, Colorado, White and Yampa river basins.
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