Why is Proposition DD on the ballot now?
The US Supreme Court allowed each state to legalize sports betting in 2018. Since then, 10 states have passed measures adopting legalized sports betting. On Nov. 5, 2019, Colorado voters will decide on Proposition DD, a measure to: 1) authorize sports betting and 2) authorize a 10% tax on sports betting operations. If approved, Prop DD would allow sports betting for people age 21 and older located in Colorado beginning May 2020, in-person at existing casinos (in Black Hawk, Central City or Cripple Creek) and online through licensed operations contracted by casinos.
Of the revenue generated from sports betting, 93.7% (up to $27.2 million) would be used to help fund projects identified by Colorado’s Water Plan. The concept of using sports betting revenue to protect and conserve our water resources is designed after the successful model created 30 years ago by the Colorado Lottery, which uses proceeds to fund the Great Outdoors Colorado mission of protecting and enhancing the state’s outdoor public spaces.
So what is the Colorado Water Plan, and why are we looking for new ways to fund it?
In our arid state, water is the foundation of our economy, lifestyle, culture and environment. Colorado rivers provide clean, safe, reliable drinking water. They allow agriculture to thrive as an essential part of Colorado’s economy. The gold medal fishing, world class rafting and renowned wild scenery supported by our rivers is essential to Colorado’s culture, lifestyle and booming tourism and recreation industries.
The security of our most precious resource is at risk now more than ever before. Colorado’s economy, growth and natural beauty are all dependent on water. And that leaves us all vulnerable.
Drought is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. That big, hairy, pesky, 20-year-long drought that begs the question: “When is a drought not a drought, but rather aridification?” Air temperatures are expected to increase by 3.78 to 4.15 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050. The trend of warming temperatures leads to increased evaporation, higher water usage by thirsty crops and native plants, earlier melting of our snowpack, and drier soils that act as a sponge that soaks up the spring runoff before it can reach the river.
And while declining hydrology is expected to provide less water and more variability, Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050. Experts estimate that by 2050, the gap between our supply and our demand will be between 2.4 – 5.2 million acre-feet per year. To put that volume of water in perspective, that’s enough to put the entire Roaring Fork Valley watershed, from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the confluence with the Colorado River, under 2.6 to 5.6 feet of water.
So how can we possibly make up that large of a gap? How do we balance the needs of Colorado’s diverse water users? The Colorado Water Plan.
In 2013, recognizing this threat, Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s first water plan with the help of nine basin roundtables, citizen input and stakeholder engagement across the state. The Colorado Water Plan describes itself as “a roadmap that leads to a productive economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment, and a robust recreation industry.” It is a bipartisan issue, backed by farmers and ranchers, environmentalists, the recreation industry, big cities and small rural water providers.
The Colorado Water Plan outlined specific solutions, including: supporting farmers and ranchers to consider more efficient irrigation methodology, exploring alternative low water crops, lining and piping ditches and canals to reduce water lost to seepage, and building more small-scale water storage projects. On the municipal side, solutions include implementing municipal water conservation plans that support best management practices like tiered water rates, leak detection programs, water conscious land use practices, and plans for reducing outdoor irrigation.
These solutions aren’t free. Loans and grants are an essential part of making the Colorado Water Plan’s solutions feasible for Colorado water users. Funding is one of the Water Plan’s largest hurdles, and that’s where Prop DD comes in. While other funding sources will be needed to achieve all the Water Plan’s goals, Prop DD is an important piece of that puzzle.
Bailey Leppek serves on the Outreach and Education Committee for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. The Watershed Council works to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the middle Colorado River watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders: anyone standing in the watershed. To learn more about the MCWC, visit https://www.midcowatershed.org. You can also find the Council on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/midcowatershed.
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