Referendum 4A is an proposal on the November ballot to fund water supplies, water efficiency projects and water quality projects across the West Slope. It is needed for situations in which local interests are unable to pay the substantial costs for these projects.
This funding is proposed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, a regional government entity which has been responsible since 1937 for the protection and development of West Slope water supplies. The river district has a rich history of preserving water in West Slope streams. As a former eight-year river district employee, I am personally aware of the role which the river district plays concerning the water interests of West Slope citizens in the Colorado, Gunnison, Uncompahgre, Yampa, and White rivers and their many tributaries.
Whether you raft, fish, irrigate, or simply enjoy the sight and sound of our streams, you are affected by the river district’s efforts, and you would benefit from the projects that it could accomplish with additional funds. The river district protects existing and future water uses and has been a major force in the success of the current Recovery Program for the endangered fish species in the Colorado River.
The river district’s funding proposal is the first in its history. And the amount of the proposed funding is small. It would cost the owner of a home valued at $200,000 an additional $4.60 per year. Because the river district collects taxes across a 15-county area, its small mill levy produces an adequate amount of funding for the agency. Referendum 4A would raise approximately $2,700,000 per year for a 20-year period. Then it will expire.
The river district has performed a vital function for the West Slope during the current drought. The District’s board and staff acted promptly through the spring and summer and developed and negotiated creative solutions to provide alternative water supplies for West Slope users dependent upon federal reservoirs that are subject to drought shortages. They also found ways to reduce the diversion requirements of senior water users that could have limited the water supplies of upstream communities.
Changing realities require more certain water supplies, improved water system efficiencies, and protection of water quality. That is the only purpose for the funding, as limited by the ballot language. The funds will NOT be used for general administrative expenses, staff salaries, or litigation. They will be legally committed to acquiring and developing “wet” water supplies, increasing efficiencies, and preserving and enhancing water quality.
The river district’s directors – appointed volunteers – are dedicated public officials who historically have been reluctant to increase spending. The fact that the board has advanced this proposal means that they have carefully assessed the need for these projects.
The West Slope does not have to wait on the front-range-dominated State Legislature to fund the water projects that we need. We can take the matter into our own hands by approving Referendum 4A. We do not need the massive dam-and-tunnel projects for which some front-range interests continue to clamor. We need smaller, targeted projects, like rehabilitation of existing reservoirs and contracts for additional water from existing reservoirs to solve problems that have been exposed or magnified by the recent drought. Referendum 4A will allow the West Slope to begin that important work.
David C. Hallford is attorney for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
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