Neubecker column: Yes on River District ballot question 7A, to support important river protections
This November, the Colorado River Water Conservation District (River District) will ask voters to approve ballot question 7A, a mill levy increase supporting their important and growing responsibilities. They provide a vital service in protecting the water and rivers for all of us on Colorado’s Western Slope and deserve our support.
The River District and the area it covers has changed considerably over the past few years and continues to evolve. So has the ever-widening and diverse array of problems and issues facing water supply and rivers on Colorado’s West Slope.
Today’s River District is not the River District of the past. The focus on agriculture is shifting. Agriculture will always remain a critically important part of the River District’s mission, but as economies and demographics of the West Slope change, so has their mission. The focus on water for communities, recreation, changing economies, and healthy rivers has increased tremendously.
The River District has been a vital player for all of us on the West Slope in working to solve Colorado’s increasingly complex and urgent water issues.
The River District was instrumental in developing the recently approved Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group Management Plan. This plan aims to protect flows in the Upper Colorado River to benefit recreational float boating and the gold medal fishery this reach of river supports. The River District has been a constant and valuable voice in this process over the past 12 years.
The River District has also just inked an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board that takes water from Ruedi Reservoir to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan River. This is the result of a request from the Roaring Fork Conservancy to help protect the world class fishery below the reservoir from anchor ice, which can be devastating to both fish and the insects they eat.
Both of these examples show how the River District has evolved to meet the needs of all its constituents, especially here in the headwaters.
American Rivers has worked with the River District and other organizations, including conservation NGO’s, water providers, and the agricultural community for more than a year to develop the Fiscal Implementation Plan. If 7A passes, about $4.2 million will go to partnership projects equitably throughout the District that support water quality and supplies, productive agriculture, conservation and efficiency, infrastructure, and healthy rivers.
While American Rivers does not support all of the measures that this initiative might fund, we do support 85% of them, and we support the measure as a whole.
The ballot measure and implementation plan will also create more accountability to member counties, environmental issues, and the non-agricultural constituents who provide the majority of the River District’s funding. Some claim that the so-called “un-elected” District Board is unaccountable. This simply is not true. More than half the board members currently serve or have served in elected office, including current county commissioners. All board members are appointed by elected officials in their respective counties and are responsible to them.
Another false claim is that this mill levy increase would be a burden during this time of pandemic and a down economy, that a 100% increase would be too great. The reality is that a 100% increase of something that’s pretty small is still pretty small.
Currently, people who live within the River District’s boundaries pay one quarter of a mill on their property tax bill. The request is to increase that mill levy by another quarter mill, increasing the levy by $1.90 per $100K of actual value.
I live in eastern Garfield County where my assessed values are slightly above the county median. For me, that assessment last year was about $6. If the measure passes, that assessment will go up to just over $12. That’s less than what I’d pay for a six pack of good beer. The River District is worth far more than a six pack to me, and to all of us.
I urge everyone who lives within the River District boundaries to support 7A. We need to make sure that the River District remains a strong, effective, and vital force for water and rivers on Colorado’s West Slope.
Ken Neubecker of Glenwood Springs is the Colorado Project Director for the national waterway resources advocacy group American Rivers.
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