As the Colorado River District looks to quickly put newly approved tax revenues to work on Western Slope projects, an implementation plan offers some examples of the kind of work it expects to pursue, though its spending plans aren’t set in stone.
Voters in the 15-county district overwhelmingly OK’d raising the district’s property tax rate to 0.5 mills, about double what it is now, with the latest unofficial results showing about 72 percent in favor and 28 percent opposed. The measure is projected to increase the district’s annual revenue by nearly $5 million next year and cost $1.90 per $100,000 in residential property value.
The district plans to use 14 percent of the new revenues to shore up its finances, funding existing staff positions and business expenses after financial difficulties in recent years. The rest is to be used to partner with others on projects focused on agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency.
District spokesman Jim Pokrandt said the district board will be discussing the project spending at a Dec. 3 meeting where it will be looking to revise its 2021 budget now that the tax has passed.
He said it’s too early to call out any specific project that might be funded at this point, as more analysis and board approval will be required. However, in its July resolution to put the tax measure on the ballot, the district board also adopted a fiscal implementation plan elaborating on how it intends to spend the funds. That plan included specific examples of possible projects the money could help pay for. The district didn’t commit to pursuing those specific projects should the tax pass, noting in its plan “uncertainties associated with most projects related to permitting, litigation, additional funding and other third party actions.” Rather, the projects are representative of the types of projects it intended to pursue, and also are ones that have been endorsed by basin roundtable organizations in the Colorado, Gunnison and Yampa/White/Green basins.
“Those projects listed in the plan are illustrative of the kind of work that we want to do, and indeed some of them could come to fruition in the next year or two,” Pokrandt said.
In the Colorado River Basin, the examples the district gave include rehabilitation of the Grand Valley Roller Dam, which was built in 1913 and is the point of diversion for several large senior irrigation rights in the Grand Valley, and maintaining flows secured by the senior Shoshone hydroelectric plant water right in Glenwood Canyon.
That plant is owned by Xcel Energy and is more than 100 years old, and questions about its longterm viability have the district and others looking for solutions for maintaining the plant’s nonconsumptive right, which is crucial to maintaining river flows through Glenwood Canyon and all the way to Grand Junction.
Among several possible projects in the Gunnison Basin are the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Westside Valley infrastructure improvement project, which would modernize and improve water diversion, delivery and other infrastructure; and the Paonia Reservoir and Fire Mountain Canal rehabilitation, which would involve implementing a sediment control system.
Among possible Yampa/White/Green river basin projects are addressing an algae problem on the White River, and assisting with efforts to build a possible new water storage project in the lower White River basin. The state is challenging a proposed White River reservoir project in water court, questioning the need for the amount of water the reservoir would supply, according to recent reporting by the nonprofit aspenjournalism.org website.
Pokrandt said that while it’s helpful to projects’ chances for them to be on the district’s implementation plan list, funding could go for things that aren’t listed, and that the district may not even know about now.
The district over time wants to use the funds equitably, both across district counties and across the broadly identified categories it has identified. In light of that, and given the cost of some of the projects that may be contemplated, the dollars it may be able to contribute as a percentage of a project’s cost will likely be fairly limited at times.
But the district hopes its ability to offer at least some funding will, as its plan states, “drive the initiation and completion of projects that are priorities for residents of the District by utilizing District funds as a catalyst for matching funds from state, federal and private foundation sources.
“Bringing these funds to the table will allow the West Slope to strongly influence the type, scope and timing of important water supply projects within our District,” the plan says. “The District is committed to coordinating and consulting local elected officials in any and all relevant counties prior to committing funds to any specific project or activity pursued by the District.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date of the December district board meeting.