By JOHN FIELDER and GARY WOCKNER
If you live in the boundary of the Colorado River District, as nearly 400,000 Western Slope residents do, your ballot will include a question — “7A” — to double the property tax rate for the district. While we appreciate the work of the district, the property tax has serious flaws and must be voted down.
First, the ballot question, and uses of the money, are completely vague. No actual projects are identified in the question, resulting in a blank check given to the directors of the district. The money might go to enhance farm irrigation, or it might go to build more dams, or it might go to river restoration. Further, it might just pay more staff at the district’s headquarters. No one knows how the money will be spent.
Second, the district makes the case that its budget has been hit hard by the coronavirus economic lockdown.We certainly appreciate the district’s financial needs in these difficult times, but its circumstance is no different than almost all property taxpayers in the district. We’ve all had to tighten our belts due to the virus’ hit on the economy, but homeowners and businesses don’t get to ask for tax increases to make up for our budget losses, and neither should the district.
Third, the district has recently launched a public relations blitz about how it works to “keep water on the West Slope.” This is simply not true. Multiple dam and diversion projects, which will divert more Western Slope water to the Front Range, are supported by the district. Those projects include Denver Water’s and Northern Water’s new projects, the Moffat Collection System Project (10,000 acre-feet) and the Windy Gap Firming Project (30,000 acre-feet). In addition, the district recently failed to voice opposition against the Homestake III project on extraordinarily beautiful Homestake Creek in Eagle County, which would divert yet another 30,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water over to Colorado Springs and Aurora.
Fourth, the district has voiced support for a large new dam and diversion on the White River in Rio Blanco County — to further irrigate land and serve water for fracking in the county — as one of the projects this new tax money could fund. The district has also voiced support for more dams in Pitkin County (which caused Pitkin County commissioners to oppose 7A). While we understand that some residents on the Western Slope want more dams and diversions on the Western Slope, we simply do not support this antiquated technology. The Western Slope needs to learn to live within its current water budget, not further damming, draining, and destroying Western Slope rivers that are increasingly the drivers of the new recreation economy supporting western Colorado. The 2019 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan revealed that hunting, fishing, skiing, sightseeing, photography, tourism, etc. — all of which depend upon water in our rivers — contributes $62 billion to our Colorado economy and creates 511,000 jobs.
Finally, the Colorado River system is already stretched to the brink. In fact, at the exact same time that this tax proposal could fund new diversions of water on the Western Slope, the district and the state of Colorado are in heavy negotiations about sending more water downstream to try and save Lake Powell in Arizona. Climate change is real and has pushed the Colorado River system over the breaking point. We’re now in a 20-plus year drought that’s going to require that all of Colorado — including the Western Slope — use less water, not more.
Again, we appreciate the work of the Colorado River District, but “7A” is half-baked, vague, and fails to really protect Western Slope water or the rivers in western Colorado. Vote no on “7A” this year and encourage the district to refine its needs to better reflect protecting the Western Slope’s environment, rivers, and economy.
John Fielder is a nature photographer and Colorado River District resident in Summit County. Gary Wockner is the director of Save The Colorado, a nonprofit that works to protect the Colorado River.