Water administration fees to take a hike
compensate for shortfalls in the state budget. Pictured above is water spilling from Breckenridge’s water supply at Goose Pasture Tarn in Blue River. |Summit Daily/Reid Williams| |
SUMMIT COUNTY – New water administration fees ranging from $10 to $250 will be assessed to water rights owners under Senate Bill 278, which was approved by the Legislature last session.
The bill requires owners of absolute water rights adjudicated for direct flow of at least 1 cubic feet per second (cfs) and storage of at least 100 acre-feet to pay an annual water administration fee. An acre-foot of water is 325,826 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land to the depth of one foot.
According to State Engineer Hal Simpson, the legislation requires him to create administrative rules to govern the process of collecting and assessing fees.
The new fees will go into effect Jan. 30, 2004, and will be repealed July 1, 2005, unless the Legislature votes to extend them.
“We know this isn’t something that water rights owners are thrilled about and have legitimate concerns,” Simpson said. “However, the state’s budget was in such a crisis that the legislature had to look for alternative means to provide certain services.”
In the past, state engineer activities were funded from the state’s general fund.
Money generated from the fees will be spent to offset costs associated with the administration of decreed water rights. They will decrease the general fund appropriation to the state engineer.
It will affect municipalities, but to what extent has yet to be determined, said Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen. Waste water treatment plants will bear more of the cost as they use more of the state engineer’s services and permit costs are higher.
Ultimately, municipal water and sanitation districts will have to pass those expenses on to users. Water users in Breckenridge might see hikes in their bills in the upcoming years anyway as town officials strive to obtain more water rights and facilities in which to store it.
“Nobody likes that cost passed on to them especially when we’re already wrestling with tough budgets,” Gagen said of the hike in fees. “And with us on our water storage quest, any project will need us to look at our rates anyway. That’s a big-ticket item.”
Currently, town officials and consultants are looking for viable locations to store water. The most obvious location is on the McCain Placer parcel that the town recently acquired on its north end. Amenities town officials are considering there include an extension of the kayak park, river channel improvements, a bike path and picnic areas.
Those things cost money.
Last year, the town created a tiered structure that charged people who used more water to pay more. Breckenridge residential water customers currently pay between $23.05 and $34.56 every two months for up to 12,000 gallons of water.
Additional charges are assessed to households that use more than that. Sanitation district fees start at $19 and increase based on the number of bathrooms in each house.
“Our tiered structure is OK,” Gagen said of the relation between the cost of water and water use. “The question is, “Is the amount OK? Did we move it far enough?’ If rates are more realistic, people are more judicious in water conservation.”
Water use in Breckenridge was down this summer, but it’s difficult to tell how much of that was affected by the wet summer.
Silverthorne water customers pay a quarterly base rate of $40.02 plus $1.98 for every 1,000 gallons used. Sewer customers pay $87.66.
Simpson will hold a series of meetings throughout the state including one from 9-11:30 a.m. Nov. 14 at the North Branch of the Summit County Library in Silverthorne.
He also will submit a report to the General Assembly in December identifying the amount of fees collected and how they will be spent, who will benefit from the water administration’s activities, alternate funding options and more cost-effective approaches to water administration.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at
(970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or
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