Water board to ask voters for .25 mill levy hike | SummitDaily.com

Water board to ask voters for .25 mill levy hike

Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – Voters in 15 West Slope counties – including Summit County – will be asked in November to approve a .25 mill levy increase to raise money for water projects on the Western Slope.

If voters approve the mill levy hike, homeowners will pay an additional $2.30 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation of their home; the tax increase would remain in effect for 20 years. The measure would raise $2.5 million each year.

The river district serves 15 Western Slope counties, including Moffat, Routt, Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Garfield, Mesa, Delta, Gunnison, Ouray and portions of Saguache, Hinsdale and Montrose counties.

The proposal, initiated by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, is in response to severe drought conditions throughout the state this summer. A similar proposal to ask voters for $10 billion was killed in a special session of the state legislature last week, primarily because no projects were specified.

River district officials have specific projects in mind, however, said Chris Treese, a spokesman for the agency.

If voters approve the mill levy increase, funds would be used to buy federal water from Ruedi Reservoir in Pitkin County and Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County, giving the district more control of water on the Western Slope. If the board is able to obtain that water, it will alleviate some demands for water on Green Mountain Reservoir and other upstream reservoirs that supply those users. Downstream water users would also benefit because of the additional water supply.

Another project would involve lining and piping irrigation canals, mostly in Montrose and Delta counties, to reduce sedimentation, salinity and metals pollutions. By decreasing the loss of water through seepage and evaporation, the Western Slope would gain additional water in river and streams that could be used to meet the needs of downstream communities.

“When you have a leaky, dirt canal, water doesn’t get to the ranches,” Treese said. “And the water picks up metals, salts and sediments and takes it to the river. That’s not a good thing. It’s not good for the people, it’s not good for the river, and it’s not good for the fish.”

The funds also would be used to match local money to expedite cleanup operations in the Snake River and French Creek in Summit County.

Another project would rehabilitate existing dams that aren’t able to hold their maximum capacity – some due to structural weaknesses in the dams themselves. Dillon Dam, Treese said, is not on the list of dams that need work. Water officials would, however, like to evaluate the Old Dillon Reservoir between the Dillon Dam Road and Interstate 70 to determine if there are practical applications for that water – much of which is lost to evaporation.

If approved, the first project – most likely obtaining federal waters in Ruedi and Blue Mesa reservoirs – would begin next year, Treese said.

“We need to be more efficient with the water we have and the structures we already have,” he said. “We’ll begin with those we can do locally and the ones for which we don’t need federal funds.”

That probably will put water quality issues in Summit County on hold until the next federal funding cycle.

“The board has really put a challenge to voters of the district,” Treese said. “We’ve asked, “Do you want to prepare for the next drought? Do you want to be in better shape the next time around?’ That next time around could be as early as next year. We want to be prepared. We have to be prepared.”

“The West Slope is having a difficult time making it through this year,” said River District president Paul Ohri. “We can capitalize on the water we already have in storage but do not currently have control over, and use the water we do have more efficiently. Private entities sacrificing their water use and donating unused water are helping us survive the current drought, but we cannot count on these measures to bail us out in the future.”

Even with an average snow year next season, many reservoirs throughout the state are not expected to fill, said River District general manager Eric Kuhn.

“We need to have solutions that can realistically increase our water supply,” he said. “New storage projects will take a long time to construct, and the West Slope may not have that kind of time to wait for more water. We already have water in storage here, but it can’t be released for our benefit until we control it.”

“These proposed projects are consistent with the values of the West Slope,” Kuhn added. “They are cost-effective, the benefits will be felt throughout the region and we will get immediate results. We believe this is a prudent step, especially in light of the fact that effects of this drought will continue to haunt us next year and drought will revisit us sometime in the future.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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