To seek help with the degradation of our environment caused by the scarcity of water the West Slope must look to levying an impact fee on trans-basin diverters. Colorado state law allows for impact fees to be levied on those responsible for damages caused to those where an impact occurs. Over 300 miles of impaired rivers and streams along with increasing costs of treating limited local water supplies should convince even the casual observer the upper Colorado River watershed has been severely degraded by trans-basin water diversions.
In a column last summer, I used the example of upgrades to the Fraser Sanitation Plant now being funded – upgrades largely required because there is literally no water in the Fraser River to dilute copper and phosphorus in our wastewater stream. What looked to be a $5 million project last summer is coming in at $9 million after bidding was concluded last month.
The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Fraser and many other entities as an attempt to deal with the Moffat Firming project, proffers a one time, $6 million reparation for the ongoing impacts of increasing the diversion of the Fraser River from 80 to 90% of its flow. It is painfully obvious this “settlement” amount is totally inadequate to mitigate impacts to our depleted watershed.
During the last Colorado legislative session, a ballot issue was set for this fall to legalize and govern sports betting. Revenues are expected to be $10 million a year, part of which will go to help with gambling addiction – where it belongs – the rest will go to fund previous Governor Hickenlooper’s water plan. As described above, and as evidenced by impacts to other Colorado watersheds degraded by trans-basin diversions – any portion of $10 million is a literal drop in a very dry bucket.
The Governor’s water plan identified annual needs more in the range of $100 million. A water impact fee was discussed as part of planning as a possible revenue source. Logic would argue those causing the problem should be those who fund mitigation.
According to a study funded by the local Upper Colorado River Watershed Group (I serve as its President), a fee of 1/20th of a cent would cost the average Denver water user (whose water bill is presently one third of the amount paid in Fraser) $4 a month. This fee could generate $14.5 million annually for the Fraser watershed. One billion dollars’ worth of water removed annually from the Fraser River would return 1.5 percent of the value of this loss to address the impacts of the removal of the river’s life-blood.
The impact fee, if levied on all trans-basin diverted water, does promise a source of adequate funds to address impacts in basins suffering adverse effects caused by the rapidly growing thirsty Front Range.
Will it be a heavy lift to bring this fee on-line? Certainly. The present political climate offers hope this funding model might find support on both sides of the divide. A room full of east slope residents objected to the expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County last March. The adding of 131 feet to the height of the dam there would allow for storage of the Firming water taken from the Fraser River. Our County Commissioners appeared at the hearing, joining Denver water representatives as pretty much the only voices to speak in favor of the expansion.
Even Denver Water has a reason to support the impact fee which could also be used to fund improvements to increase the efficiency of their water diversion infrastructure; allowing for more efficient use of an increasingly scarce resource.
I discussed the impact fee with our State Representative (and Chair of the Colorado House) KC Becker during her appearance at the County Democratic meeting in May. I also discussed this concept with Summit County area Colorado Representative Julie McCluskie at the Northwest Council of Government’s meeting late that month. Both promised to consider the concept. A copy of this column has been e mailed to both.
The cost of living in over-allocated watersheds is largely being borne by West Slope residents. We must source funding to deal with degraded riparian environments from those who are responsible for the damage.
UCWRG President is one of Andy Miller’s obscure governmental hats. This local non-profit is in need of your help, either as a donor or volunteer. Contact Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 970-531-0674.