Great example of how hard it is to build simple water management widgets – why can't Phoenix store surplus in Mead: http://t.co/mhDax6UN26
— John Fleck (@jfleck) October 20, 2014
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):
The campaign on stormwater has become a David vs. Goliath match in terms of spending and visible support.
Proponents of El Paso County Measure 1B, which would spend $40 million a year to plan, build and maintain drainage and flood control projects in four cities and portions of the county, have raised nearly $200,000 for their messaging, including television and radio commercials and billboards. The proposal has endorsements from the Regional Business Alliance, local construction and development companies, the Housing and Building Association and the Downtown Partnership.
“We are very pleased with the support we’ve gotten from the community,” said Kevin Walker, co-chairman of the regional stormwater task force that led the charge in developing the proposal. “It’s a lot of people who recognize there is a need to address this issue, and it’s past time to do that.”
The opposition is tougher to gauge. There is no splashy television campaign against 1B – just a handful of signs placed near the billboards. Douglas Bruce, the author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the man who coined the phrase “No Rain Tax” in 2008, has a website and has been handing out fliers at events and around downtown.
Bruce said the stormwater proposal is flawed because it attempts to catch up on an estimated $700 million in backlogged projects but does not require future development to pay for flood control. Further, he said, no price tags are attached to the 114 projects listed as part of the plan, and there’s no guarantee that the projects will be built or in which order.
“In my 50 years of being involved in political activity, I have never seen a worse ballot issue,” he said.
Voters in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and parts of El Paso County will be asked to create the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental entity that would collect fees to pay for planning, building and maintaining flood control projects such as channels, detention ponds and curbs and gutters. The proposal would allow the authority to collect fees based on the size of a property and its impervious surface, meaning driveways, parking lots and rooftops.
This month, the El Paso County Commission approved a resolution of “advocacy” in favor of the stormwater proposal.
“This plan has gone through an arduous development process to make it the most responsible plan possible. Ultimately, the people will decide, but we have to stand up as elected officials to explain to them how big the stormwater problem has become and how important it is to our to public safety, to our roads and bridges, to the protection of private property and to economic development,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen, who was a member of the stormwater task force.
The key question organizers of the proposal have been asked is, “how much is this going to cost me?” The proposed ballot question says the average residential property owner would pay $7.70 per month – $92.40 per year on the residential property tax bill.
The problem with the proposal is that fees would apply to nonprofit agencies and schools, said Vince Rusinak, a retired Air Force civil engineer and member of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. He has been on the board of directors for nonprofit agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club and said that the proposed stormwater fees would take money from programs. A chart of estimated rates shows nonprofits could pay from $41.58 a year to $3,750 a year depending on the amount of impervious surface.
“That is a huge amount to those organizations,” Rusinak said.
It’s true that a stormwater fee would dip into program budgets for nonprofit organizations, said Dave Somers, executive director at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. But the proposed fee structure, he said, is fair to nonprofit groups and schools and is lower than fees that would be imposed on commercial, industrial and government properties.
In an unprecedented move, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence weighed in on the election issue, giving the proposal its endorsement.
“With the last few years of floods, our board and staff and members recognized the importance of the community coming together in identifying a solution,” Somers said.
Organizers of the initiative believe the authority could collect about $40 million a year. Fifty-five percent of the money collected would be spent on capital projects and that portion of the fee would sunset after 20 years. However, 45 percent of the money, which would be used for administration, maintenance and emergency needs, would continue on until the authority retired it, organizers of the initiative said.
Mayor Steve Bach, who issued a proclamation in August detailing his opposition to the stormwater proposal, is uncomfortable with a never-ending portion of the fee. In his proclamation, he also said the authority could raise fees without voter approval.
Bach, who had been the most visible opponent of the proposal but recently stepped back from public comments on the issue, has said the proposal creates an unnecessary layer of government. Colorado Springs Councilwoman Helen Collins agrees. She said the city of Colorado Springs spent $46 million on stormwater projects in the past two years. An authority, she said, would shave 1 percent of the money collected off the top for administration costs.
Bruce, who finds himself aligned politically with Bach for the first time, applauded the mayor’s proclamation and added that if voters approve the stormwater fee, it will be attached to their annual property tax bill and a property owner could not refuse to pay it or the county would put a lien on their property.
“It’s on a property tax bill,” he said. “If you don’t pay the bill, it’s a threat to your home.”
Colorado Springs tried to solve its stormwater issue in 2008 when the City Council approved the creation of a Stormwater Enterprise – a property fee used to pay for drainage projects. The enterprise was phased out and ended by 2011 after voters approved the Bruce-sponsored Issue 300, and the enterprise was viewed as an illegal tax imposed without voter approval.
In August 2012, El Paso County commissioners and the council convened a summit to talk about flooding and drainage problems across the region and how to pay for them. The November ballot issue is modeled after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. The PPRTA collects a 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements.
In November, the stormwater task force commissioned the Washington, D.C.-based WPA opinion research firm to survey 400 registered voters – 80 percent in Colorado Springs and 20 percent elsewhere in El Paso County – to find out if flood control is on residents’ radar. Ninety-five percent of respondents said flood control is important, and two-thirds of those said it is very important. An additional 81 percent said there should be a dedicated funding source to pay for drainage projects.
Bruce said that same survey showed that 44 percent of the respondents agreed with the fee.
“Any ballot issue that starts out under 50 percent before the opposition even surfaces is doomed,” Bruce said. “Ballot-issue support always slides; it doesn’t rise.”
Walker said the 44 percent is the amount of survey respondents who said they would prefer a fee compared with a sales tax or a property tax. It was meant as a research question and not a ballot question, he said. Once the task force settled on a fee structure, it did not conduct another survey.
“We are optimistic that we can win,” Walker said. “But it’s not over until it’s over.”
More, from The Gazette:
5 things to know about Measure 1B
1. If the measure is approved, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and parts of El Paso County would form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority. The governmental agency would have an 11-member board of directors made up of elected officials from each entity.
2. The authority would collect fees on all property. The fee is based on the amount of impervious surface – driveways, rooftops and parking lots.
3. The authority expects to collect about $40 million a year. Of that, 55 percent of the money would be used for a list of 114 projects identified as high priority for the region; 35 percent of the money would be used for maintenance and operations; and 10 percent would be set aside for emergencies. At the end of 20 years, the portion of the fee – 55 percent – used for capital projects would sunset. The rest of the fee would remain in place until the authority dissolved it.
4. Fees would be added to annual property tax bills. Unpaid property tax bills trigger a lien process.
More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.
From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
It’s good news, but not as good as originally reported. Contrary to an earlier misperception, water rates in the City of Alamosa will increase next year just not above what the city council had scheduled to do several years ago.
Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks clarified that although the city will not have to go above the increases the council had set a few years ago, there will be rate increases next year.
She said in 2011 the city council passed an ordinance setting rate increases for five years. With additional costs to replace filters in the water treatment plant this year, city staff were concerned they might have to increase fees above the 2011-approved levels for 2015, but the staff were able to incorporate the additional costs for the filters into the budget without increasing water fees above the levels set out in the 2011 ordinance.
The city faces additional water system challenges in the future, such as the possibility of stricter arsenic regulations, and the staff will closely monitor those developments regarding their potential budget impacts.
City water customers are charged a monthly service charge plus a monthly volume charge according to their metered use. According to the ordinance the council approved in 2011:
In 2012 the volume charge per 1,000 gallons was $1.22 up to 8,000 gallons; $1.54 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $1.97 from 50,001-100 ,000 gallons ; and $2.56 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons. In 2013 the volume charge per 1,000 gallons increased to $1.26 up to 8,000 gallons; $1.59 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.04 from 50,001-100 ,000; and $2.64 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons. In 2014 the ordinance increased the water fees to $1.30 per 1,000 gallons up to 8,000 gallons; $1.64 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.11 from 50,001-100 ,000 gallons; and $2.72 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons. Next year, 2015, the ordinance set the following rates, which reflect a slight increase over the 2014 water fees: $1.35 per 1,000 gallons up to 8,000 gallons; $1.70 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.19 from 50,001-100 ,000; and $2.80 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons.
The ordinance the council passed in 2011 extends through 2016, increasing the above rates from 2015 to 2016 by 6 cents, 7 cents, 9 cents and 10 cents, respectively.
The public hearing for the city’s 2015 budget is scheduled this Wednesday, Oct. 15, during the 7 p.m. city council meeting at city hall, 300 Hunt Ave., Alamosa. To view the budget online go to www. cityofalamosa.org and click the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.
More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.
From the Valley Courier (Rob Phillips):
This is the 15th article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the formation and implementation of the Basin Water Plan. The primary goal of Subdistrict No. 1 is to remedy injurious depletions to senior surface water rights and keep those water users whole.
The Subdistrict has several methods to do this. First, the subdistrict has purchased and leased water, both native to the Rio Grande Basin and water imported from the West slope. This water is stored and released as directed by the Division Engineer to replace stream depletion replacement within stream reaches of the Rio Grande as they occur. By doing this, the river itself is kept whole with wet water replacing the depletions in time, location and amount.
The subdistrict can also use what are known as forbearance agreements. Colorado law allows the subdistrict to remedy injurious depletions by a means other than supplying wet water. The subdistrict can do this by agreeing with a ditch that, rather than replace depletions with water, the subdistrict will pay the ditch some amount of money for each acre-foot of water the ditch does not receive because of depletions caused by subdistrict wells.
Each day the Division Engineer tells the subdistrict which ditch is “on the bubble,” that is the most junior ditch that is in priority that day and that is not receiving its full water supply under that priority. The subdistrict then looks at the Annual Replacement Plan to see the depletions caused by subdistrict wells on that day, water that the ditch on the bubble would have received. The subdistrict keeps track of the total amount of water due to each ditch that has a forbearance agreement and pays them at the end of the year. The ditch can then do what it wants with the money, for example upgrading the ditch or simply dividing it up among the ditch users. Forbearance agreements allow ditches and water users to remain whole, while not locking up scarce water resources. So far, the subdistrict and the forbearing ditches are very happy with this arrangement and look forward to continuing working together to reach the best solution for everyone. How the subdistrict is working towards aquifer sustainability
Throughout the recent drought, the aquifer has been shrinking as producers pump more water than is recharged back to the aquifer. The other primary goal of Subdistrict No. 1 is to recover and sustain the Unconfined Aquifer below the subdistrict to the level that existed in the early 1980s. The primary way the subdistrict plans to do this is by reducing the amount of irrigated acres within the subdistrict, which will reduce the amount of pumping from the aquifer. This concept is built into the Subdistrict’s Plan and requires 20,000 acres be retired by the fifth year from judicial approval of the plan, 30,000 acres less by the end of the seventh year, and up to 40,000 acres less by the end of the tenth year all from a base year of 2000.
One tool the subdistrict has to meet these goals is financial incentives and participation in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to retire up to 40,000 irrigated acres. Currently, 1,970 acres were enrolled in the program in 2013 while another 1,370 acres are currently proposed in 2014. However it is not just CREP acres that count towards the 40,000-acre goal, any program or change that retires acres reduces pumping and assists in achieving and maintaining sustainability . But remember, the subdistrict can only provide incentives, it does not have the power to require wells stop pumping.
The producers of the closed basin area within the San Luis Valley stepped forward when no one else did and created a subdistrict and imposed fees on themselves to replace their wells’ depletions and work to recover and sustain the unconfined aquifer. They did this not because rules or regulations were in place requiring this action, but because they believed these things had to be done.
The process has never been easy and the debate about the best way to achieve the subdistrict’s goals continues. But the subdistrict, led by its board of managers, has continuously worked towards those goals and they remain the leaders in the Valley for replacing depletions and working towards sustainability . Currently, other proposed subdistricts within different hydrological areas of the San Luis Valley are going through the same processes in an attempt to have their plan up and running before the state engineer’s ground water rules are approved within the Rio Grande Basin.
These forming subdistricts have watched and learned from Subdistrict No. 1’s struggles and accomplishments . Those other subdistricts will provide the same protection to their wells, a locally based and operated group that provides an alternative to state administration of ground water withdrawals in Division 3 while protecting senior surface water rights and providing for a long-term , sustainable ground water system.
The Plan of Water Management, Annual Replacement Plans and other information on the subdistrict and the aquifers are available on the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s website: http:// http://www.rgwcd.org/page9.html
Meanwhile Sub-district No. 2 is gearing up for operations according to this report from Lauren Krizansky writing for the Valley Courier:
Well owners residing in the Valley’s second sub-district are ready to push forward with a petition after months of voluntary work.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Cleave Simpson updated the Alamosa County Commissioners (ACC) Wednesday morning on the latest happenings regarding the creation of the next sub-district , which sits in both Alamosa and Rio Grande Counties.
Sub-district No. 2, also known as the Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district , is comprised entirely of unconfined wells, and is taking on a different form than Sub-District No. 1, he said. The zone is much smaller, only 300 wells compared to 1,000, participation is voluntary and there is no “sustainability requirement” because the wells do not tap into the confined aquifer.
“We are not drawing a boundary,” Simpson said. “We will go to each individual landowner… There are not the same benchmarks to meet.”
Out of the second sub-district’s 300 wells, 152 average more than 10 acre-feet a year, making them subject to the state’s demand to either join a sub-district or to develop an augmentation plan. There are 10 non-private wells in the mix and 60 private well owners.
“It will be a patchwork of parcels,” Simpson said.
Out of those well owners, he said between 12 and 15 have regularly participated in the workgroups over the past few months, and they represent more or less half the wells in the second subdistrict .
In addition, the City of Monte Vista, the Town of Del Norte, Homelake, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and two school districts are in the zone, but will not join the second sub-district because government entities cannot legally be assessed.
They will be held, however, to the same standards, he said, and have the option to contract with Sub-district No. 2, which would include them in its Annual Replacement Plan.
Although assessment methods and fees to replace depletions are still to be determined, he said Subdistrict No. 2 is ready to petition for legitimacy.
“They are ready to go to the public,” Simpson said. “They are ready to start these discussions.”
It depends on where the state is with its pending water rules and regulations in coming months, he said, but the second sub-district hopes to submit its petition to the district court in January 2015.
“The (water) model and rules and regulations are not final ,” Simpson said. “That could cause a delay.”
Once Sub-district No. 2 is established, he said a board of managers (BOM) will be appointed via a court-approved process.
If there is no opposition to the to the second subdistrict’s formation, he said the BOM’s first task will be to draft a management plan, and, if it is also goes unchallenged , fees assessments will begin in late 2015 with collection notices delivered to Sub-district No. 2 participants in conjunction with their January 2016 county issued tax documents.
Due to its uniqueness, he said the second sub-district has options when it comes to mitigating its groundwater depletions.
“There could be some reduction in irrigated agriculture,” Simpson said, “but we might see changes in technologies, crops requiring less consumption and increases in (water) efficiency.”
He added the value of the zone’s water could also increase, but that is also to be determined.
Sub-district No. 1 has resulted in increased values, in some cases almost double, and is drawing interest from buyers from outside of the Valley. The Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district is the second out of six identified in the Valley to come to fruition under the watch of the RGWCD. Alamosa County will eventually have three within its borders. In addition to Subdistricts No. 1 and No. 2, the fourth sub-district will also fall within its jurisdiction, but it is still in an infant stage.
“It’s good to see the well owners come together,” said Alamosa County Chair Michael Yohn. “Everyone has to be accountable for their water use.”
More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.