2017 #coleg: Funds for invasive species boat inspections diverted by the Colorado Supreme Court

Harvey Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Colorado Supreme Court ruling last year eliminated severance tax revenues for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s aquatic nuisance species program, forcing the end of inspections at some sites, CPW says.

As a result, CPW has agreed to close Harvey Gap Reservoir northwest of Silt to watercraft normally requiring such an inspection, due to the agency’s inability to conduct inspections there for species such as invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Hand-launched vessels exempt from the inspections still will be allowed there, including rafts, kayaks, belly boats, float and inner tubes, canoes, windsurfer boards, paddle boards and sailboards.

Hand-launched boats with electric motors will be allowed there, but gas- or diesel-powered engines will be prohibited because they are more at risk of hosting invasive species. The boat ramp will remain closed and all boats must be carried from parking lots or roads.

Meanwhile, the Cortez Journal reports that Totten and Narraguinnep reservoirs in southwest Colorado will be closed to all boating because of concerns among authorities responsible for those sites about possible infestation due to a lack of inspections.

The funding situation also helped prompt CPW this year to pass new regulations subjecting all watercraft, including those exempt from inspection requirements, to a “clean, drain and dry” requirement between each launch. The agency also requires boat operators to pull water drain plugs and remove plants from boats and other equipment upon leaving the water and before leaving the parking area…

CPW says it has coordinated a successful mandatory statewide inspection and decontamination program since 2008, preventing an infestation in the state. The agency says that’s of not just statewide but national importance, because the other primary way mussels can spread is by downstream travel.

The agency says oil and gas severance tax revenues are a primary source of money for the aquatic nuisance species program, but those revenues were eliminated by last year’s court ruling.

In that ruling, the state’s high court overturned the Colorado Court of Appeals and sided with BP America Production Co., finding that a company’s cost of capital is a proper severance tax deduction when claiming deduction costs associated with natural gas transportation and processing.

The decision affected not only BP but other energy producers that have been able to seek refunds on tax payments, reportedly resulting in an impact of tens of millions of dollars to the state. It also means they’re able to pay less in taxes going forward.

CPW’s efforts to shore up its aquatic nuisance species program may be in for some help soon. On Thursday the state Senate unanimously gave final approval to Senate Bill 259, which among other actions would provide $2.45 million to the agency’s aquatic nuisance species fund on the parks and outdoor recreation side, and another $1.2 million to the program’s fund on the wildlife side.

The measure still awaits action in the House, where state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, is its main sponsor.

Earlier this year, CPW also suggested to lawmakers that an aquatic nuisance species fee be assessed on boats, at an amount of $15 for nonmotorized boats, $25 for motorized boats for Colorado residents, and $50 for out-of-state motorized boats.

Meanwhile, CPW said in its release that it “has allocated internal funds and worked with a broad partnership group to raise funds for the 2017 boating season and find sustainable funding solutions.”

It says it has sought help from partners including municipal water providers, irrigation and water districts, federal and state agencies and counties that would share the risk if infestation occurred.

Those partners have provided nearly $1 million in assistance so far.

However, the existing funding shortfall means inspections may be reduced at some stations, and a few lower-risk waters that previously had inspections won’t have stations in operation this year unless the state and its partners are able to find new funding.

Harvey Gap Reservoir is owned by Farmers Irrigation Co. and the Silt Water Conservancy District operates and maintains the reservoir and associated irrigation water delivery infrastructure. CPW leases the reservoir surface and manages its fishery as well as area trails and day-use areas.

CPW restricted boat use at the reservoir at the request of the water district…

Local CPW spokesman Mike Porras said the funding situation remains fluid. He said in northeast Colorado some bodies of water were able to keep inspection stations after local water districts agreed to fund them for the short term. Porras recommends that before trying to go boating at any specific location, people call that location or check the agency’s website, http://www.cpw.state.co.us, to see what restrictions may apply.

Here’s a report about Vallecito Reservoir from Carole McWilliams writing in The Pine River Times. Here’s an excerpt:

Boating access at Vallecito and other Colorado lakes might be threatened by state budget issues.

Jim Schank from the Vallecito Sporting and Conservation Association told the Times, “There’s no money for zebra mussel inspections on lakes in the area.”

The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife has been in charge of inspections to prevent introduction of invasive zebra and quagga mussels into clean lakes. People bring boats that have been in infested water, such as Lake Powell, and the mussels can reproduce prolifically and clog pumps, pipes, and other structures.

The Sporting and Conservation Association took over operation of the Vallecito marina two summers ago after the previous private operator pulled out and no other private operator wanted to take it over…

Park and Wildlife “will match what we raise,” Schank said. “Right now it would be Friday to Sunday to have the boat ramp open. There are a lot of people here that rely on that.”

He urged people to contact state legislators about this.

Durango Parks and Wildlife Office spokesman Joe Lewandowski told the Times his department isn’t definite what sort of match DPW might provide…

DPW is working with irrigation, water, and recreation districts around the state to find a solution, Lewandowski said. “Vallecito isn’t the only lake affected. It’s lakes all over the state. … It’s a pretty major problem throughout the state. We’re as concerned about it as anybody else, to make sure recreation stays open.”

Pine River Irrigation District Superintendent Ken Beck told the Times that there have been a series of meetings with the Sporting and Conservation Association, DPW and other entities. “We’re trying to generate a fundraising campaign and let folks know that the money we received from CPW has dried up… It took 21 reservoirs out of funding for boat inspections.”

He continued, “Last year we had around $48,000 to fund recreation” at Vallecito. PRID budgets dam operation and maintenance functions separate from recreation. Beck noted that Vallecito is an irrigation project. In the past, PRID shareholders have made it clear they don’t want their assessments used to subsidize recreation.

The goal is to get $48,000 for this year if local fundraising can bring in $24,000, and hope DPW can match it, Beck said.

He is sending solicitation letters to individuals and entities that could be affected by a lack of boating access.

“We’ll continue to meet,” Beck said. “We’ll fund it and have the lake open. If we don’t receive anything, there will be significant impacts.”

“We have a clean reservoir now,” he said, but noted there have been boats at Vallecito that tested positive for the mussels. “We were able to decontaminate them before they went in the water. … It’s a lot easier to prevent infestation than to remediate. That could get really expensive.”

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