From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, along with others, are looking for ways to fund the Colorado Water Plan, the product of a collaborative effort during Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term in office designed to assess and meet the state’s water needs for years to come.
That plan calls for doing many things over the years, not the least of which is to create about 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage, and save another 400,000 acre-feet through conservation efforts. Estimates to achieve all of its goals, however, have been as high as $20 billion.
As a result, Coram says there’s no time like the present to find long-term funding sources to pay for it, and he doesn’t believe that it can come from severance taxes, which are collected by companies that extract natural resources, such as oil and gas drilling.
Not only are severance taxes subject to huge swings in how much the state can collect because of market forces, but Front Range legislators are always quick to dip into that money when the economy goes sour, he said.
To date, they’ve done that to the tune of more than $400 million in recent years, money the Legislature has yet to pay back.
“The fact is, if we are going to meet our needs, the Colorado River is certainly overallocated and everybody’s got their eye on it,” Coram said. “We’ve got to come up with a sustainable funding source and not rely on severance taxes, which the General Assembly goes in and robs when it feels like it.”
Estimates project that about $100 million a year would be needed to implement the water plan.
Though Coram said he’s not yet sure what funding source to turn to, he’s heard talk of special taxes to pay for it all, such as a surcharge on all water users and a special bottle fee. He predicted that there is no single source that could raise the money needed to implement the plan.
If a new tax is to be a source, it will have to be placed before the voters as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
“We’ve got to create a designated funding mechanism for water infrastructure, conservation and storage, and every piece to the puzzle has to be a part of it,” Coram said.
“My concern is the Front Range wants us to change our life so they don’t have to change theirs. We’ve got to move slowly, but we’ve got to put some cash in the till to do these things.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Catlin, R-Montrose, expects to be working on a water-related measure of his own.
Catlin plans to introduce a bill to strengthen easements for irrigation ditches. He says a problem is reoccurring all around Colorado as various areas of the state become more urbanized.
He said an increasing number of city dwellers are buying property in rural areas that include easements for irrigation ditches, but they don’t fully understand why those easements exist.
As a result, some of those new property owners are treating the ditches as their own private streams, even placing cobblestones in them as part of their landscaping, Catlin said.
When ditch riders try to access their systems, they’re running into conflicts with these homeowners, including being sued.
“It’s an urban versus rural issue, but I think one of the big problems is a lot of people don’t understand water needs,” Catlin said. “This would be a way of sharpening up that right. A lot of these urban people move in, they don’t want you to walk up the easement to check your ditch. That can’t be right.”
Rep.-elect Matt Soper, R-Delta, who also is looking for ways to fund the water plan, is considering a bill to expand the state’s grant program for school construction and infrastructure. He’s also working on measures to crack down on sexually explicit electronic messages that are sent to juveniles, and a measure to require all local governments to post meeting notices online.