Proposition DD barely squeaks by — @AspenJournalism #COWaterPlan

The east end of the Independence Pass tunnel, bringing water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the East Slope

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Colorado voters have narrowly passed a measure that will legalize sports betting and use the taxes raised to fund projects outlined in the Colorado Water Plan.

As votes trickled in Tuesday night, the measure remained too close to call; at some points, the margin was just a few hundred votes. But by Wednesday evening the “yes” votes had decisively pulled ahead.

The unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State website show that 50.81 percent of voters supported Proposition DD and 49.19 percent were against it — a difference of more than 23,000 votes.

Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties passed the measure, with 61 percent, 59 percent and 58 percent of voters, respectively, supporting it. Fifty-two percent of voters in Garfield County voted against Proposition DD.

Beginning May 1, 2020, the state is authorized to collect a 10 percent tax up to $29 million (but probably closer to $15 million) a year from casino’s sports-betting proceeds. The money will go toward funding projects that align with the goals outlined in the water plan, as well as toward meeting interstate obligations such as the Colorado River Compact.

The funds would be administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a statewide agency charged with managing Colorado’s water supply.

District 5 State Sen. Kerry Donovan, who was a sponsor of the legislation behind Proposition DD, said going into Election Day she wasn’t sure whether it would pass. With Colorado’s growing population and the looming threat of climate change, the Western Slope will see an increasingly large burden when it comes to water supply, she said.

“As a rancher and a Western Slope native, I am really excited the state has decided to invest in the future of water in Colorado,” she said.

Wolford Mountain Reservoir. An aerial view of Wolford Reservoir, formed by Ritschard Dam. The Colorado Water Plan outlines many different types of projects, including reservoirs and dams, that need funding.

Water Plan funding

Funding the water plan could mean a number of things. Outlined in a 567-page policy document, the water plan does not prescribe or endorse specific projects, but, instead, sets Colorado’s water values, goals and measurable objectives. According to the water plan, there is an estimated funding gap of $100 million per year over 30 years, but CWCB officials have said that number is an estimate and not precise.

Some of the projects outlined in the water plan stand in opposition to one another — for example, stream-restoration projects with an emphasis on environmental health and building or expanding dams and reservoirs that would divert and impound more Colorado River water.

CWCB director Becky Mitchell highlighted that the money could indeed go toward many different types of projects.

“I think the most exciting thing for us is that we will have a more permanent pool of funding and it will support all types of projects,” Mitchell said. “So, whether it’s a watershed health or agricultural project or storage project or recreational project, the benefit of a more permanent source of funding is to have secure funding for all types of projects.”

In addition to being distributed in the form of water-plan grants, the revenue could also be spent to ensure compliance with interstate compacts and to pay water users for temporary and voluntary reductions in consumptive use. That could mean a demand-management program — the feasibility of which the state is currently studying — in which agricultural water users would be paid to leave more water in the river.

Pitkin County is using this irrigation system to grow potatoes for vodka on county open space land. The state is exploring how a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan, known as demand management, could incentivize irrigators to leave more water in the river. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Broad support

The measure had received broad support from environmental organizations, agriculture interests, water-conservation districts and even Aspen Skiing Company.

Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District also supported Proposition DD. While the estimated $15 million a year is a good start, river district community affairs director Jim Pokrandt stressed it’s not enough to implement all the projects outlined in the water plan.

“What this does is creates a funding stream,” he said. “And it’s really only a down payment. What we don’t want to see is the other funding streams diminish because everybody will say ‘Oh, you got (Proposition DD).’”

Although there wasn’t much organized opposition to Proposition DD, the measure asked voters to consider three complex topics in one question: a new tax, legalizing sports betting and funding the water plan.

Political Action Committee Yes on Proposition DD spent more than $2.3 million, which came mostly from casino and gaming interests, on its campaign. The only registered group in opposition was small-scale issue committee Coloradans for Climate Justice, which argued that fossil-fuel companies should pay for the damage to water-supply systems caused by climate change.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. This story appeared in the Times Nov. 6 edition.

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Sara Leonard):

Colorado voters have officially passed ballot measure Prop DD (50.71% Yes to 49.29% No), which will legalize sports betting in the state and create a tax of 10% on proceeds to fund the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program.

Official statement from Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell:

“Thanks to Colorado voters’ approval of Proposition DD, the Colorado Water Plan will have a permanent, dedicated funding source. Sports betting tax revenue for the Water Plan will support critical environmental, agriculture, and storage projects as well as promote outdoor recreation opportunities across the state.”

The South Platte River runs by a utility plant near I-25 in Denver.

From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Meade):

It took until Wednesday afternoon, but Colorado’s Water Plan is getting a significant financial boost.

Proposition DD, the statutory measure that institutes a 10%, $29 million tax on recently legalized casino sports betting, was still too close to call Tuesday night, but by Wednesday afternoon around 2:30 p.m., the ayes had it. DD won a 50.7% approval with about 12% of the vote left to count.

A yes vote means the water plan, a multi-faceted, highly complex living document that seeks to implement measures to conserve and protect Colorado’s precious water resources, would receive some much-needed funding.

Proposition DD received broad bi-partisan support across the state, from the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association to Democratic and Republican legislators and environmental groups.

But there were detractors. Some Weld County farmers felt the water plan left them out, and at least one local state senator, Jerry Sonnenberg, didn’t feel gamblers should have to pay for a tax that benefited all Coloradans.

Proponents admitted that the water plan isn’t perfect, and that there are some crucial compromises made in the implementation, but said that the nature of its construction, which uses local roundtables to build and develop the plan for the sake of each distinct basin in the state, is the best way to achieve the kind of broad and dynamic action needed to save the resource in the growing state long-term.

Bill Jerke, a former Weld County commissioner and former statehouse representative, has said that Proposition DD is a win for bipartisanship. Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president Terry Frankhauser invited those concerned to get involved.

From Colorado Public Radio (Ben Markus):

It was a nail-biter, but Proposition DD has passed, ushering in the state’s first legal sports bets.

Colorado has joined 19 other states in jumping on the bandwagon after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the near-nationwide ban on sports gambling in 2018…

Where do the taxes for sports gambling go?

Casinos will essentially pay a 10 percent tax on profits from sports gambling wagers. That is expected to raise about $15 million annually by the second full year of taking wagers. The bulk of the collections will go to the Colorado Water Plan, a long list of projects agreed to by lawmakers to help prepare for future population growth and make the state more resilient to climate change. It’s not a lot of tax revenue, but advocates say it’s a start to handling some of the $3 billion shortfall for the plan. Some of the money will also go to behavioral health services and addiction hotlines for gamblers.

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