Colorado Bets on New Funding for Water Plan — @AudubonRockies

Common Mergansers. Photo: Lynn Cleveland/Audubon Photography Awards

From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

The four-year-old Colorado Water Plan—the Centennial State’s proactive response to drought, flood, unpredictable water supplies, climate change, and a booming population that is likely to rise from 5.7 million today to nearly 9 million Coloradans in the next 30 years—is now guaranteed some of the annual $100 million needed to implement the plan. This month, Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition DD to legalize sports betting (and a 10% tax on these casino revenues) which will result in an estimated $12 million to $29 million annually, the majority of which will go toward the Water Plan.

While we likely won’t see $29 million for the first several years, DD revenues bring Colorado’s first dedicated funding source to Water Plan implementation. The sports-betting tax money will flow into a new fund overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Revenues from DD are a drop in the bucket that renew every year, and represent a much-needed down payment toward the full $100 million per year for the Water Plan.

Revenues from DD could be used for a variety of Water Plan purposes including: stream and watershed management improvements, urban water conservation and efficiency, improved irrigation infrastructure for farms and ranches, and storage projects. At this point, it is not clear how the state will spend these dollars given the various priorities and the considerable funding gap. The language in DD was vague and will need refinement, and transparency. Stakeholders will likely explore options with the legislature to guide how DD funds are spent on Water Plan implementation.

Audubon will engage to advocate for spending that supports healthy rivers for the birds and people that depend on them—as we support a fully funded Water Plan. But even with the revenues DD will provide, additional dollars, heightened public awareness, and action will be critical to ensure healthy rivers—and the sustainable water future they enable for Colorado’s birds, economies, communities, recreation, agricultural heritage, and quality of life.

Audubon is proud to have supplied nearly 20 percent of the nearly 30,000 public comments that informed Colorado’s inaugural Water Plan, and Audubon will be there every step of the way through Water Plan implementation. Colorado cannot thrive unless its rivers do too.

Everything we love about Colorado is connected to water. We need your help in raising awareness about water and healthy rivers throughout Colorado. Spread the word. Join us as Audubon works across the state for a water-secure future for people and the environment.

Colorado Ag Celebrates Proposition DD — AgInfo.net

Longs Peak

From AgInfo.net (Maura Bennett):

Download the report

The Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattlemens’ Association and most agriculture organizations are celebrating the measure approved by voters to allow sports betting in the state. But it’s not a cure-all for what ails us.
The Farm Bureau’s Shawn Martini says it was a given they would support Proposition DD, as it is a way to guarantee future funding for the state’s Water Plan. The Water Plan – a blueprint for ensuring stable water supplies in the years and decades to come.

Martini: “And thus far it has not been funded anywhere close to what it needs. That initial figure of about 100 million dollars a year we need to fully fund the state’s water plan. While this doesn’t get us up to a 100 million a year, it at least provides us a dedicated revenue stream of maybe even up to 30 million a year to help continue to implement and build the projects that are a key part of the state’s water plan.”

Martini says they are waiting to see how much the state legislature will add to the Water Plan funding on a yearly basis. But with the passage of Prop. DD there is now a dedicated stream of funding that will allow the state to begin to chip away at the backlog of projects that need to be done to fulfill the state’s future water supply.

DD will legalize sports betting in Colorado and create a 10 percent tax on casinos’ house winnings that would largely benefit the Water Plan. Colorado’s 33 casinos will be able to offer in-person and online wagering on professional, collegiate, motor and Olympic sports beginning in May 2020.

It was a squeaker, but Colorado voters say yes to sports betting, cash for state’s water plan — @WaterEdCO

Urban areas and ski counties say yes to sports-betting, water initiative. Source: Colorado Secretary of State. Nov. 6, 2019 via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Colorado voters narrowly approved a new sports-betting tax whose proceeds will help fund water projects across the state, including conservation programs, stream restoration, and new reservoirs.

The vote is a major victory for the bi-partisan coalition that backed the measure and represents the first voter-approved effort to fund the four-year-old Colorado Water Plan.

The nail-biter margins, 1.5 percent at press time, provide a cautionary tale on how much support exists for water funding and how much more will be needed in the future, backers said.

“I was surprised. It was super close,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the bill that referred Proposition DD, as it was known, to voters. “But it’s a reminder to everyone that Colorado is a fiscally conservative state.”

Proposition DD legalizes sports betting and imposes a 10 percent tax on casino revenue derived from this new form of gambling. A statewide map of the vote count showed voters on the Front Range and in ski counties, such as Eagle, Summit and Ouray, had the most enthusiasm for the measure, while rural counties on the West Slope and Eastern Plains rejected it.

Garnett said he was proud of the consensus on water demonstrated by the win, and the power of the bi-partisan coalition of politicians, environmentalists, water utilities, and agriculture groups that came together to back the campaign.

“Any legislator will say, ‘You’re electing me to go in to help solve problems and bring people together,’ and I’m proud of how we did that here,” he said.

The vote sends an important signal to lawmakers and others, according to political pollster Floyd Ciruli.

“There is no better conversation to have than a ballot issue. You get everyone’s attention. This vote shows people do believe water is important and that this is a good way to [fund] it,” Ciruli said.

Early on, Prop DD was barely showing up on voters’ radar, with early polls indicating little support. But a digital and TV ad campaign launched last month helped turn the tide, Ciruli said.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, opposed the measure and said he remains concerned that there isn’t enough transparency in how the money will be managed and that it is improper to use a so-called “sin tax” to pay for something as fundamental as water resources.

“Water is such an important issue we should pay for it out of the general fund or out of severance taxes,” Sonnenberg said, adding that he will continue to fight in the Legislature to ensure the money is used for the water plan.

Estimated to total between $12 million to $29 million annually, the sports-betting tax money will flow into a new fund overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It could be used for a variety of purposes, including water-saving programs for cities and farms, habitat restoration programs, storage projects, land use planning, and environmental water supplies for water-short streams.

Since 2015, the CWCB has financed the water plan using income derived from severance taxes, the state’s general fund, and other sources. Those amounts have varied widely, with the state setting aside $30 million this year, up from $5 million in 2015, according to the CWCB.

Backers characterize DD as a valuable down payment on the water plan. Assuming the tax is able to eventually generate $29 million a year, that’s still less than one-third of the $100 million a year the state has previously estimated it will take to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages.

This year, another group emerged whose intent is to raise additional money for the water plan. For The Love of Colorado, backed by the Walton Family Foundation (also a funder of Fresh Water News) and the Gates Family Foundation, is preparing to run a large public awareness campaign about the critical nature of the state’s water challenges and the need for funding.

The group’s executive director, Tim Wohlgenant, said the close vote demonstrates how much more work is needed.

“It’s great that voters did this. But I need to emphasize it’s literally only a drop in the bucket. And even though it passed, it barely passed. We have more work to do.”

David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said he hopes Prop DD will stimulate environmental and water conservation programs, much like Great Outdoors Colorado has. GOCO is the 1992 ballot initiative that has helped preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of historical ranches and open space across Colorado, protecting them from development. It is funded with state lottery proceeds.

“We’re pleased that Colorado voters are making a decision to invest in our resources, using the water plan as a road map for that,” Nickum said.

“Hopefully it will lead to a proliferation of projects, much like GOCO did,” he said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Colorado Conservation, Sportsmen Groups Celebrate Passage of Proposition DD for Colorado’s Water — Western Resource Advocates #COWaterPlan

From Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):

DD secures an important down payment for Colorado’s Water Plan, but full funding is still needed

Credit: Cattleman’s Ditches Pipeline Project II Montrose County, Colorado EIS via USBR.

A coalition of environmental and sportsmen groups today hailed passage of Colorado Proposition DD to help conserve and protect the state’s rivers and streams and drinking water. The coalition – which includes Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, and the Colorado Water Trust issued the following joint statement:

“Passage of Proposition DD is a big win for Colorado and the quality of life we enjoy here. Taxing the revenue from legalized sports betting will create a dedicated down payment to help ensure that Colorado has healthy rivers and enough water for all. Still, it’s important to remember that this is just the first step toward addressing the growing gap between the water we have and the water we need.

“Four years ago, Coloradans came together to create Colorado’s Water Plan to protect all the things we love about our Colorado way of life – from healthy flowing rivers, to farming and ranching, and even beer. Our rivers contribute over $9 billion annually to the state’s economy, yet Colorado has not lined up adequate funding for the plan, despite overwhelming bipartisan support from across the state.

“Proposition DD will help generate a much-needed revenue stream to improve wildlife habitat, protect our agricultural heritage and the open spaces that come with it, and strengthen our economy. But the plan estimates the total need to be $100 million a year for the next 30 years, and we must keep working to ensure Colorado fully funds our water future.”

Proposition DD places a 10 percent tax on casinos’ profits from sports wagers, up to $29 million annually, and the majority of the revenue raised will go to implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. The annual funding is expected to be between $10 million and $15 million annually in the first few years.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

It was a squeaker, but sports betting will be legal in Colorado beginning in May 2020.

Voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure 51% to 49% to legalize and tax betting on certain professional and collegiate games at casinos and online, according to results from the Colorado secretary of state. The vote was too close to call until mid-afternoon Wednesday. The Associated Press called the race at 2:33 p.m.

Revenue from a 10% tax on the net proceeds companies make on sports betting will help pay for some of the state’s critical water needs. It is, in other words, a narrowly focused tax targeted for a widespread need.

The vote was far from the slam dunk many expected. While the success of its sister ballot measure, Prop CC, was always uncertain, Colorado voters have historically been more receptive to so-called sin taxes.

But the measure had critics on both sides of the political spectrum. For conservatives, the question about raising taxes may have been a non-starter. And for liberals, a regressive tax paid by gamblers, some of whom may struggle with addiction to gambling, perhaps was too problematic to support.

“This has always been a white-knuckles job,” said Josh Penry, a former Republican state Senator and political strategist who worked on the Prop DD campaign. “There is real skepticism. It’s not a traditional right-vs-left issue.”

More than 90% of that new tax revenue, estimated at an average of $16 million per year, and as much as $29 million, would help pay for managing the state’s dwindling water supplies. That tax revenue alone is not enough to meet the state’s water needs, but in the minds of most of its supporters, it represents the best shot yet to pay for the general projects outlined by the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

“The Colorado Water Plan will have a permanent, dedicated funding source,” said Becky Mitchell, the director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in a statement. “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.”

Coming up with the money to help better manage Colorado’s water supplies is seen as critical to maintaining the state agriculture and recreation industries and preserving healthy river ecosystems threatened by slow flows and warming waters. The estimated cost of implementing the water plan is $100 million a year.

Lawmakers have struggled to find that money. They pulled together nearly $30 million in one-time money for water projects and planning last session, a historic yet insufficient amount. Prop DD, which was referred to the ballot by state lawmakers, was seen as the best shot at getting at least some funding and getting it fast.

“This is not the best way to fund such an important need, but we have to take the opportunities that come to us,” said Scott Wasserman, the president of the Bell Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank.

Opponents had concerns about paying for the Colorado Water Plan because it calls for possibly damming rivers to build reservoirs. The margins of victory in Boulder and Larimer counties were tight, areas where projects to expand or build reservoirs are planned. The Water Plan also calls for lining irrigation ditches, upgrading flood gates and paying farmers to use less water.

The measure struggled despite a $2.4 million campaign to promote it. FanDuel Group, a New York City-based sports betting company, spent $1 million backing the measure, according to campaign finance records with the secretary of state. Other top donors include DraftKings, a Boston-based sports betting company, Twin River Casino Hotel from Rhode Island and the Colorado Gaming Association.

A coalition of environmental groups backed DD, including American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, Colorado Water Trust, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Trout Unlimited, and Western Resource Advocates. The Colorado Farm Bureau also supported the measure.

Colorado already allows limited stakes gambling — under $100 — in the towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. Some supporters saw Prop DD as a way to regulate underground sports betting.

“Black markets aren’t conservative and they aren’t good for Colorado. Bringing sports betting into the daylight, regulating it, and leveraging it for the benefit of our water future is a common-sense approach,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Littleton, in a statement.

A wetland area along Homestake Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Brian Jackson):

Water in Colorado — one of the state’s most important natural resources — scored a major win today when voters approved Proposition DD. Prop. DD will provide up to $29 million a year for water projects from revenue raised by legalizing and taxing sports betting.

This funding will support critical projects to implement Colorado’s Water Plan and keep Colorado the state we know and love, with healthy rivers, clean drinking water, productive agriculture and abundant recreation.

EDF and EDF Action were key advocates for Prop. DD. We are thrilled voters approved the measure because it shows Coloradans across the political spectrum care deeply about building a more resilient future for our state.

Closing the water funding gap

Colorado’s Water Plan identified a funding gap of $100 million a year for 30 years to conserve and protect key elements of the state’s water system, including the environment, in the face of climate change and a growing population. Prop. DD will provide an impactful down payment to fill this funding gap.

Achieving voter approval of tax measures is always challenging, especially in Colorado, but EDF, EDF Action and our partners in the state worked hard to earn broad support for Prop. DD. Every major newspaper in Colorado endorsed it, and there was strong bipartisan support among state leaders and lawmakers who referred the measure to the ballot.

Uncommon partners rally around common-sense water solutions

The list of Prop. DD supporters was long and diverse, including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Colorado Farm Bureau, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates, among many others. Working side by side with some of these unlikely allies paves the way for more collaboration to deploy the funding to Colorado’s highest water priorities and best projects.

The success of Prop. DD clearly demonstrates to our state lawmakers that water is a priority issue for Coloradans, and we hope policymakers will continue to focus on ensuring our water system meets our state’s needs for decades to come.

We can’t wait to roll up our sleeves to help effectively implement Prop. DD and usher in this important new era for water funding and resilience in Colorado.

Prop DD seen as ‘priming the pump’ for water plan — The Montrose Press

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Although it went down in Montrose County, statewide, voters lifted Prop DD to victory; 712,405 yes, to 692,377 no, according to unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State.

The revenue from taxing sports betting, estimated at about $30 million, is to be used to implement the Colorado Water Plan — a drop in the bucket, so to speak, of the billions implementation is expected to cost over the next few decades.

The Colorado River District, which supported Prop DD, viewed it as help with a “downpayment” for plan implementation. The water plan is a longer range strategy to balance water supply against growing needs; its provisions include more infrastructure for water storage, as well as conservation methods.

State Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, who represents House District 58, and who also represents Montrose County on the river district, left the county courthouse Tuesday night assuming DD was going down in defeat; after an initially favorable showing, the “no” votes began to dominate. But, by early Wednesday, the final unofficial results showed a win.

“We kind of raised the profile of water, but it had to come on gambling. I think people voted against gambling, rather than against water,” Catlin said.

“Now it’s up to the state of Colorado, and me — all of us in the state that have anything to do with this. Now is the time for a good project to be picked up in rural Colorado.”

Although to Catlin, urban areas seemed to support DD more than did voters in rural areas, a need for such projects is on the Western Slope and other non-metro areas, he said, and it’s time for the state to “square up” by offering feasible projects that will assure water plan success.

“It certainly is not going to fix all issues Colorado has with water, but it does prime the pump. That doesn’t mean the Legislature can now ignore it. Now is the time we really take it on in the state,” Catlin said.

He acknowledged the money DD is supposed to raise will not come close to fully funding the water plan.

#COleg: As water prices soar, Colorado lawmakers consider rules to stop profiteering — @WaterEdCO

District 5 State Sen. Kerry Donovan, left, speaks on a panel with other lawmakers at the Colorado Water Congress legislative session in Steamboat Springs in August. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Buy low, sell high? Not so fast.

As demand and prices for Colorado water rise, state lawmakers are concerned that Wall Street investment firms and even local finance groups may seek to circumvent state laws designed to prevent water profiteering.

Last month, the Colorado Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee initially approved a bill authorizing a study to determine whether the state’s anti-speculation laws, already considered among the strongest in the West, need to be further strengthened.

“The reason I drafted it is because I’m hearing stories from the West Slope and the San Luis Valley of outside groups coming in and buying water rights. While we’re not entirely sure if this is speculation, some of these companies are more like financial and hedge fund institutions instead of agricultural interests. That seems to have the color of water speculation,” said Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who represents several West Slope counties and who is chair of the interim committee. (Editor’s note: Sen. Donovan sits on the board of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News.)

Under Colorado law, water is considered a public resource, but the legal right to take it and use it toward some beneficial purpose must be approved in water court. Once obtained, water rights are considered a private property right, one that can be bought and sold as long as water courts approve the transaction.

Water has always been a scarce resource in Colorado and in the 1800s, as miners and farmers were moving in, the courts developed a system so that no one could hoard water and profit from its sale. To combat the problem, they required that water rights be granted only to those who could put them to beneficial use, whether in farm fields or mines, or in people’s homes and businesses.

The anti-speculation laws have been challenged and upheld many times in water court, leading several water experts to question the need to amend them.

Dave Taussig, a Denver water attorney, said he was surprised to see lawmakers move in this direction.

“This is one of the few areas of Colorado [water] law that is pretty well defined and established,” Taussig said. “I don’t see the need for this.”

For many transactions, as long as the water is being put to use, the deal is not considered speculative.

On the West Slope for instance, New York City-based Water Asset Management has purchased ranches with valuable, senior water rights. Right now, the company continues to operate the farms and the water is still being used as it had been before the purchase, so it is not considered speculative. That’s because, under existing law, there is nothing to prevent someone from buying water rights with an eye toward a future sale, where the interim use is just a placeholder.

Water Asset Management could not be reached for comment. But its website spells out a clear investment strategy that includes acquiring Western farm water and holding onto it until it appreciates in value, at which point it could be leased or sold for a profit.

Closer to home, Denver-based Renewable Water Resources has assembled an investment group which intends to purchase farm water in the San Luis Valley and pipe it to the Front Range.

Sean Tonner, a principal in RWR, said the proposal isn’t a buy-low, sell-high proposition because his company is offering $2,500 to $2,800 an acre-foot for the farm water, which normally sells locally for much less, around $65 to $200 an acre-foot, according to San Luis Valley water officials.

Tonner declined to provide a sales price, but Front Range developers routinely pay $20,000 an acre-foot and more for water.

RWR has not yet identified an end-user for the project, but has committed to do so before it seeks approval from state water court.

“Colorado has great anti-speculation laws. If there is a way to make them stronger, I’m all for it,” Tonner said. “But I would disagree with the assertion that what we’re doing is buy-low, sell-high.”

Still lawmakers are concerned. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is also on the interim water committee and said the state needs to be vigilant about how its agricultural water rights are being bought and sold.

“Yes we do have strong anti-speculation laws,” Coram said, “but hedge funds also have very good attorneys. There are ways to work around [the laws].”

According to the initial bill draft, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources would form a work group next year to examine what the state can do to ensure its market-based water management system isn’t manipulated by moneyed interests. The bill directs the group to report back to lawmakers in August of 2021.

The committee will vote Oct. 24 on whether the bill should advance further. If approved, it will be introduced during the regular session that opens Jan. 8, 2020.

Donovan is hopeful the process will uncover new tools, even beyond the anti-speculation laws, to help the state prevent profiteering.

“Water speculation is something we need to ensure we have a firm grip on as a state. I expect there will be a lot of conversations in upcoming years about how we make sure that water isn’t exploited and doesn’t become a way for people to make a quick dollar,” Donovan said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting recap

Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Julesberg Advocate:

At the beginning of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting last week, the Board welcomed 2 new Board members. Rod Lenz, RRWCD Board President, swore in Brooke Campbell, from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing the East Cheyenne Ground Water Management District and Jim Hadachek, also from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing Cheyenne County on the RRWCD Board.

On August 2, 2019, House Bill 19-1029 went into effect. The bill modified the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) to include the southern portion of Kit Carson County and an area in the northern portion of Cheyenne County. All counties and groundwater management districts in the RRWCD are represented on the Board of Directors

The change in the boundary brought approximately 332 wells and the associated irrigated acreage into the RRWCD. The annual diversions from these wells has always been included in the groundwater model which tracks the use of water within each state, from which the depletions to the river are calculated, but because they were not been included in the RRWCD boundary, they have not paid the Water Use Fee as have the well owners that are located in the current RRWCD boundary.

For 2019, the RRWCD Board voted to charge a pro-rated rate of $6.00 per irrigated acre to the wells in this area instead of the $14.50 that is assessed on irrigated acres in the RRWCD. All irrigated acres will have the same assessment in 2020.

Effective immediately, the Board approved allowing all acres in the RRWCD be eligible for the EQIP program, which is administered through the NRCS. Anyone interested in more information on the EQIP program should contact your local NRCS office.

Former Senator Greg Brophy gave a presentation on House Bill 19-1327, which is now Proposition DD, to put sports betting on the ballot. The goal of this legislation is to provide a stable funding source to implement the Colorado Water Plan.

The RRWCD approved conservation grant applications from Marks Butte, Frenchman, Sandhills and Central Yuma Groundwater Management Districts (Big 4 GWMDS). The Big 4 GWMDs requested that the grant funds be forwarded to the Colorado Master Irrigator program.

The Board also approved the conservation grant application by W-Y GWMD, requesting funds that will assist in covering costs for implementing conservation efforts in their district.

The RRWCD endorsed an agreement for well owners in the northern portion of the district who have augmentation plans to the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District or to Sedgwick Water District.

Well owners located in the South Fork Focus Zone who enter into a new CREP contract are now eligible for an additional one-time payment of $200 per irrigated acre retired. The two million dollars of funding for the supplemental contract is provided by the State of Colorado.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Deb Daniel, RRWCD General Manager (970)332-3552.