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Solving Colorado’s Water Issues
Colorado needs long-term funding to conserve, maintain, and restore our water supplies, river and stream flows, and economy in the face of numerous challenges, from prolonged drought and rising temperatures driven by climate change and population growth. Maintaining healthy river systems and water availability is essential to sustain Colorado’s way of life, preserve natural resources, grow our crops, and bolster our economy.
Our State Water Plan Lacks Sustainable Funding
The Colorado Water Plan, developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015, sets forward a path to secure our water future by protecting Colorado’s rivers, securing clean, safe, reliable drinking water for our communities, and preserving our agricultural heritage.
Colorado’s existing public funding resources are insufficient to address the current and future needs identified in the Water Plan to secure our water future. Establishing new sources of funding – whether local or statewide – will help to keep Colorado’s rivers healthy and flowing to continue to support clean drinking water for all Coloradans and reliable water supplies for farms and ranches across the state.
In the last few years, Coloradans have illustrated their support for water funding by approving three different tax increases where water is the beneficiary. In 2019, the passing of Proposition DD legalized sports betting in Colorado with the majority of the proceeds of the betting taxes funding Colorado’s Water Plan. At the local level, both the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District successfully passed public funding initiatives to increase their mill levies in the fall of 2020, with other municipalities like the cities of Denver and Boulder and counties like Summit and Chaffee passing voter-approved funding for water and rivers in the last three years. Coloradans clearly understand the need for additional water funding and they are willing to pay for it.
How (and Why) to Use This Guide
The purpose of this guide is to assist water conservancy districts, nonprofits, local governments, citizen stakeholder initiatives and others in learning more about successfully implementing new local sources of public funding for water in Colorado. This guide is intended to help you understand the general process and important questions to ask when pursuing a public funding measure, such as a bond, property tax, sales tax, or mill levy increase. You will also see video interviews with individuals and organizations that have participated in public funding measures in Colorado, as well as with experts in the field of public funding.
In the five years since Colorado’s Water Plan took effect, the state has awarded nearly $500 million in loans and grants for water projects, cities have enacted strict drought plans, communities have written nearly two dozen locally based stream restoration plans, and crews have been hard at work improving irrigation systems and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.
But big challenges lie ahead — drought, population growth, accelerating climate change, budget cuts, wildfires and competing demands for water, among others.
And though the state has made progress on the plan’s ambitious goals and funding needs since November 2015, it hasn’t yet been able to secure the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050 to fully fund the plan.
Colorado water leaders are optimistic about advances made under the plan thus far. But they acknowledge that this five-year milestone is just the beginning of a long-term effort with no easy path forward. The plan is also undergoing a comprehensive update that will help refine its direction moving forward by incorporating lessons learned and better data.
“Five years in water time is really a blink of an eye,” said Lauren Ris, deputy director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the statewide water policy agency tasked with administering the plan. “Even though we’re so proud of the progress we’ve made, we’ve got a lot of work in front of us. There’s a lot to celebrate but I also think we can’t rest too much on our laurels here.”
The water plan, explained
The plan provides a framework for ensuring there’s enough good-quality water for all of Colorado’s diverse users, as well as the state’s downstream neighbors. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the plan’s creation in May 2013, which set in motion 30 months of meetings, public input, writing and reviewing to ultimately create the 567-page plan.
Colorado has long faced unique water challenges in part because its high-altitude rivers deliver water to 18 other states and Mexico, activity that is carefully governed by legal agreements that include compacts and treaties. Accelerating climate change and rapid population growth have only added more complexity. Colorado’s population is expected to grow as high as 8.1 million by 2050, up from 5.76 million in 2019, with much of that growth occurring on the East Slope. Meanwhile, 70 to 80 percent of the state’s water originates on the West Slope.
Many Colorado water leaders agree that the plan — and the multi-year processes for creating and updating it — has fostered an authentic spirit of collaboration. Even if they disagree, people have to work together to find common ground because the plan prioritizes projects that achieve multiple benefits, which in turn makes them more likely to receive state funding.
“Collaboration is now the starting point of conversations about water and maybe that wasn’t always true before,” said Russ Sands, water supply planning section chief for the CWCB. “Like any dinner party, you have some strong conversations and it’s hard. But then ultimately, we do come together around these multi-purpose, multi-benefit projects.”
Key to putting the plan to work are the public roundtables in each river basin, whose volunteer members are charged with identifying each region’s needs and the methods and funding to meet those needs.
The plan hasn’t completely eased tensions, but it has given water users a forum for voicing their opinions, popular or unpopular. And, perhaps above all else, it has succeeded in keeping water top of mind.
“The best thing the water plan has done is kept the water problem in everybody’s face,” said Max Schmidt, manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Project Power Plant. “Traditionally, we have a dry year and everybody gets all worried. Then the next year’s a wet year and everybody forgets about it. People are now saying, ‘This is a long-term, serious problem.’”
Progress under the plan
Work on the plan is occurring mostly on specific projects in Colorado’s eight river basins, which are often funded by loans and grants administered by the CWCB. Five years in, the plan has provided $63.5 million in grants to 241 projects, and $420 million in loans to 82 projects.
According to the CWCB’s data, 76 percent of the plan’s actions have been initiated or completed, but how this translates to progress on the plan’s eight measurable objectives isn’t clear yet. Those objectives set measurable targets for things like water conservation, new water storage, and water-smart land use, as well as informing the public. When asked about progress toward the objectives, the CWCB said it is no longer calculating specific progress metrics using the objectives but is instead tracking new projects or programs that work toward the goals outlined in the plan.
Since taking office in 2019, Gov. Jared Polis has made water one of his “Wildly Important Goals,” issuing a call to the CWCB and roundtables to create a database of 500 local water projects that are ready or nearly ready to launch and are backed by strong data demonstrating costs and potential outcomes.
While the “water WIG,” as it is known, did not come with any funding attached, the exercise has forced local water leaders to refine, prioritize and provide cost estimates for their most promising ideas.
Though the focus on specific projects has been effective for achieving goals in each river basin, some water leaders feel the plan doesn’t go far enough to address statewide issues.
“We need to think more broadly about water,” said Kathleen Curry, chair of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the West Slope, rancher and lobbyist. “Having a project-specific focus is great if you’re the entity pushing the projects, but really, overall forest health, stream measurement, snowpack measurement, some of the overall statewide water supply challenges that are out there, those need to be part of the plan as well. [We need to] make sure the plan isn’t simply a laundry list.”
Funding wins and challenges
Since the Colorado Water Plan’s inception, state funding for implementation has ranged from a low of $5 million in 2016 to $30 million in 2019, far short of the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050
In 2020, lawmakers appropriated $7.5 million for the water plan, however, that money is expected to be stretched over three years because of declining oil and gas severance tax revenue and the economic consequences of COVID-19 on the state budget. Many other water-related programs are also not expected to receive additional funding in the near future, according to CWCB spokesperson Sara Leonard.
The plan got a new funding source in 2019 when voters approved Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting and directed tax revenue to the water plan.
Sports betting got off to a slow start in the spring of 2020, thanks to the near-total shutdown of sporting events because of the coronavirus pandemic. But activity picked up speed during the second half of the year, generating $3.4 million in taxes between May and December, double the estimated $1.5 million to $1.7 million per year.
Though not an immediate source of cash, the sports betting initiative was a big win in a state where voters have historically balked at statewide funding for water.
“The water plan requires about $100 million a year in sustainable funding to meet many of the goals outlined for 2025, 2030, 2050,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill. “We never thought Prop DD was going to achieve that annual goal, but at least it established a reliable critical revenue source.”
Garnett said he always envisioned general fund money, plus the sports betting tax revenue, to help get the water plan closer to $100 million a year, but this year’s state budget challenges showed just how fraught that path forward may be. Since its launch, lawmakers have contributed general funds to the plan just once.
“Our economy and state budget have been turned upside down by the pandemic and we have to move through this period before we can talk about sustainable funding,” Garnett said. “It’s just hard to navigate with the changing environment.”
There were other wins for water funding over the last five years, too. Several local water districts and initiatives found success at the polls, garnering millions of dollars in new taxpayer support for an array of local and regional goals aligned with the plan.
In November 2020, voters approved property tax increases to support water projects in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.
“We’re already seeing where [funding is] being piecemealed together so maybe it’s statewide or maybe it’s a local thing,” said Garrett Varra, who chairs the South Platte Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. “Voters are more apt to trust people they know and be able to sit down and talk with directly than maybe the state Legislature itself or the CWCB or whoever it is. One way or another, whether it’s done region by region or statewide, it will happen at some point.”
Colorado water leaders are in the middle of a comprehensive water plan update that will conclude in 2022. The update will incorporate five potential supply and demand scenarios for Colorado water in 2050, created by adjusting variables like water availability, climate change and population growth.
“It’s about choices that we make,” said the CWCB’s Ris. “We’re not locked into any future, that we have the ability to make choices in how we deal with everything coming down the pipe, including population growth, funding, climate change.”
Using the various planning scenarios and other data, the CWCB has also developed new tools to help estimate the environmental impacts and costs of water projects, as well as the costs and consequences of doing nothing. The board also created a new “Engage CWCB” website to encourage more community engagement with the plan.
This month, the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide board charged with helping shape policy and coordinating among the various river basins, will re-ignite talks about how best to fund the water plan and, ultimately, achieve its goals.
Set against the backdrop of record-setting wildfires, intensifying drought in the Colorado River Basin and other parts of the state, escalating climate change, and fears around potential water speculation, state water leaders say that funding can’t come soon enough.
“There’s a lot of talk about how do we get to that $100 million mark with the ever-increasing challenges that Colorado faces, with climate change happening faster than anyone really thought, even in 2015 when the water plan was created,” said Garnett.
Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Graphics created by Chas Chamberlin, principal with cdcgraphics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sports betting got off to a hot start, meaning enough tax revenue has already been collected to start benefiting Colorado’s Water Plan projects…
Colorado had already collected more than $3.4 million in sports betting tax revenue through the end of December, more than enough to cover the roughly $2 million in startup costs that had to be paid off before wagering dollars could start being directed to the water plan projects, including increasing storage capacity.
Sports betting began in Colorado in May, after voters passed Proposition DD in November 2019. More than $1 billion has been wagered so far…
Proposition DD was pitched to voters as a way to direct money to the state’s water plan, which could have a price tag as large as $40 billion. But in December 2019, Polis’ Department of Revenue warned state lawmakers that it would possibly take until the 2021-22 fiscal year before enough tax revenue came in for the water plan to benefit.
The sports betting tax revenue is still far lower than the Colorado General Assembly’s fiscal analysts projected. But the upshot is that there’s already plenty of sports betting tax dollars — which are generated by a 10% tax on casinos’ net proceeds — to turn on the water-plan-funding spigot…
Gamblers have placed more than $1.1 billion in wagers since sports betting began in Colorado last year.
American football saw the most bets in December, with $88.1 million in wagers placed with retail and online operators, followed by basketball at $42.8 million. Coloradans continue to show interest in betting on table tennis, with $10.9 million in bets coming in for the sport last month.
Betting on professional football and basketball, and college basketball added up to more than half of the $284.6 million total in December. Last month’s total was up 23.1% from November but the amount sportsbooks kept after paying winners fell by 36.7% to $5.67 million, in large part because sportsbooks gave away nearly $11 million in free bets on promotions.
“Hitting the $1 billion mark is a milestone event for the department, leading us to believe that the trust and competition in the industry are leading bettors from the black market to the regulated market,” said Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Gaming, which regulates sports bettering and casinos. The $1.19 billion in bets last year generated $3.4 million in tax revenue for the state. Sportsbooks pay a 10% tax on profits, which funds Colorado water projects.
After pro football, and pro and college basketball, college football and table tennis were the two next-most-popular sports with bettors, attracting $14.1 million and nearly $11 million in wagers, respectively. Parlays and combination bets accounted for $46.4 million in wagers and other sports combined to total another $45.9 million. More than 98% of all bets were placed online or with mobile applications, and nearly 94% of all amounts wagered were paid to winning bettors.
More than three-fourths of Colorado voters say it’s important for public officials to prioritize environmental issues like climate change, clean air and water. The results come from the annual bipartisan Conservation in the West poll…
The results show climate change as a rising issue for Colorado and Western voters ahead of the March 3 presidential primary known as Super Tuesday. They echo exit poll results in Iowa and New Hampshire, which show the topic near the top of the list along with health care as important for voters.
Driving the recent change are increased wildfires across the West, particularly in Montana. Metz said the majority of respondents support the move away from fossil fuels toward wind and solar.
“These findings on climate change really document a pretty significant shift in Western voters’ thinking over the course of the last decade and a strong desire for action,” he said.
When Colorado voters OK’d Proposition DD last month, they were told sports betting would deliver millions in tax revenue toward solving the state’s water problems.
But a new analysis from the Polis administration shows that likely won’t happen in the first full year of wagering.
The Division of Gaming expects sports betting, which starts in Colorado in May, to generate between $1.5 million and $1.7 million in tax revenue in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins on July 1. That amount isn’t enough to reach the threshold under which funds would be transferred to water projects.
The projection is wildly different from what state lawmakers anticipated when they put the measure on the November ballot. In fact, it’s about the same amount the Colorado General Assembly’s fiscal analysts projected would be generated in the first two months of sports betting.
The annual revenue expectation also is far less than the $16 million in tax revenue that legislative analysts forecast would be collected each year for the first five years of sports betting in Colorado. The state is authorized to collect up to $29 million in sports betting tax revenue annually under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights…
The Division of Gaming’s estimates were presented Thursday to the Joint Budget Committee as it prepared to draft the $30 billion-plus spending plan for the coming fiscal year. And members of the panel expressed concern…
It’s likely that enough tax revenue will be generated in future years to go toward the water plan, but how much water managers can expect appears lower overall given the latest projections by the gaming division. Proponents of sports betting are bullish that tax revenue figures will rise once the industry matures in Colorado, though they admit initial estimates were likely too high.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, which oversees the Division of Gaming, noted “that all of these numbers are still projections.” She added that the department has been consistently conservative in its assumptions about sports betting revenue when speaking with lawmakers and legislative analysts…
One reason revenue projections are lower: The gaming division doesn’t believe the state’s casinos, which will operate sports betting, will be willing to pay the $125,000 per license — which would have to be renewed every two years — to offer wagering as originally projected. Instead, gaming officials think that the most they could reasonably charge for a license fee would be $40,000 and possibly much less, according to a memo presented to the JBC on Thursday.
Because the cost to implement sports betting is expected to exceed the tax revenue generated in the first months, it could actually end up costing taxpayers money.
If that deficit were to happen, the Joint Budget Committee would likely ask the Department of Revenue to dig into its pockets to cover the difference. The funds could, however, ultimately have to come out of the legislature’s discretionary fund, which goes toward paying for things like transportation and education…
The division’s revenue estimates came after the agency gathered 75 people representing gambling companies and operators from around the world to help create its rules around sports betting. The agency also visited other states where sports betting has been legalized, like New Jersey, to better understand how to implement the wagering in Colorado and what to expect.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
From Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):
DD secures an important down payment for Colorado’s Water Plan, but full funding is still needed
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
While there is always noise from the Front Range about water, and there is always concern about a Front Range run on Western Slope water, Coram is less concerned about that than he is a threat from the other direction, specifically downstream on the Colorado River and the Rio Grande.
“I am not as worried about the Front Range, I am more nervous about the possibility that people will use fear (about drought) and Colorado will try to cut deals with the Lower Colorado Basin states,” Coram says. “But the water here doesn’t belong to the state, it belongs to the people. The people (who own the rights) need to be involved.”
The Colorado Water Plan is five years old. Is it functional?
“No,” says Coram. “And it won’t until it retains sustainable funding.”
The Colorado Water Plan names any number of sources for funding within the pages of the plan. One of the main sources should be the severance tax. Colorado severance tax is imposed on nonrenewable natural resources that are removed from the earth in Colorado. The tax is calculated on the gross income from oil and gas and carbon dioxide production. Anyone who receives taxable income from oil or gas produced in Colorado pays the tax.
“Water is supposed to get severance tax funds,” says Coram. “But the governor and legislators always seem to find other needs for the money. In the good years, some senator or assemblyman gets a good idea and they rob money from the severance tax.”
At this point in history Coram says the state legislature owes $300 million to the Water Plan. When the subject comes up in the halls of the Capitol, Coram says that since it appears that when water comes out of the tap, nobody seems to really care about the Water Plan funding.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
District Supports Sports Betting for Water Projects
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors [September 17, 2019] voted to support a measure that would allow sports betting in Colorado as a revenue source for water projects.
Proposition DD would provide money for water projects by collecting a tax of 10 percent on net proceeds from sports betting operations at casinos in Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek. Proponents say this could amount to $10 million to $16 million annually. The money would be part of the funding package for Colorado’s Water Plan.
“It ties into the water plan, but would be just one of the methods to generate revenues,” said Alan Hamel, a member of the Southeastern board.
The board voted 10-3 to support Proposition DD.
The water plan calls for $3 billion in new revenue for water projects over a 30-year period beginning in 2020.
Proposition DD was placed on the Nov. 5 ballot as a referendum by the Colorado General Assembly under HB1327.
The Southeastern District is the sponsor for one of the state’s largest pending water projects, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pipeline project that will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo. The Bureau of Reclamation estimates the AVC will cost $600 million, of which 35 percent will be paid by sources within Colorado.
A coalition of agricultural groups announced their support [October 13, 2019] for Proposition DD, which asks voters this fall to tax casinos’ sports-betting profits to help conserve and protect the state’s water supplies.
The coalition includes the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Corn Growers Association, Colorado Dairy Farmers, the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Pork Producers, and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union…
“The Farm Bureau and farmers across Colorado are proud to support Proposition DD. Most farmers and ranchers could care less about sports betting. But this is a smart way to pay for the critical water infrastructure that Colorado’s future needs,” said Chad Vorthmann, Executive Vice President of the Colorado Farm Bureau.
“With dedicated funding through Proposition DD, we can ensure that Colorado’s Water Plan is implemented to secure a water future for the benefit of our businesses, our communities and our rivers and streams,” said Brad Erker, Executive Director of the Colorado Wheat Growers.
“This measure is an important step to ensuring adequate water supplies for agriculture amid our state’s growing population,” said David Eckhardt, Colorado farmer, and President of the Colorado Corn Growers Association.
“The common denominator linking all of agriculture in Colorado is water. Colorado’s dairy farmers support Proposition DD because it will provide funding for critical water projects in our state helping to ensure we maximize the use of this precious natural resource,” said Chris Craft, Chairman of the Board of the Colorado Dairy Farmers.
“We’re pleased to endorse Proposition DD, which is a dedicated funding stream for water storage and conservation in Colorado in the face of increased population and growing demands for this limited resource,” said Joyce Kelly, Executive Director of the Colorado Pork Producers.
Proposition DD’s supporters — including environmental organizations, agriculture interests, conservation districts and Aspen Skiing Co. — say the measure will be used to close a $3 billion state funding gap in implementing the Colorado Water Plan. The frequently cited figure of a $100 million annual shortfall for 30 years is written in the water plan itself.
But where did the authors of the water plan get this number and what kinds of projects and programs might the measure fund? According to the legislation, money raised from Prop DD could go toward an agricultural water-use reduction program that doesn’t yet exist.
In the following explainer, Aspen Journalism unpacks the ballot question, which will be posed to voters Nov. 5, and what the tax revenue may actually end up funding.
How will Proposition DD work?
Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 19-1327 into law in May. But voters must still pass Proposition DD for it to take effect.
According to the 2019 State Ballot Information Booklet, Proposition DD would authorize the state to collect a 10% tax up to $29 million a year (but the projected average amount is $16 million) from casinos’ sports-betting proceeds. The Colorado Division of Gaming and the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission will be responsible for regulating sports betting operations.
Of the money raised, a projected $130,000 would go to gambling addiction services and $960,000 would go into a “hold harmless” fund. Entities that receive tax revenue from traditional gambling such as horse racing could apply for funding from the hold harmless fund if they can prove they lost money due to the legalization of sports betting.
The remaining projected average annual $14.9 million (but up to $27.2 million) in tax revenue would go to 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. Under the compact, the Upper Basin states, which include Colorado, must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually to Lake Powell.
If voters pass Proposition DD, it will take effect May 1.
What does the legislation say?
The legislation creates a special Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund, which would be administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a statewide agency charged with managing Colorado’s water supply. The money could be spent on water-plan grants, but may also be spent “to ensure compliance with interstate water allocation compacts … including … compensation to water users for temporary and voluntary reductions in consumptive use.”
At the heart of a demand-management program is a reduction in water use by agriculture on a voluntary, temporary and compensated basis, all in an effort to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to bolster water levels in Lake Powell to meet potential obligations under the Colorado River Compact. Under pilot programs the state could pay ranchers and farmers to leave more water in the river.
District 5 State Sen. Kerry Donovan, whose district includes Aspen and who was a sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that as Colorado gets a handle on demand management, money from Proposition DD could go toward funding a future program.
“Most water experts would say demand management in some form will be part of addressing the Colorado River Compact obligations,” Donovan said. “Maybe in five years, maybe in the next generation, but somewhere in the long-term planning strategy of the Colorado River, demand management will be part of the puzzle.”
At the behest of then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, water managers from across Colorado collaboratively created the water plan, which was unveiled in 2015. The plan, which is more of a policy document, says Colorado faces a looming water “gap” across all sectors — municipal, industrial, agriculture, recreation and environment — because of the state’s growing population and increasing water demands.
The 567-page plan does not prescribe or endorse specific projects but instead sets Colorado’s water values, goals and measurable objectives, which are set out in a critical action plan. For example, the plan sets a measurable objective of storing an additional 400,000 acre-feet of water in reservoirs by 2050 and covering 80% of local rivers with stream-management plans by 2030, but it does not say how water managers should go about doing this.
What about water plan grants?
According to the legislation, revenue from Proposition DD will also go toward water-plan grants. Local water managers apply to the CWCB’s Water Plan Grant Program to fund projects that advance critical actions laid out in the water plan from the following categories: agricultural, engagement and innovation, environmental and recreation, water conservation and land-use planning, or water storage and supply.
Water-plan grants are a 50% matching grant, meaning that the local entities applying for the grant must match from their own coffers the amount they are requesting in state funds.
For fiscal year 2019-20, $10 million will be available for the Water Plan Grant Program. Funding from Proposition DD could add roughly $15 million a year to this grant program.
Many of the projects that the water-plan grants fund come from each of the nine basin roundtables’ Basin Implementation Plans. The BIPs identify how each basin’s water needs will be met through existing or new projects, policies and processes. But many of the local water projects included in the BIPs don’t specify how much funding is needed to implement them and many roundtables’ projects lists have only partial and inconsistent information.
For example, 14 of the 31 top projects outlined in the Colorado BIP have “TBD” in the Funding Needs column.
“In the Basin Implementation Plans, some of those projects are pretty rough and it was a best guess at the time with limited information,” said CWCB Deputy Director Lauren Ris.
Roundtables will soon embark on an update to their BIPs, with the goal of refining project details, including cost.
What is the funding gap?
According to the water plan, there is an estimated funding gap of $100 million per year over 30 years. These figures, according to Ris, came from data in the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative. That technical analysis found that Colorado needed $20 billion worth of water projects to meet the water supply gap by 2050. Of that $20 billion, $17 billion is expected to be paid for by existing funding sources, including rate payers of water utilities and federal money.
The state is investigating options to fund the remaining $3 billion gap. Proposition DD is one of these options. But the $3 billion figure, based on decade-old data, is not precise.
“($100 million per year over 30 years) was an estimate,” Ris said. “I don’t think it was ever really intended to be an exact figure. It’s more to say, we know there’s going to be a big need and we will work to refine that estimate going forward … We are just trying to point out it’s an expensive endeavor going forward.”
Supporters of Proposition DD say they realize that the estimated $15 million raised per year is still a far cry from the estimated $100 million needed per year, instead calling the money a “down payment” on implementing the water plan.
Who is endorsing Proposition DD?
Proposition DD has received broad endorsement from environmental groups such as Conservation Colorado and American Rivers, agriculture organizations such as the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Corn Growers Association, and several chambers of commerce.
Matt Rice of American Rivers said his organization is endorsing the measure because it wants to see some projects fully funded, including stream-management plans, urban water-conservation programs and modernization of agriculture irrigation infrastructure.
Rice said American Rivers “unabashedly and unequivocally” supports a demand-management program in Colorado, which Proposition DD could help fund.
“We deeply believe a demand-management program needs to be one of the tools that we have in our toolbox as we plan for water scarcity or prolonged drought because of climate change,” Rice said.
Who is opposed to Proposition DD?
Environmental group Save the Colorado and the political action committee Coloradans for Climate Justice oppose the measure. According to the Coloradans for Climate Justice Facebook page, the group believes fossil fuel companies should pay for the damage to water-supply systems caused by climate change. So far, the group has not filed any reports for contributions or expenditures.
Who is funding Proposition DD?
Despite broad support from many organizations, the political action committee Yes on Prop DD is funded primarily by the gambling industry. According to filings with the Secretary of State, as of Sept. 30, casinos and online sports betting organizations have spent nearly $1 million to support the measure. The Colorado Farm Bureau and the Environmental Defense Fund have contributed $10,000 each.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, Vail Daily, Summit Daily, Glenwood Springs Post-Independent and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Oct. 10, 2019 edition of the above papers or on their websites.
No corner of the globe is spared from the impacts of climate change, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin.
Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, Climate Change Part 2: Climate Change is Water Change, where we build upon our knowledge of climate change science to explore changes affecting the already parched American Southwest.
2019 was a wild weather year around the globe with temperatures breaking records and extreme weather events like hurricanes, massive flooding and wildfires impacting communities, people, and ecosystems. No corner of the globe was spared from its impacts, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin. Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, which builds on our understanding of the science behind climate change.
The Upper Colorado River Basin had record precipitation during the 2018 – 2019 winter, it was the second highest amount of precipitation recorded since 1900. At the annual Colorado River District Water Seminar, Jeff Lukas with the Western Water Assessment noted that not only did we experience a tremendous amount of precipitation but this winter was the coldest winter since 2010. The cold, wet winter built a significant snowpack in the mountains (130% of average snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin). Snowpack is essential for the region as the Colorado River and most other rivers in the region are primarily driven by runoff that melts throughout the spring and summer. Runoff provides rivers with flushing, peak flows and a firm baseline heading into fall. A wet, cold winter was welcome after one of the worst drought years in 2018, and this year’s snowpack pushed the state of Colorado out of a statewide drought conditions for the first time in 20 years.
However, winter wasn’t the only season in the record books this year. The Southwest experienced extreme heat and lack of precipitation in the later months of the summer. In his Colorado River District seminar presentation, Jeff Lukas noted that June – August 2019 was the 8th driest year since 1900, with July and August being the 6th warmest. Despite the significant snowpack, the hot summer temps coupled with dry soils and reduced late summer flows resulted in a smaller runoff that might have been anticipated. This year’s runoff was 118% of average at Lee’s Ferry versus the 130% of average snowpack for the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Warmer winter temperatures hold more moisture in the air – in turn, the warmer summer temperatures increase evaporation and dry the region out much faster than in the past. This not only reduces soil moisture but also river flows. Between 2000 and 2014, the Colorado River experienced a 20% reduction in flows when compared to the period of 1906-1999. According to Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, one-third of this reduction is linked to warming temperatures and it’s likely that flows will only continue to decline as temperatures continue to rise.
“Weather whiplash,” a term coined by climatologist Dan Swain, can best describe our new normal in the Colorado River Basin. The whiplash of temperatures, precipitation, and extreme weather attributed to climate change affects all corners of the globe. Regions like the Southwest that are already dry will experience increased vulnerability in the form of higher temperatures, variable precipitation, earlier runoff, more intense wildfires and punctuated flooding events. These events will only intensify over time and will vary depend on the specific location within the region – some areas will get hotter and drier while other will experience more precipitation in the winter months. As Brad Udall says in the podcast, in the Colorado River Basin, climate change is water change.
One thing everyone can do to address the climate crisis is to call your representative and let them know it’s time to take action on climate change! We must reduce greenhouse gases and make our communities and ecosystems more resilient to a changing climate. We need to use more renewable energy sources, improve renewable portfolio standards, ensure regulations are in place to reduce greenhouse gases, and develop new technologies utilizing renewable energies. Let your representatives know that along with slowing global warming (by reducing greenhouse gases), we must adapt to the changes we are already experiencing. This includes protecting and restoring the wetlands, forests, and riverside lands that slow floods and provide clean water is essential to help us adapt to the new normal. Together, we can use water more efficiently and install green infrastructure to decrease polluted runoff, improve air quality, and lower temperatures. Make your voice heard today – do your part.
Here’s a guest column from Alan Hamel that’s running in the La Junta Tribune Democrat:
There are two six-year term board seats and one two-year term seat to be filled on the Pueblo Board of Water Works. One incumbent and three new candidates are running for the two six-year seats, and one short-term incumbent and a new candidate are running for the two-year seat.
This election could be historic, in that, in a short two-year time span, the board could have four new members. A major part of the organization’s success in serving Pueblo with high quality water in a sufficient supply and at a reasonable cost, supported by a highly qualified leadership team and dedicated and qualified employees, is having a tenured board of highly motivated business men and women committed to that mission.
Not only must they look at today, but 50 years out. That is why this election is so crucial to our future.
Let’s for a moment reflect on a just few of Pueblo Water’s major successes. First, water supply. Pueblo Water is currently the completing the acquisition of 28 percent of the Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Company. With this addition to Pueblo’s supply, the system can serve a population of 200,000 and through the year 2070.
Second, water treatment and quality. The system’s water treatment equipment and laboratories are state of the art, meeting or exceeding all state and federal which continually are becoming more demanding. Pueblo Water continually adopts the newest and best methods to deliver the highest quality water to its customers. The water treatment plant capacity is 84 million gallons per day. With Pueblo’s current maximum day usage in the low 50 million gallons per day, the plant is capable of serving Pueblo’s needs well into the future.
Third, water rates. Pueblo continues to have the lowest rates for potable water of any major utility along the Front Range. Pueblo water rates are 33 percent below the average and 67 percent below the top. This is being done while having an ample supply of water and a modern, dependable and well-maintained system.
Fourth, long range planning. Pueblo Water has been a leader in its implementation of long range planning, dating back to the 1970s. Over the years, it has enhanced those efforts greatly. Currently in place are plans that span the next 30 years, and in the case of water supply, 50 years.
This has been a direct result of having a strong and committed elected board, supported by an exceedingly qualified leadership team and backed by highly component and trained employees. The elected board, leadership and employees are all dedicated to serving the customers/citizens of Pueblo.
With all this in mind, I truly believe it is imperative we re-elect Mike Cafasso to another term to the Pueblo water board. He has served the citizens of Pueblo with distinction and strong leadership in this position for the last 12 years and will provide strong leadership in this historic period in Pueblo Water’s history and in our future.
He has served as the board president for a total three years during his tenure. His private sector experience is extensive. He is the current chief executive officer at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center and during his career in banking, he has been president and CEO of two banks in Pueblo.
Along with his comprehensive experience as an administrator and in finance, he has taken extensive leadership, customer service and innovation practice training over the years. And now he applies that in his everyday life. Pueblo Water and their customers have benefited from his service and training.
I now want to make one more recommendation for the other six-year seat. I would recommend Chris Woodka, who has been involved for more than 34 years in water supply issues and would be able to transition quickly into a position as a Pueblo water board member. Currently, he is the senior policy and issues manager for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a position he has held for three years.
For the previous 31 years, Woodka worked in various positions at The Pueblo Chieftain. He wrote and researched water issues during his entire career. From 2004 to 2016, his primary emphasis was on water reporting. During that period I got to know him well. In my opinion, he was the most knowledgeable water reporter in Colorado, covering the complex world of water. He thoroughly understands all aspects of Pueblo Water.
In closing, Pueblo would be well served by electing Mike Cafasso and Chris Woodka to the Board of Water Works.
Alan Hamel retired from the Pueblo Board of Water Works after 52 years, including 30 years as executive director. He now serves as a board member for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a volunteer in the Pueblo mayor’s office.
Here’s a guest column that’s running in the Colorado Springs Gazette:
Proposition DD isn’t a tax increase on citizens or most businesses. DD requires that casinos pay a tax on the profits from sports betting in a similar way they pay taxes on other casino earnings. It allows Colorado Mountain Casinos to offer sports betting, which is something they aren’t able to participate in.
In 1992, Congress gave Las Vegas a monopoly on sports betting, through an ill-conceived measure in an omnibus package. Thankfully, the Supreme Court overturned this ridiculous law, last year, in the case of Murphy v. The National Collegiate Athletic Association. Justice Alito wrote in the majority opinion that the regulation of sports betting should be left to the states. Our response to this opportunity: Proposition DD.
Proposition DD authorizes operating mountain casinos to offer sports betting, so Las Vegas doesn’t maintain their monopoly. It also allows for a small tax on these same casinos’ profits. The revenue from this tax goes to regulation costs, gambling addiction services, and the Colorado Water Plan.
While Colorado’s population continues to explode, competition for water is reaching a fevered pitch. It’s time for Colorado to take action to preserve the future of our water. Proposition DD will address water infrastructure needs.
Proposition DD would provide an estimated $29 million in funding to expand reservoirs, invest in water quality, manage watersheds decimated by wildfires, and protect access to flowing rivers and streams for fishermen and rafters. Conservatives and citizens who recognize the importance of water to the future of our great state — should vote yes.
DD will provide the funding necessary to protect Colorado’s water. It addresses core challenges like the need for water infrastructure with targeted approaches that do not increase taxes on the general public. By doing this, we keep the pressure for new taxes off the taxpayers in our great state.
Colorado must seek ways to address infrastructure needs without resorting to major tax hikes or the weakening of your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. There is zero need to resort to these measures to fix Colorado’s infrastructure needs. That is why Proposition DD is a reasonable proposal that engages our needs while maintaining low taxes.
Sports betting would be a new enterprise for Colorado, but Proposition DD would limit this enterprise to existing casinos and gambling establishments. It is a modest approach to the gambling industry, while still being viable enough to address our state’s obligations. If the voters approve Proposition DD in November, it is a win for agriculture, a win for the environment, and a win for all Coloradoans.
That’s why, as conservative Republicans, we are proud to join the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Farm Bureau, the Colorado Dairy Farmers, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Colorado Water Trust, Club 20, Action 22, the Grand Junction, Rangeley, and Denver Chambers, and dozens of key water leaders in rural, urban and suburban Colorado in supporting Proposition DD.
The following Colorado legislators contributed to this column: Senate: John Cooke, Owen Hill, Rob Woodward, Don Coram. House: Patrick Neville, Mark Catlin, Matt Soper, Janice Rich, Dave Williams, Kevin Van Winkle, Rod Pelton, Shane Sandridge, Colin Larson.
Coloradoans are being asked to decide two statewide ballot issues this fall, and we encourage voters to approve both measures, which have garnered widespread bipartisan support.
Proposition CC proposes to eliminate the state’s revenue cap and reallocate that excess revenue to fund transportation and education. It is not a new tax but instead, would allow the state to retain tax revenue rather than refunding it back to taxpayers. The retained revenue would be equally divided and specifically spent on public schools, higher education and transportation projects.
The proposition mandates that the third of the revenue earmarked for transportation be divided between the Colorado Department of Transportation, counties and cities. According to Steamboat Springs City Council member Kathi Meyer, who serves on the executive board of the Colorado Municipal League, which has endorsed Proposition CC, Steamboat and Routt County stand to gain millions of dollars in revenue that can be spent on local roads and bridges during years when there is a Taxpayers Bill of Rights — or TABOR — excess.
In addition to helping to fund Colorado’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, Proposition CC would also boost funding for education, which we think is crucial to the future of our state, which currently ranks in the bottom third of the nation when it comes to per-pupil funding at the K-12 level.
Proposition CC also requires an annual audit of funding, which ensures transparency and allows taxpayers to know exactly how money is being spent.
We realize that Proposition CC is a De-Brucing at the state level, but we believe TABOR needs to be addressed due to the unintended consequences it has had on the state’s ability to fund core services. Proposition CC provides a mechanism to address TABOR’s flaws, and that is one of the reasons why we believe it deserves voter support.
With broad support from across the state and at the capitol, Proposition DD seems like a no-brainer. The proposition is asking voters to legalize casino sports betting and tax profits to fund the Colorado Water Plan, and we think the measure deserves a resounding “yes” vote.
DD, if approved, will provide a dedicated, predictable revenue stream to help address Colorado’s future water needs. Funding from DD will help keep water in rural Colorado through the support of projects that are prioritized by the state’s various basin roundtables. And with the Yampa River flowing through downtown Steamboat, our communities know first-hand how important water and water quality are to recreation and our local agriculture community.
Sports betting is going to happen whether DD is approved or not, and we believe it’s smart for Colorado to tax it and use that revenue to fund water projects. The proposition also will create a regulated betting market as opposed to the black market, and a small portion of the revenue will be used to support resources to combat gambling addiction — an amount that was established with input from key stakeholders.
Supporters of Proposition DD offer a great analogy for how they believe the proposition will impact Colorado. They think DD will do for water what Great Outdoors Colorado, funded by the Colorado Lottery, did for open space across the state.
DD won’t provide the $20 billion needed to meet all of Colorado’s water demands, but it does create a significant down payment that can be leveraged in a big way.
Ninety percent of the revenue will be placed in a cash fund for Colorado Water Plan implementation. This fund will support the allocation of grants to support projects that focus on water storage, supply, water conservation, land use, agriculture, the environment and recreational uses, which all have the potential to positively affect our local community.
The group Yes on Proposition DD said the coalition of ag interests in support includes the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Corn Growers Association, Colorado Dairy Farmers, the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Pork Producers and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union…
“Most farmers and ranchers could care less about sports betting. But this is a smart way to pay for the critical water infrastructure that Colorado’s future needs,” Chad Vorthmann, the executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said in a statement.
With just weeks left before the Nov. 5 election, a proposal that would legalize sports betting in casinos, then use the proceeds to help pay for water infrastructure and environmental programs, has yet to win widespread recognition from the public.
Backers say that could change this week with the launch of a wave of television ads touting Proposition DD, as the sports betting proposal is known.
As of Sept. 17, Yes on Proposition DD had raised more than $433,000, according to filings at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. It is money that analysts said could be enough to push it to a successful vote in November. The funds came from some Central City casinos, a New York-based gaming company, FanDuel, and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others.
But much work remains to be done to educate voters on what the measure would accomplish, backers said.
“It’s not a slam dunk,” said Colorado House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, who was a sponsor of the bill that referred the measure to the ballot so that voters could weigh in. “There’s a lot on the line here.”
As written, DD would impose a 10 percent tax on sports betting in casinos and dedicate the tax revenue to helping fund the Colorado Water Plan, launched at the end of 2015. Initial estimates by the legislature indicate DD could raise $10 million to $20 million a year to go toward implementing the water plan. The money would 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, and legal and planning work.
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.
Even as lawmakers were sending Proposition DD to the ballot, another group, For the Love of Colorado, was examining ways to secure even more funding for water projects. It hopes to sponsor a second statewide ballot initiative in future years, say in 2020 or 2021, that would raise far more than DD will generate.
They look at DD as a sort of down payment on the $3 billion in additional funding the state has previously estimated it needs to fully implement the water plan between now and 2050, including projects to protect streams and rivers even as new water supply projects are developed to meet looming shortages.
“Tax measures are really hard in Colorado,” said Brian Jackson, a western water specialist with the Environmental Defense Fund and a key architect of DD. “They all die, even for things people care deeply about — roads, children, education. But DD is an opportunity that couldn’t be missed, so we’re not missing it. It’s a good down payment. But we have a lot of hard work to do.”
Key among the tasks backers must accomplish is to clarify, despite ballot language that describes a statewide increase in taxes, that the measure would actually raise taxes only on casinos who implement sports betting programs, Garnett said.
Polls conducted last month in Adams County by pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli showed 40 percent of likely Adams County voters supported the measure, with 42 percent opposing it and 18 percent undecided.
Gary Wockner, founder of Save the Colorado, is chair of the issue committee opposing DD. In an email, Wockner said his group would battle any effort that raises money for environmentally damaging water projects.
“We oppose DD because it would pay for new river-destroying dams and diversions,” Wockner said in an email. Coloradans for Climate Justice, as the anti-DD campaign is known, also states on its Facebook page that it sees DD as a tax on Coloradans to pay for damage caused by climate change on the state’s river systems, and that “if taxes are to be raised, they should be raised on entities which caused climate change, principally the fossil fuel corporations.”
Ciruli and others said that Coloradans for Climate Justice will have difficulty defeating DD without cash to launch a statewide opposition movement. The committee had not raised any money according to its last finance filing. Wockner did not respond to a question regarding his committee’s fundraising to date.
With campaign coffers full, DD could get a yes from Coloradans, Ciruli said.
“The public, over the years, has demonstrated that water is very valued and the water plan itself was popular,” Ciruli said. “Right now, beyond extreme environmental interests, [DD] isn’t generating much opposition. It could be a good sell.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The river district, which represents 15 western Colorado counties, including Montrose, recently announced its board backs Proposition DD. The ballot proposition would both legalize sports betting in the state and direct most of the revenue from it to implementing the water plan, including a possible water-demand management program to address the multi-state Colorado River Compact.
Prop DD also places a 10-percent tax on net proceeds of casinos that offer sports betting…
As described by the river district, revenues from sports betting could then be used for Water Plan Implementation Grants that fund water projects in: agriculture; conservation and land use; water supply and infrastructure; engagement and innovation and environmental and recreation. The revenues could also be used to ensure compliance with interstate water compacts.
Prop DD is estimated to bring in between $10 and $15 million per year — falling well short of the estimated $100 billion annual funding gap for water plan implementation.
Despite the focus on water in these DD spots, money for the campaign is barely trickling in from water-industry stakeholders. Instead, 97.5 percent of the $403,000 donated to the Yes on Proposition DD campaign in the first eleven days of September has come from the gaming industry, though betting is largely an afterthought in these commercials…
The Proposition DD ballot question reads: “Shall state taxes be increased by twenty-nine million dollars annually to fund state water projects and commitments and to pay for the regulation of sports betting through licensed casinos by authorizing a tax on sports betting of ten percent of net sports betting proceeds, and to impose the tax on persons licensed to conduct sports betting?”
Asked why the ads focus on the water plan, Hubbard says that the commercials are designed to help make up for what he considers confusing wording on the ballot proposal. “One of the challenges we’ve seen is that it’s unclear if you just read the ballot language that this is a tax that casinos pay and that the vast majority of the money raised goes to fund Colorado’s water plan. That’s what we’re trying to highlight for people,” Hubbard notes.
Although the ballot language may be a bit convoluted, it’s clear where the Yes on Proposition DD campaign money is coming from.
With bipartisan support, the bill soon made it through the full House and Senate; Governor Jared Polis signed it at the end of May. Now voters will have the final say on Proposition DD in November — not because the legislature thinks that the people should have the right to decide whether sports betting is allowed in Colorado, but because the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment known as TABOR, requires that any proposed new taxes be authorized by the people, and there will be a tax on these bets.
In this case, though, the tax won’t be paid by all the people of Colorado. Instead, it will come from a 10 percent tax on the revenues generated by sports bettors at casinos and through mobile-app companies authorized to allow such bets. But the vast majority of the tax money collected will go to the state’s water plan.
If DD passes, that plan will be one of the big winners in the push for legalized sports betting…
“You can’t send a measure to voters that is just a blank check to government,” says Brian Jackson of the Environmental Defense Fund. “It has got to go somewhere.”
In August 2018, Jackson met with Garnett at a cafe near the Capitol, where he made his pitch that most of the tax money should be allocated to the state’s water plan, which had gone largely unfunded since it was completed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and approved by Governor John Hickenlooper in November 2015.
“Garnett was looking for something that had bipartisan support, something that had statewide appeal, something that needed money. And we fit all those,” Jackson recalls.
Early in Hickenlooper’s tenure, his administration had recognized that if the state didn’t change its approach to water, it would be looking at a shortage in the future; the Colorado Water Plan was created to ensure that the state would have water for decades to come. It focuses on river health, drinking water, agriculture and recreation, and is designed to both keep up with Colorado’s population boom and balance the needs of the more heavily populated Front Range and Western Slope.
The plan also created a mechanism for funding water projects. For example, if municipalities along the Front Range are considering a water-reuse project, they can apply for funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, explains Jackson: “The more water you reuse, the less you pull from the Western Slope or from other river sources. But it costs money. This is the type of activity that could benefit from dedicated resources.”
The kind of dedicated resources that would come from a sports-betting tax.
While the state has put some money into the plan, Jackson estimates that it would need something in the range of $100 million a year to make a true, long-lasting impact. Right now, he says, “it changes year to year. In the last four years, it’s been as low as $5 million and as high as $15 million.” He thinks that sports betting could pour another $5 million to $15 million into the plan every year to start, and maybe more once the market matures.
Garnett recognized that water was a concern for both sides of the legislature, and making the Colorado Water Plan the beneficiary of much of the sports-betting tax could be a winning proposition for Democrats and Republicans alike.
“We actually know where the revenue is going,” points out Representative Patrick Neville, a Republican who sponsored the bill with Garnett. “This can’t be a honey pot for politicians to steal money from.”
The bill’s sponsors cautioned lawmakers that sports betting wouldn’t be the entire solution for the state’s water woes, but every drop helps.
“It’s not sufficient to satisfy all of the water demand and projects across the state,” says Gaspar Perricone, a lobbyist for Freestone Strategies who worked on the bill. “It’s a good down payment.”