Guest opinion: Vote yes on Ref. 4A, no on Ref. A | AspenTimes.com
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Guest opinion: Vote yes on Ref. 4A, no on Ref. A

Thomas S. Dunlop
Pitkin County representative,
Colorado River Water Conservation District Board

On this November’s ballot, two measures will address future development of water: one being a very pragmatic regional solution in Referendum 4A; the second being the very controversial statewide Referendum A question.

Referendum 4A is the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s (Colorado River District) TABOR compliance, or “de-Brucing,” measure that will cease the ratcheting-down effect that TABOR has on local government taxes and freeze the District’s mill levy at 0.250 mills. Referendum 4A will not raise the property-tax mill levy, but will prevent any further erosion of the Colorado River District’s mill levy, which has been cut in half since 1992 when TABOR was first enacted.

Why allow the Colorado River District to freeze their mill levy?

The Colorado River District is the only entity in the state whose express mission is to protect the waters of the Colorado River Basin for the beneficial use of the citizens living within the basin.

While other entities are working to remove water from the Colorado River system, the Colorado River District is working to prevent unnecessary incursions into the West Slope’s water supply by outside parties, and preserving the ability of the West Slope to develop this most valuable of natural resources as, and when, it sees fit.

But developing and preserving our ability to use West Slope water on the West Slope comes at a cost – a cost that cannot be met by an ever-shrinking mill levy rate. Referendum 4A will allow the Colorado River Water Conservation District to retain and use revenues that would otherwise be prohibited by TABOR .

Additional revenues, however, are not assured. Any additional revenues collected after passage of Referendum 4A will be used to purchase existing sources of water available in federally owned reservoirs such as Ruedi, to modernize agricultural water delivery systems to make them more efficient, to lessen the amount of harmful minerals picked up in irrigation water, and preserve the agricultural open space that the West Slope prizes so much. All of this without increasing taxes.

The Colorado River District will also be able to keep grant money provided by non-federal sources, allowing outside sources of funding to help the West Slope that current law does not allow the District to accept.

What about Referendum A? Colorado taxpayer dollars should not be spent duplicating existing water financing authorities that work exceptionally well, while other essential state programs are being cut.

Referendum A is not “free money.” Referendum A is a financing mechanism that does not provide additional funding to subsidize or otherwise make an expensive project more affordable.

Referendum A calls for the creation of a new financing mechanism that parallels existing bonding authority already being provided by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. As a state financing authority, the Authority can currently bond public water projects up to $500 million, and more expensive projects can be bonded with approval by the Colorado Legislature.

Financing water construction projects is not a major hurdle today without Referendum A. There are plenty of financing option available for the construction of water supply projects. In recent history, lack of financing has not been a reason a water construction project has not been completed.

Referendum A lacks clear intent to provide protection and mitigation to a basin of origin when a project sponsored by Referendum A would remove water from one basin for use in another. West Slope legislators have repeatedly commented that when basin of origin protections were attempted during the legislative process, this protection was always removed.

Referendum A is not a West Slope vs. East Slope issue! Basin-of-origin protection will benefit all river valleys in the state where water can be moved or removed. This includes all of the West Slope river basins as well as, for example, the Arkansas River and San Luis Valley river systems serving the East Slope.

So, how will the voters be able to keep these two confusing water issues straight? Just remember vote for 4A, but vote against A.


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