Whether they’re on the Front Range or the West Slope, Coloradans know that water is essential for life; they value healthy rivers and streams. This election, as a 20-year drought intensified and climate change-fueled wildfires swept across communities on both the Front Range and the West Slope, the need to protect our water future was clearer than ever.
And Coloradans – Democrats and Republicans alike – voiced their support by voting in large margins for two regional ballot measures that will allow their local water conservancy districts to raise taxes to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed and forest health, and water quality.
The passage of these two ballot measures means communities will have $8 million more each year working to ensure there is enough water for everyone – for drinking, farming and ranching, recreation, and wildlife.
- In the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District on the Front Range, voters approved a property tax increase that will provide an additional $3.3 million a year to protect its local water supply.
- In the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which spans most or all of 15 West Slope counties, voters overwhelmingly approved a mill levy increase that will raise nearly $5 million annually and enable the River District to carry out water priorities set by local communities and stakeholders. For example, it will support projects to ensure clean drinking water supplies, healthy habitats for fish and wildlife, recreation opportunities, and water for farmers and ranchers.
Voters in the two districts approved these two measures one year after Coloradans passed Proposition DD, a statewide measure to legalize and tax sports betting and use proceeds for a wide range of water projects and programs.
Western Resource Advocates was proud to be a part of a diverse partnership of businesses, community leaders, conservationists, and many others supporting all three of these measures. The combined victories mean the state and local communities could eventually have up to $37 million a year to protect water for healthy watersheds, wildlife, and communities. That funding will help ensure the state and local water districts can mitigate forest fire risks, increase flows in rivers and streams, expand municipal conservation efforts, and improve outdated agricultural infrastructure.
Western Resource Advocates works to ensure healthy rivers in Colorado and throughout the Intermountain West. The Colorado River and its tributaries are vital to our states: 40 million people in seven states and two countries rely on the river for their drinking water. Millions more people depend on the farms and ranches it supports, and a $1.4 trillion economy is tied to the river system.
Our goal is a Colorado River that flows to the sea, but long-term drought and rising temperatures mean there already is less water in the river, and the pressure on the river and its major tributaries—like the Yampa, White, Gunnison, and Dolores—is increasing as the population expands. In fact, one of the biggest climate change-driven hotspots has been identified in the West Slope farming communities just downstream from where the Colorado River originates.
So while we’re justifiably celebrating today, we also are acutely aware that we have a big challenge ahead. Climate change and drought will keep stressing our water, and growing Western cities and agriculture will need to innovate and find ways to do more with less.
Five years ago this week, Western Resource Advocates joined Coloradans from across the state, representing diverse interests – from business and agriculture, to recreation and conservation – in celebration the culmination of our work together shaping Colorado’s Water Plan. The blueprint — designed to ensure a productive economy, efficient and effective water infrastructure, and a strong environment — identifies that Colorado needs $100 million annually to protect scarce water resources to prevent future water shortages in the state.
We still have a long way to go to reach the full funding we need. Western Resource Advocates will continue to work for healthy rivers and streams and enough water for everyone – on the West Slope and all across Colorado.