Water conservancy district says ‘no’ to proposed amendment

During its regular monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon, the San Juan Water Conservancy District Board of Directors officially declared opposition to a proposed Amendment to the Colorado Constitution.

By unanimous vote, present board members adopted and approved a resolution expressing concern with, and urging a “no” vote on proposed Amendment 52.

As expressed in somewhat baffling legal jargon, the resolution, simply entitled “Resolution of the San Juan Water Conservancy District,” read, in part, “ … WHEREAS, Amendment 52 to the Colorado Constitution seeks to reallocate severance taxes received by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that significantly limit the amount of funds available for State grants, loans, and studies specific to water projects and issues; and

“WHEREAS, in 2007, the CWCB awarded the District a $1 million grant for land acquisition for the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, and future loans and/or grants may be sought by the District; and

“WHEREAS, the CWCB has estimated the State will need at least $2.7 billion dollars to meet the water infrastructure financing needs of municipalities, local communities, industry, farmers, ranchers, and non-consumptive environmental and recreational purposes identified in recent studies and passage of Amendment 52 will further impair Colorado’s ability to meet these needs;

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Directors of the San Juan Water Conservancy District that the District hereby declares that Amendment 52 coming before the electorate is of official concern to the District and to its electors and encourages a ‘NO’ vote on such question on the November 4, 2008 statewide ballot.”

Essentially, Amendment 52 would change the state constitution to require the legislature to drastically reduce the amount of “severance tax” revenue spent on state programs like water projects, low-income energy assistance and wildlife conservation, and reallocate the money to constructing and maintaining highways. According to the official language, first priority would go to relieving traffic congestion on the Interstate 70 corridor, presumably between Denver and several major ski resorts.

Companies extracting nonrenewable natural resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, gold and silver pay the state severance tax, with the amount paid based on company income or the volume of the resource mined.

Even as the amendment fails to guarantee new money for projects that will actually relieve I-70 congestion, voters must decide if establishing a state highway fund should take precedence over meeting growing water demand and maintaining aging water supply systems.

Though many commuters and Front Range skiers will likely support Amendment 52, certain water providers, like the San Juan Water Conservancy District, consider it potentially disastrous. The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District hasn’t yet stated its position on the proposal.