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New water fees create stir

Residents with several water rights likely saw hefty increase

Susan Cunningham

This month, water rights owners are finding themselves with another bill to pay, and some Routt County residents are not happy.

The new annual fees, which come from a bill passed last year by the state Legislature to help fund costs of administering water rights, are charged to owners of absolute direct flow and storage water rights.

Each owner of a direct flow right of 1 cfs or more is charged $10 annually for some agricultural uses, or $250 for any other beneficial use. Each storage right of 100 acre-feet or more costs $25 for agricultural uses and $100 for any other beneficial uses.

For owners of several water rights, their water bills can get pretty hefty, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

Monger has heard from several county residents upset about new bills.

“It’s just concerning,” Monger said. His Democratic beliefs, he said, tell him these fees are a typical Republican maneuver: “They don’t raise taxes, they create user fees.”

Ken Knox, chief deputy state engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said that despite discussions and articles before the fees were approved, many residents first heard of the fees when they received their February bills.

More than 1,000 calls came into the division after the February bills were received, he said. Some praised the new fees, and others expressed their anger.

Across the state, more than 10,000 bills have been sent out involving more than 34,000 water rights for a total of $2.1 million in revenue, Knox said. In Division 6, which includes the Yampa and White river basins, 774 bills were sent out, for a total of $182,430 in revenue, he said.

Without the new funds to add to a fraction of the water division’s $15 million administration budget, at least 29 water commissioner positions would have been cut, Knox said.

Dan Craig, president of the Routt County Farm Bureau, said he has heard the “full gamut” of comments from area residents about the new fees.

For people with 10 to 15 water-rights filings, the charges add up, he said, but he feels the fees are needed.

“I hate paying more money, but I think, in this case, I’d rather pay the money than not have the water commissioner,” Craig said.

Some people may need to get their bills adjusted to reflect how they use their water, he said. The law creating the fees could sunset in 2005 if not reapproved by the Legislature, he said, so the bills “may go away anyway.”

This summer, the division will hold public meetings about the fees and take comments. For more information on the new fees, call 1-877-WAFT.

— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4205

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com


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