As drought persists, Colorado water funding comes just in time

Update: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill June 24 to provide $20 million to water projects.

Despite some recent rains, nearly half of Colorado remains in a drought and about one-third of the state in severe, extreme or exceptional drought. Urgent action is still needed.

Colorado Drought Map

Fortunately, higher-than-expected sports betting dollars are just the first in a hat trick of three new funding streams that can deliver critical water projects in the state. Here are the three big plays:

1. Sports betting generated $6.6 million for water in its first year.

The first full year of sports betting legalized by voters in 2019 generated $6.6 million, and almost all of that goes to Colorado’s Water Plan.

It’s a huge number given that the COVID-19 pandemic shut down several in-person sporting events over the last year. Even before the pandemic, Colorado’s Department of Revenue estimated sports betting would bring in less than $2 million the first year.

Now in its second year in Colorado, sports betting could deliver $10 million in water funding, based on average monthly revenue of $830,000 from October 2020 through April 2021.

These funds will be transferred to the Colorado Water Conservation Board at the end of each fiscal year to grant funds for the following year to critical projects to implement Colorado’s Water Plan and protect healthy rivers, clean drinking water, productive agriculture and outdoor recreation.

2. Local measures passed last fall are granting funds.

In addition to state funds, the Colorado River District and the St. Vrain Left Hand Water Conservancy District both passed and are now identifying and making grants to improve the resilience of their local water systems.  The $4.9 million in annual funds for the river district and $3.3 million for St. Vrain are expected to be spent on projects related to agriculture and irrigation infrastructure upgrades, water quality, creek restoration, conservation, and water efficiency and education.

This funding is also a critical match to state and federal opportunities, creating multiplier effects to expand the impact of these local dollars.

3. Legislature considering $20 million in water stimulus funds.

Speaker Alec Garnett (D-Denver) and a bipartisan lineup of state legislators are working on a $20 million infusion of Colorado stimulus dollars to deploy to water projects as soon as possible. That effort will send $15 million to jumpstart the sports betting water fund and $5 million to basin roundtables — stakeholder groups created by the state to drive collaborative local water solutions.

So far each vote in the Legislature has won unanimous bipartisan support, signaling water is a top priority for state policymakers. (Update: This legislation was signed by Gov. Jared Polish June 24.)

As extreme drought plagues Colorado, three new funding streams are arriving just in time to help build more resilient water systems. Click To Tweet

These three water wins won’t solve all the problems brought on by drought. We need continued and expanded investments to protect and conserve our water systems as droughts become more frequent and severe. But for now, a win is a win, and we’ll take them.

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