Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.” It is no surprise that the Let’s Vote committee is trying to use the emotional and complex issue of water to scare voters into reversing the annexation of Steamboat 700 by the City Council.
But decisions about important community issues should be based on a thorough understanding of the facts, not fear. So what’s the truth about water service to Steamboat 700?
Plenty of water
The city has more than adequate water rights to serve Steamboat 700 because the city has been planning for growth for years. The plan for water service to the west of Steamboat started in 1993 when the city extended a major water line to Steamboat II. In 1996 and again in 2008, the city determined that it owned sufficient water rights to supply the West Steamboat area. The city’s independent water engineers later concluded that the city owns adequate water rights to accommodate expected growth within the existing city plus projected growth in West Steamboat, even in drought conditions.
A water rights partner
However, the water rights owned by the city in Stagecoach Reservoir and on Fish Creek are not currently usable because they have not been converted (or “firmed up”) for use in the city system. In November 2009, the city filed papers with the District Court to convert the Stagecoach and Fish Creek water rights.
Steamboat 700 has agreed to pay the cost to make these water rights usable by the city in its municipal system.
This obligation contained in the Annexation Agreement requires Steamboat 700 to pay $960,000 to the city for this work over the next two years, regardless of when development commences in Steamboat 700. If Steamboat 700 is not annexed, the bill to convert these water rights to municipal use will have to be covered by existing residents.
No costs to existing residents
Growth must pay its own way. This was the single most important non-negotiable requirement of the City Council under the Steamboat 700 Annexation Agreement. The requirement applies to the cost of water pipes, tanks, treatment facilities and other water system improvements that will be necessary to provide water service in Steamboat 700. No cost of the annexation, including water system improvements, will be paid by existing residents.
The method to accomplish this goal under the Annexation Agreement is straightforward and consistent with city development requirements.
First, all costs of infrastructure directly related to the development must be paid by the developer or metro districts formed for the Steamboat 700 development. This is how water infrastructure for development in the city has been financed for years. Over the past 20 years, the city’s Public Works Department has developed substantial experience in managing new development so that no costs are shifted to existing residents.
Second, general water system improvements needed by Steamboat 700 such as increased water treatment capacity and new water storage will be paid by tap fees generated by the Steamboat 700 and other West Steamboat development.
To protect existing residents, the city will require that no phase of development at Steamboat 700 be allowed to start until the necessary tap fees have been collected or prepaid. Water service to Steamboat 700 will be revenue neutral and will impose no cost to existing city residents.
New emergency water
There will be substantial benefits to existing city residents from water improvements for Steamboat 700. Today, most of Steamboat’s drinking water supply comes from the Fish Creek basin, which is vulnerable to a forest fire. As stated by the city’s special water attorney, Fritz Holloman, we are one fire away from potential disaster. Steamboat 700 and other West Steamboat development will pay for a new (redundant) water system that will be available to serve the rest of the city in an emergency.
Good for Steamboat
The Annexation Agreement plan for water service to Steamboat 700 is good for Steamboat. It protects taxpayers and provides money to “firm up” city water supplies that otherwise would be paid by existing residents and businesses. Eventually, it will provide, at the cost of the Steamboat 700 and other West Steamboat development, a redundant source of water within the city water system and protect residents from water shortages in the event of a fire or other emergency that reduces the quantity of water available from Fish Creek.
Vote yes on Referendum A. It’s good for water. It’s good for Steamboat.