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Letter to the Editor:

As voters in Chaffee County consider taxing themselves and visitors to protect forests, waters and working lands, we wish to share our experience working with a similar program in neighboring Park County.

Park County, the headwaters of the South Platte River, lost most of its water rights to the Denver metro area in the 1990s. It is geographic luck that the Upper Arkansas Basin has not already suffered a similar fate.

In the 1990s, one city took the water grab too far and proposed a project that many believed would dry up wells, wetlands and streams. So, in 1997 residents established a 1% sales tax to establish the Land & Water Trust Fund to protect and improve its water resources. This was originally used to cover over $1.5 million in legal expenses defending against this project. It was worth it – Park County won, kept its water, and was reimbursed.

In the 20 years since, the LWTF has been used to proactively protect and restore the watershed, secure augmentation water for communities, tie irrigation water rights to the land and holistically improve the health of waters across Park County. The fund, much of which is paid by visitors, have been leveraged nearly 3:1 to restore over 40 miles of stream and protect over 7,000 acres of wetlands. Funds have been used in dozens more projects to test and improve water quality (including from abandoned mines), assess stream and wetland health, improve public fishing access and update water infrastructure.

Our organizations have partnered with Park County in these efforts for the duration, and we have seen the tremendous benefits to the community.

We are both citizens in Chaffee County and encourage voters to consider the similar effort here.

Ben Lenth
Colorado Open Lands
Salida

Mark Beardsley
EcoMetrics LLC
Buena Vista

Friends of Park County Land and Water.org