2013 Colorado legislation: Water will be front and center during the session #coleg

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From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

Noting the state is still in drought, the governor has set a goal of creating a state water plan by 2015, one that focuses on conservation. “While expanding reservoir capacity makes sense, and rotational fallowing of agricultural land shows great promise, every discussion about water should start with conservation,” [Governor Hickenlooper] said.

One issue that the governor didn’t mention, and which caught [Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg's] attention, was agriculture. “Nothing referencing agriculture and its contribution as the 2nd largest industry and conservation is the answer to water. Dang,” he tweeted after the speech.

The first days of the 2013 session saw the introduction of more than 100 bills, with more than a dozen dealing with water, agriculture and county governments. Legislators can expect to see 500 to 700 bills during the session.

One bill to watch is Sonnenberg’s House Bill HB13-1013: CONCERNING LIMITATIONS ON A LANDOWNER’S ABILITY TO IMPOSE CONDITIONS ON A WATER RIGHT OWNER AS A CONDITION OF PERMISSION TO USE LAND. The bill would tell landowners and the courts that they cannot take away the water rights of those who lease their lands. According to Sonnenberg, the issue arose during the summer’s interim Water Resources Review Committee hearings. It’s based on a 2012 rule, issued by the U.S. Forest Service, which seeks water rights related to ski areas that lease federal lands. The rule is already the subject of a federal lawsuit.

Sonnenberg also is the chief House sponsor of an accompanying measure, HJR13-1004: CONCERNING OPPOSITION TO NEW SPECIAL USE PERMIT WATER REQUIREMENTS, which claims the federal rule is in conflict with Colorado’s Constitution regarding prior appropriation. The resolution states that the Forest Service does not have the authority to require leasees to transfer their water rights. But the problem goes beyond the 22 affected ski areas in Colorado. According to the resolution, the Forest Service also has held up permits for ranchers who lease land for cattle and sheep grazing, also seeking those water rights.

Both measures are unanimously supported by the 10-member bipartisan water resources committee, which includes Brophy.

Next, a Western Slope lawmaker has introduced a bill to grant the Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission exclusive authority to regulate the “beneficial use of produced water for dust suppression on unpaved roads in rural areas.” This refers to groundwater produced during oil and gas operations. HB13-1018: CONCERNING THE BENEFICIAL USE OF PRODUCED WATER FOR DUST SUPPRESSION requires the commission to establish rules and standards for use of that water. The bill states the standards must prevent the discharge of pollutants into the state waters and minimize public exposure to naturally-occurring radioactive materials that come from the produced water. Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose) is the bill’s sponsor. The commission is part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…

And in line with the governor’s request for water conservation measures, Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) and Rep. Randy Fischer (D-Fort Collins), have introduced SB 19, which would encourage water users to increase the efficiency of their water utilization.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado legislators want to issue up to $50 million in bonds to protect watersheds from the threat of wildfires. They also want to extend the state’s tax credits for homeowners who pay for fire mitigation on their rural properties. The ideas in HB13-1012: CONCERNING THE EXTENSION OF FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR WILDFIRE MITIGATION are the Legislature’s first response to the wildfires that ravaged the state last year.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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