2011 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB 11-1289 and HB 11-1274

May 10, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Hickenlooper also signed into law a bill that requires water users’ approval before water structures can get a historical designation. Under HB1289, before a water structure can be placed on the National Historical Register, holders of water rights associated with the structure must consent. Its sponsors said historical designations can greatly delay needed improvements and maintenance to structures and be detrimental to water users…

Hickenlooper also signed HB1274, sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, which provides $14 million in funding for water projects from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It devotes $12 million to the Animas-La Plata project on the Western Slope. The bill provides $500,000 to the Arkansas River Decision Support System to map irrigated acreage, delineate parcels and collect surface and groundwater data.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1300 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Dispute Resolution) passes the state House Finance Committee

April 23, 2011

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From the Colorado News Agency (Debbie Brazale):

House Bill 1300, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, would allow disputes over the validity of conservation-easement tax credits to go directly to court rather than forcing landowners to await a ruling by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The measure would also allow those who buy and sell the tax credits granted to the original owners to be a party to disputes in court, and it offers deadlines for resolution of the 600 or so cases currently pending: July 2014 for the donor and 2016 for related parties.

Today’s action by the House Finance Committee represented the second time this month that the panel was asked to dissect aspects of the complex program, which has drawn scrutiny from the media and state regulators in recent years amid allegations of abuse. Earlier this month, the committee also heard House Bill 1208, by Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, and its fate has yet to be decided. McKinley’s bill seeks administrative remedies for current easements that are in dispute
Looper said her bill’s aim is to provide options for landowners and tax-credit buyers who have been snared in red tape over challenges by the Revenue Department over the validity of conservation-easement tax credits.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


The Arkansas River Roundtable approves a study of water law and new water sharing strategies

April 14, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The study would help projects like the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, or any effort that would allow farmers to retain water rights yet lease water, to determine what limitations could work against the concept, and what laws might help implementation. The study would then be discussed in a facilitated dialogue to air concerns in public…

The $20,000 study would be administered by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, which [Gary Barber, chairman of the roundtable] manages, and would be jointly funded by four separate roundtables, in hopes of avoiding the pitfalls of a failed bill that raised numerous objections. The study of laws would be done by Sand Dollar Research, a firm headed by policy analyst Dick Brown. Heather Bergman, of Peak Facilitation and the facilitator for the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, would referee community discussion about the findings…

Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher who sits on the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board that has supported Super Ditch, said the valley needs to find ways to make better use of water. “There’s extra water that could be put to use every year,” Brown said.

Some were nervous about the implications of changing water law. “You really risk a lot. What’s to prevent expansion of use?” asked Terry Scanga, manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “It’s important to find out where we are now.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: State Joint Budget Committee approves preserving a floor of $10 million of severance tax revenues for water projects

April 9, 2011

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

[JBC member Rep. Jon Becker] negotiated a lower cash transfer from a severance tax fund, an agreement that he said will preserve at least $10 million and maybe more for water projects…

[Sen. Greg Brophy] lauded [Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg] and especially Becker for making sure HB 1005 would pass. “Jon ensured that the money was there for the ag tax exemption, and he also made sure we put [millions more] into water projects. We cannot continue to fall behind in developing our water infrastructure.”

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1208 (Conservation Easements) gets a look-see from the state House Finance Committee

April 6, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

State Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, told the House Finance Committee that HB1208 aims to hold the state to its promise. “We made a deal with these people,” McKinley said. “We’re just going to have to go ahead and honor the deal.”[...]

McKinley said when the state began offering tax credits to leave land untouched, many in the land-rich but cash-poor agriculture community seized the opportunity. Because tax liabilities in the agriculture world are few, land donors parted with their tax credits for about 75 percent of their value to purchasers facing steep tax liabilities. When buyers redeemed those tax credits, the Department of Revenue rejected many because appraisers had overvalued the land by 500 to 1,000 times its true worth, in some cases. Buyers of the credits in turn sought to be made whole by the donors they had purchased the tax credits from, but often the proceeds of the easement sale had long been devoured by the expenses associated with agriculture — feed, seed and sustenance during droughts and blizzards that decimated crops and herds…

In short, HB1208 “simply says the credit will be allowed,” and the director will not contest or dig deeper into the appraised value of the conservation easement or its validity unless an appraiser associated with the credit has been found to commit fraud. The Department of Revenue has decried McKinley’s amnesty bill because landowners who recognize a prospect that could spare them the expense of squaring up with the state have been reluctant to participate in scheduled mediation sessions in hopes that the Legislature will whisk their problem away.

John Swartout, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, testified against the bill “because it treats everybody the same.”

More coverage from Debi Brazzale writing for the La Junta Tribune Democrat. From the article:

McKinley says the department has been demanding interest, fees and penalties on easements that they now say were overvalued. Some landowners receiving the notices have been waiting years, in some cases, for the department, who say they are overwhelmed and lack resources to resolve the disputes.

Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, expressed dismay at the predicament the landowners find themselves in. “This seems absurd that these cases are dragging on and on while interest is accruing,” said Acree.

Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch said the department is doing what it is obligated to do on behalf of taxpayers. Couch said that $466 million has been granted to filers since 2001 when the conservation-easement program began and that 16,000 tax returns have been honored.

“We don’t believe we’re the bad guys,” said Couch. “Our job is to protect the taxpayers, and we have the responsibility to make sure that the credits that are claimed are due to the filer.”

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1289 (Water Supply Structure Historic Register)

April 3, 2011

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, this week has quickly marshaled through a bill that would require consent of users of historic water structures when the state historical society wants to place the structure on an historic register. House Bill 11-1289 passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, received approval from the House on second reading on Wednesday and got a 51-12 vote from the full House on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate…

There are more than 22,000 ditches and reservoirs in the state, Shimmin said, and the document [History Colorado put out a 70-page document, prepared several years ago by an architecture professor at the University of Colorado Denver] suggests that all of them might qualify for historical designation on the National Register of Historic Places. “It raised the level of concern in the water user community” because it seemed to designate every ditch and reservoir as an historic structure, he explained. The potential for listing includes regulatory implications, Shimmin said. Any project with federal action, money or property and that requires a federal permit has to go through historical preservation review.

If a third party requests the listing and the owner objects, it can`t be listed, he said, but it can be designated as eligible for listing at the national level, and that triggers the same federal regulations, including control over maintenance or repair. That would include anything in the structure along the system — from headgates right down to the cottonwood trees along the ditch — and implies that every feature is somehow historically significant. “It scared the holy heck out of the owners of the ditch and reservoir systems” that a new wave of federal or state regulations was coming that would impact any act of maintenance, repair or other operating changes, he said.

Under HB 1289 the society must get consent from anyone who has a property interest, including water rights, in a water supply structure, prior to the structure`s nomination on the state or national register. In addition, the state engineer would also have to give his consent. Water users were excluded from the public process, and no public hearings were held by the history society, Shimmin said.

Democrats, however, objected to the bill, stating that requiring permission from the users would permanently end any efforts to put a structure on the National Register.

The four structures already designated as historical are two segments of the [Grand Diversion] structure in the Palisade Canyon along I-70, the San Luis Peoples Ditch and Smith’s Irrigation Ditch in Denver (now known as Denver Ditch).

Steve Turner from History Colorado said that 800 water structures have been reviewed in the past five years and that 200 are considered historic and could be considered for inclusion on the state or federal registers. Sonnenberg said currently there are no plans to put any historic water structures on the state or federal register. “This bill is proactive,” he said, and added that HB 1289 has the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1289 (Water Supply Structure Historic Register)

March 30, 2011

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

A bill moving briskly through the Legislature could make it more difficult for those old water supply structures to be included in either the Colorado Register of Historic Properties or the National Register of Historic Places. House Bill 1289, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Adams County, would require the consent of everyone with a property or water rights interest in a water supply structure for it to be considered for inclusion in the state or national register.

If any one of possibly many property owners objects, the structure would be ineligible for historic recognition by History Colorado, formerly the Colorado Historical Society, the state’s administrator of the National Register of Historic Places. “The fear was if someone needed to upgrade a diversion or a headgate, if it was on the historic list, then you have to go through extra paperwork or time and may not be able to get that done in a timely manner if you need to fix it,” Sonnenberg said.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB 11-1083 (Hydroelectricity and pumped hydro)

March 30, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Under HB1083, the Public Utilities Commission can authorize hydro projects and allow rates to be adjusted to recover the costs of the projects, similar to other renewable energy sources like wind and solar…

Concessions to environmental groups that worried about the impact on aquatic life and others who were concerned about its impact on downstream water users paved the way for the bill’s popularity. “When we started out, I was scratching my head wondering how we were going to get this passed. We were butting our heads against a wall,” said sponsor Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West. “We backed up, just started communicating with the people that had concerns, and then it came on board.”

The bill passed through two committees, the Senate and the House twice without a vote against it. Experts testified that hydro is an economical way — except for the hefty up-front investment — to store and generate energy in order to fill gaps in wind and solar generation, and that up to six sites throughout the state have been identified as suitable sites for hydroelectric plants.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here. More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1286 (Clarify State Engineer Nontributary Rule Authority) sails through the state House

March 29, 2011

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Click here for Joe Hanel’s analysis of the bill from The Durango Herald.

More coverage from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Under HB1286, Water Court would be the last line of appeal for decisions by the state engineer. The bill arose in response to a 2009 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that found oil and gas wells are subject to the tributary water permitting process. Supporters of the bill have said it would streamline the permitting and appeal processes. In a committee hearing, an opponent objected that it represents legislative side-stepping of the high court. Next, the bill will be heard by a Senate committee.

More HB 11-1286 coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB 11-021 (Term Limits Water Facility Operators Boards)

March 26, 2011

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From the Longmont Times:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today signed Black Hawk Democratic Sen. Jeanne Nicholson’s Senate Bill 21, removing term limits for people serving on the state’s Water and Wastewater Facility Operators Certification Board. Previously, members of that panel had been capped at serving two consecutive four-year terms.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1286 (Clarify State Engineer Nontributary Rule Authority) passes the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee

March 26, 2011

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From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

The state is made up of groundwater basins, designed by the Colorado Ground Water Commission. Nontributary groundwater is located outside those basins, and is defined as places where water withdrawal, within 100 years, will not “deplete the flow of a natural stream at an annual rate greater than one-tenth of one percent” per year. It is water that is so deep and isolated from surface water that the impact of its withdrawal would be minimal.

More importantly, nontributary groundwater is not subject to the doctrine of prior appropriation. That’s a fundamental concept within Colorado water law, and in its simplest form says whomever was there first gets the water right. According to the HB 1286 fiscal note, nontributary groundwater “is based on ownership of the overlying land and a 100-year aquifer life expectancy.”

According to [State Engineer Dick Wolfe’s] presentation, a domestic water well generally drills down to about 300 feet. An oil or gas well may need to drill down by 3,000 feet or more, and in Southwestern Colorado, they’re drilling for coal bed methane at levels up to 7,000 feet deep. When an oil or gas well is drilled, it results in “produced water.” That’s water that is removed from a geologic formation during the extraction process of mining for oil or gas. Once the water reaches the surface it must be separated from the mineral. If the state engineer determines that groundwater is coming from a tributary source, then the oil and gas company must get a water permit. No permit is needed if the water comes from a nontributary source.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB 11-1177 (Healthy Rivers Fund Tax Donation)

March 23, 2011

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From the Vail Daily:

On Tuesday, House Bill 11-1177, Healthy Rivers Fund Tax Donation, sponsored by Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, was signed today by Gov. John Hickenlooper. This bill continues the work of the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund, which works to protect outdoor areas across the state.

More instream flow coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1286, Clarify [State Engineer] Nontributary Rule [Authority]

March 22, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-0 to adopt HB1286, sponsored by Reps. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and John Becker, R-Fort Morgan. The bill aims to streamline the decision-making process on water permits. A 2009 Colorado Supreme Court decision found that water used in coal-bed methane natural gas extraction is subject to the requirements of tributary water permitting. The ruling granted Water Courts authority over permitting conflicts and appeals…

Nontributary water can be exempt from permitting, Following the court’s ruling, the state engineer developed rules to govern permitting within the framework of the court’s decision, and developed a map that reflects extraction operations subject to permitting under it. Among them were some wells in the Raton Basin near Trinidad. Under HB1286, the state engineer’s rules would be acknowledged in statute, appeals of permit decisions would be routed through the rule-making process instead of through Water Court and further appeals of those decisions to a Water Court would require a higher standard of proof to overturn earlier rulings in the chain of appeals.

The chief opponent of the bill to testify Monday was lawyer Philip Lopez of the firm White & Jankowski, which represents the plaintiffs who were victorious in the 2009 case. He characterized the bill as an attempt to legislate around judicial decisions, argued the ruling has not led to the shutdown of any gas wells and said the state engineer’s map confers by default a water right to the oil and gas industry that other water users must follow process to attain.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

House Bill 1286 raises the legal standard the ranchers will need to prove to win their lawsuits against State Engineer Dick Wolfe. Last year, Wolfe drew maps that showed which gas and oil wells needed to get water permits and which ones could drill without going to court to fight about who owns the water…

The Vance and Fitzgerald families took Wolfe’s office to court several years ago for not protecting their water rights from gas wells, and they won at the state Supreme Court in 2009. The ruling shocked the gas industry, and legislators worried all 40,000 gas and oil wells in the state would need to get water permits. So they gave Wolfe’s office the power to draw maps that show where gas wells interact with surface water. Gas wells outside the zone do not need to replace the water they use because the water is assumed to be so deep underground that it will have no effect on surface streams.

But the Vance and Fitzgerald families sued again, along with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project and the city of Sterling. Several lawsuits are active, and the main one is working its way through the water court in Greeley…

Mike King, director of the Department of Natural Resources, urged legislators to pass the bill. Wolfe’s office is in King’s department, and King cited the extensive work the engineer’s office did to draw the maps. “What we’re asking is an affirmation of that to remove all doubt,” King said. “This is critical that we resolve this issue and that it doesn’t get litigated and then appealed to the Supreme Court, and we have a two-year window of uncertainty that would not be good for oil and gas production in Colorado.”

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here. More coalbed methane coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1093 clears state House 65-0 on the way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk

March 22, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

On Monday, the Colorado House by a 65-0 vote passed an amended version of HB1083, which now moves to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk awaiting his signature to become law. It passed unanimously through two committee hearings, two votes in the House and a vote in the Senate — more than 180 votes cast, and not one in opposition.

The bill adds hydroelectric and pumped-hydro operations to the list of new energy technologies that the Public Utilities Commission can consider. Those projects would now qualify for cost recovery through rates…

An amendment to the bill that guides the PUC to consider projects’ impacts on aquatic life and another that firmed-up that downstream water users would not be adversely affected by new hydro projects helped the legislation to sail through the Legislature. In the Senate a provision was added that directs the PUC to consider the costs and benefits associated with projects when mulling their approval.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here. More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: SB 11-050 (Value Of Condemned Conservation Easement)

March 15, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

On Monday, a bill that aimed to compel fair-market values for easements was retooled, and now calls for a task force to study the issue in the months between legislative sessions. Hundreds of conservation easements ceded to the state for tax credits are being challenged by the Colorado Department of Revenue on grounds that appraisers overvalued the parcels…

The 12-member interim task force that SB50 proposes would be appointed by Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. It would include two landowners who have placed easements on their property…

Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, asked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, whether the task force would be seated with respect to regional representation. Roberts said she hoped so, but that would be up to the Senate president and the House speaker. Legislative Council is studying the feasibility of the interim effort, and will report back to the Legislature.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here. More conservation easements coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1083 — Hydroelectricity and Pumped Hydro — update

March 15, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Next, the bill faces a formal vote in the Senate. If it passes there, it will return to the House for consideration of an amendment attached in a Senate committee that directs the PUC to consider costs and benefits of hydro projects when issuing permits for new plants.

In its first trip through the House, the bill passed unanimously. To date, there hasn’t been a vote against it in either of the committees that head the bill. [Sen. Kevin Grantham] credited House sponsor Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, for building consensus among groups that tend to oppose hydro projects before introducing it. “Keith carried a lot of the water on this thing from the front end,” Grantham said. “He laid the foundation for the broad support it’s getting.”

[Sen. Angela Giron] emphasized that HB1083 is an example of bipartisan cooperation in the interest of job creation. She said if the South Slope project comes to be, it could be the bill with the greatest economic impact of the 2011 legislative session.

More HB 11-1083 coverage here. More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here. More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1083 (Hydroelectricity & Pumped Hydro) passes state Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee

March 10, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, presented HB1083 to the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee as a job-creating measure and a logical complement to Colorado’s existing renewable energy portfolio.

TransCanada Corp. is in the early stages of exploring the South Slope project, a possible $800 million hydroelectric station near Penrose that could create up to 300 temporary jobs during its construction and 30 permanent positions. “We’re excited about the opportunity to pursue this project.” Bart Jones from the power development division of TransCanada testified. “A company like us will only undergo a project like this if we have support.”[...]

Currently, the Public Utilities Commission is required to consider clean energy and energy-efficient technologies when reviewing applications for electricity acquisition. Solar, geothermal, biomass and methane are some of the modes of energy that fall under that umbrella. Under HB1083, hydroelectricity and pumped hydroelectricity would be added to the list. “This goes a long way toward getting the PUC to look at pump storage in a little different manner,” Jones said…

The bill is structured to protect senior water rights downstream from hydro stations. Engineer Jonah Levine testified that ongoing water consumption would not be a concern under a model like the proposed South Slope project. “A facility should be able to do a one-time fill,” Levine testified. He said evaporation and seepage would represent the only water losses.

Groups that tend to eye hydroelectric projects skeptically, like Trout Unlimited and the Audubon Society, support HB1083 because it would allow the PUC to consider the impact on aquatic life by proposed projects.

More HB 11-1083 coverage here. More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation update

March 6, 2011

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Here’s the legislative update for this week from The Pulse — of the Colorado Farm Bureau (Brent Boydston). From the article:

HB1123 – Rep. Coram’s Bill to prohibit transfers from severance related funds to the general fund passed the House Ag Committee and moves on to the House Committee of the Whole. CFB is in support of this measure.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: The Colorado Department of Wildlife agrees to look at water projects

February 25, 2011

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From the Summit County Citizen’s Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The five-year program was announced a few weeks after State Rep. Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan) proposed a bill that would have diverted revenue from hunting and fishing licenses to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The wildlife agency now says it will work with Becker to explore opportunities that will first and foremost benefit wildlife and wildlife recreation, but will also help other entities and individuals who depend on water resources in the state.

“In the face of budget issues that are creating challenges throughout state government, it is especially challenging to plan for increasing water demand while protecting natural resources over the long term,” Department of Natural Resources director Mike King said. “There is a lot of overlap between healthy wildlife habitat and what sportsmen and agricultural communities need. We welcome the opportunity to combine these goals and find ways to make limited state funding go further.”

“We have several critical water development needs, such as repairing the dam at Beaver Reservoir to allow us to store water again,” said Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington. ”We also have some great opportunities, such as reaching a storage agreement with Rio Grande Reservoir operators to store Division of Wildlife water critical to our needs in the San Luis Valley.”

More coverage from The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The bill’s [HB 11-1150] problem, and Becker`s too, was that diverting the money from DOW would have cost the agency $200 million over the next 10 years in federal funds. That money, according to DOW, funds hunter and aquatic education, sportfish and wildlife restoration, and boating access. Lisa Dale of DOW told this reporter that the money represents 25 percent of the division`s annual funding. Losing it “would have touched everything we do,” she said. And that put Becker on the radar for hunters and fishermen and women, and not in a good way, and as a result HB 1150 faced a probable defeat on Monday. Instead, Becker got a little help from Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and the cooperation of a new Citizen`s Wildlife Advisory Council that Sonnenberg heads. Sonnenberg told this reporter that he made sure the “right people were in the right room at the right time” to hammer out the issues, and eventually, the agreement.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: State Representative Becker asks the House agriculture committee to bury HB 11-1150

February 22, 2011

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From The Denver Post (Lynn Bartels):

The Fort Morgan Republican [Jon Becker] asked the House agriculture committee to kill his proposal involving water storage and Colorado Division of Wildlife fees, saying it wasn’t needed because the parties involved had reached a compromise…

Becker said he has no regrets running the bill because it got sportsmen, wildlife officials, farmers, water groups and others to the table. He credited Mike King, director of the Department of Natural Resources, for helping pull together a compromise. Becker would kill his bill and the Division of Wildlife would spend $6 million over five years for water projects. “This agreement will help DOW to pay for water projects that not only help wildlife but have a secondary benefit for agriculture, cities and municipalities,” Becker told the committee Monday. “I feel that this agreement is going to be much more beneficial than pursuing legislation that may have pitted groups against each other.”

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: Colorado Farm Bureau legislative update

February 20, 2011

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From The Pulse-of Colorado Farm Bureau:

HB 1068 – Rep. Fischer’s “State Engineer to approve Ag water transfers” bill was killed in the House Ag Committee by the Sponsor’s request as the controversy around how this would be handled has increased and there was an agreement for a task force to further look into and study the options for doing long term transfers via administrative approval. – CFB supportive

More 2011 Colorado legislation here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1150 sponsor agrees to pull bill if new Department of Natural Resources agreement to fund water projects is adopted

February 20, 2011

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

DOW announced Thursday that it would put at least $6 million into a five-year plan for water storage projects that will primarily benefit wildlife purposes. The water projects under the agreement target 17 dams statewide that need repairs and improvements, including Two Buttes, in southeastern Colorado; and Beaver Park Reservoir in Boulder County. DNR spokesman Todd Hartman said Thursday that three dams need millions of dollars in restoration work; five others require funding of at least $500,000 each, and the last nine will need about $300,000 each. The five-year plan will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for review, according to DNR officials. Water projects can be pursued by the division “so long as they have the primary purpose of protecting wildlife,” the division said in a Thursday statement, but those projects can have other benefits, such as water supply for irrigation and other agricultural needs. “I believe any water project that saves or increases our water storage is good for all of Colorado,” Becker said Thursday. It’s not the first time DOW has put money into water projects; the division has spent about $2 million on fish and wildlife water projects in the last five years, and owns 104 dams. But under the agreement, water projects will become a higher priority for the division, according to Sonnenberg.

DNR Executive Director Mike King and Becker unveiled the agreement Thursday morning to a gathering of sports and wildlife enthusiasts who were at the capitol for “Sportsmen’s Day,” and the announcement got a positive reception from the group. Becker said he was happy to get the water projects funded through agreement rather than through legislation. It’s an agreement that will be “beneficial to everyone,” he said, one that will keep everyone at the table talking.

That’s also one of the purposes of the Citizen’s Wildlife Advisory Council, which Sonnenberg said was started to resolve the often-adversarial relationship between the sportsmen community and landowners. The 23-member group includes Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Adams County, who chairs the legislative sportsmen’s caucus at the capitol.

More HB 11-1150 coverage here. More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1150 sponsor agrees to pull bill if new Department of Natural Resources agreement to fund water projects is adopted

February 17, 2011

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From The Fort Morgan Times:

The agreement came from discussions with DNR and the newly formed Citizen’s Wildlife Advisory Council, a broad-based group of stakeholders that work on wildlife issues. CWAC was formed to open a dialogue to address the adversarial relationship between the sportsmen community and landowners. The group is bi-partisan and has worked to find common ground between various stakeholders.

The CWAC voted to support [Representative Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan)] in his plan to pull the bill if the agreement with DNR is finalized citing that the compromise is of benefit to both sides. The major concern of the group was whether Federal Dingell-Johnson/Pitman-Robertson funds would still be available. Becker and DNR agreed that those dollars would still be utilized by the DOW and these water projects would benefit sportsmen as well as all the citizens of Colorado.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife (Todd Hartman):

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is announcing a five-year goal to prioritize investments in water projects that benefit wildlife and wildlife recreation. The Division owns 104 dams and has a program to maintain existing facilities for safety, storage, and release. The Division has identified 17 dams and associated infrastructure in need of repairs and improvements and is seeking storage agreements, exchange-of-use agreements and other water projects with water providers and water users for this purpose.

“We have several critical water development needs, such as repairing the dam at Beaver Reservoir to allow us to store water again,” said Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington. “We also have some great opportunities, such as reaching a storage agreement with Rio Grande Reservoir operators to store Division of Wildlife water critical to our needs in the San Luis Valley.”

In cooperation with Representative Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan), the Division is exploring other opportunities that will first and foremost benefit wildlife and wildlife recreation, but will also help other entities and individuals who depend on water resources in the state. The Division intends to allocate at least $6 million for these types of projects over the next five years.

“I am glad to see the Division of Wildlife seeking additional opportunities for water development that will benefit both wildlife and sportsmen,” Rep. Becker said. “At the same time, the ancillary benefit to agricultural and other interests across the state is a win-win for all involved.”

“In the face of budget issues that are creating challenges throughout state government, it is especially challenging to plan for increasing water demand while protecting natural resources over the long term,” Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King explained. “There is a lot of overlap between healthy wildlife habitat and what sportsmen and agricultural communities need. We welcome the opportunity to combine these goals and find ways to make limited state funding go further.”

More coverage from KRDO.com:

The division provided the following information on its new initiative: The division owns 104 dams and has a program to maintain existing facilities for safety, storage and release. The Division has identified 17 dams and associated infrastructure in need of repairs and improvements and is seeking storage agreements, exchange-of-use agreements and other water projects with water providers and water users for this purpose.

“We have several critical water development needs, such as repairing the dam at Beaver Reservoir to allow us to store water again,” said Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington. “We also have some great opportunities, such as reaching a storage agreement with Rio Grande Reservoir operators to store Division of Wildlife water critical to our needs in the San Luis Valley.”

More HB 11-1150 coverage here. More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1083 (Hydroelectricity & Pumped Hydro) passes in state House of Representatives

February 17, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

The Colorado House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would authorize the Public Utilities Commission to consider hydroelectric operations a renewable energy source. Sponsored by state Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, HB1083 could open the door for a hydroelectric plant near Penrose. TransCanada’s proposed South Slope project would create up to 300 construction jobs and up to 30 permanent positions…

Also according to testimony, [pumped] hydro projects are an economical energy storage option that fits well with the emergence of wind and solar energy sources. That’s because hydro projects can fill gaps in wind and solar productivity. More than 120 hydro projects exist nationally. The barrier to more is the high up-front cost.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1066 — Due Process Prior To Gov Taking

February 17, 2011

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Here’s a recap of a recent meeting where state Representative Wes McKinley discussed his bill, HB 11-1066, from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

McKinley, D-Walsh, has introduced HB1066, which seeks to stop the government from taking property without due process. It seeks to buffer citizens’ livelihood from encroachment by government agencies and specifically targets infringement on airspace, water rights and livestock. Real-life problems facing residents of Southern Colorado inspired the bill, McKinley said. Noisy military flyovers, the seizure of livestock and state rule changes in how farmers can irrigate motivated McKinley’s proposal. About 25 people with firsthand experience in those areas — most of them from Southeastern Colorado — attended an informal meeting McKinley held Wednesday to talk about what has been taken from them.

Marvin Greenloh of Lamar said the state is taking his water rights through a shift in its interpretation of seep irrigation, which reuses water that seeps through the soil…

Greenloh said the state’s demand that he stop using seep water could be catastrophic to his and neighbors’ livelihoods. “Basically, it would be the end of our farm because we won’t have the water to carry on,” he said…

In Greenloh’s estimation, more populous parts of the state have forgotten where their food originates and put their own needs ahead of farmers’ with the state’s backing. “What I think it is, they’re trying to keep enough water on the Front Range and don’t care if it’s hurting farmers,” he said.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1068 withdrawn

February 14, 2011

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According to Joe Stone writing in The Mountain Mail the bill has been withdrawn. Here is Mr. Stone’s recap of a recent Upper Arkansas Water Conservation District meeting. From the article:

District engineer Ivan Walter reported the Temporary Water Transfer legislation, House Bill 1068, was recently withdrawn from consideration after numerous objections.

One reason for objections, Walter said, is that most entities in the state water community consider the [Hydrolocical Institutional Model] inappropriate for determining consumptive use under widely varying conditions. It was developed by Kansas to quantify water depleted from the Arkansas River by wells in Colorado. Terry Scanga, UAWCD general manager, said the model contains presumptive numbers that could cause injury to water right holders. Because lower valley right holders rely on return flow from upstream use, inaccurate numbers could affect amount and timing of return flow, Scanga said. With a change of water right under a temporary transfer, faulty numbers could cause more water to be transferred than was historically used. Scanga explained that could lead to premature calls by holders of senior rights in the lower valley. Premature calls, he said, would cause injury by reducing the amount of water available for junior right holders in the upper valley.

He said a more robust model would have statewide benefits and other entities have expressed interest in supporting the project, including Pueblo Board of Water Works, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “If we don’t do this,” Scanga said, “it will cost us several hundred thousand dollars in opposition costs.”[...]

Hydrologist Jord Gertson reported ice caused gauges to stop functioning properly at Cottonwood Lake and Poncha and Texas creeks. He said the fill rate at Boss Lake dropped from 20 acre feet per month in December to 15 acre feet in January. He said O’Haver Reservoir lost about 4 acre feet of water in January. Gertson said backup equipment was purchased for weather stations and stream gauges and will enable the district to replace any component that might go down, thereby minimizing data loss. Gertson updated directors about offering provisional stream, reservoir and weather data via the district website at http://uawcd.com/water_resources.php.

In other business, directors:

• Learned the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation approved $285,000 for high-elevation data collection platforms and wants to highlight success of platforms already installed within the district.

• Approved financial reports indicating a district general fund balance of $11,985.12 and an Enterprise Committee general fund balance of $59,764.09.

• Heard an augmentation report indicating the state approved applications for 251.81 acre feet of augmentation water.

• Learned about House Bill 11-1066, which would grant some priority to seep ditch rights in continuous use at least 25 years.

• Learned of efforts by Colorado Historical Society to list irrigation ditches on the historic register which would complicate maintenance and operation of irrigation equipment on those ditches.

• Approved $1,000 annual district membership in Family Farm Alliance because the organization provides contacts and information about federal legislation.

• Agreed to oppose a Catlin Canal Co. application for change of use for as much as 40 percent of the company ditch shares.

• Learned about progress on the Arkansas Basin Decision Support System, including need to study evaporation from undecreed reservoirs estimated as much as 30,000 acre feet per year.

• Voted to enter Water Court case No. 10CW98 involving exchanges on Beaver Creek by the City of Victor, Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Co.

• Learned the district reached an agreement in principle with owners of Willow Creek Ranch near Leadville including protections for district water.

• Received feedback from directors about the recent Colorado Water Congress annual convention.

• Heard a legal report from attorney Julianne Woldridge regarding district applications and court decrees.

Here’s an essay from Dave Miller about the legislation. Mr. Miller writes, “Colorado’s HB1068 is the product of Balkanized single-basin water planning.” More from the article:

U.S. Department of Interior reports indicate Colorado has beneficially used only about 2.2 million acre-feet of its annual 3.87 million acre-feet of Colorado River Compact entitlements since the 1970s. This means Colorado still has major interstate rights that should be developed as soon as possible for urban growth. As a primary headwater state and water source for 11 down-river states, Colorado has several innovative high-altitude renewable water and energy storage sites and solutions for state and regional needs. This breakthrough high storage concept is described in Central Colorado Project’s (CCP) White Paper, dated April 4, 2007, and its applicable U.S. Patent No. US 7,866,919 B2, dated Jan. 11, 2011.

To date, Colorado’s statewide water planning entities — Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the Interbasin Compact Committee — have not shown interest in Colorado’s integrated high-altitude storage options for statewide and regional water and energy needs. This skepticism would, in all likelihood, change to enthusiasm if preliminary modeling were used to confirm the extraordinary economic and environmental advantages of high-altitude reservoirs for Colorado and the southwestern region.

More coverage from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

State Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, withdrew HB1068 to give a task force time to develop a better approach to long-term leasing and fallowing of land. Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, was the bill’s Senate sponsor. The bill would have established a pilot program that allowed agricultural water-rights holders downstream from Pueblo Dam in the Lower Arkansas basin to lease up to one-third of their holdings to municipalities for up to two 40-year terms, meanwhile, fallowing the land it would have watered. It also would have granted authority to the state engineer to approve water transfers presently under the purview of state Water Courts. Fischer said the bill’s intent was to establish a long-term leasing mechanism so agricultural holders of water rights could continue to reap financial benefits for their rights without forfeiting them. “I was trying to solve a very complex issue about how we in the future as a state are planning to be able to meet our water needs as the population of our urban areas increases without having the default be permanent ag dryup, or buy-and-dry, as they call it,” Fischer said.

Fischer said he proposed to give the state engineer authority over water transfers to make the process more accessible. He said going through the existing channels in Water Court to establish leasing arrangements is cost-prohibitive to most holders of water rights. Last week, John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s appointee to head the Interbasin Compact Committee, visited the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and the formation of a task force to review leasing of water rights developed. So instead of moving forward with his proposal, Fischer said allowing the task force to fully study how best to approach leases would be prudent…

[Arkansas Basin Roundtable member Bud O’Hara] said the proposed pilot project that could have stretched into 80 years of leasing represented too long a time frame. He said granting authority over water transfers to the state engineer might not be seamless, considering turnover in that post that typically follows election of a new governor. “There is an existing process for getting concerns reviewed through Water Court, and an opportunity to comment,” O’Hara said. “We just want them to use that process rather than circumvent it by going directly to the state engineer.”

More Dave Miller coverage here and here. More Upper Ark coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: The State Engineer’s office decides against backing bill that was designed to allow the State Engineer to approve groundwater sub-district management plans as substitute water supply plans in the San Luis Valley

February 10, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The measure, which was never introduced at the Capitol, would have allowed groundwater users to apply for a substitute water supply plan, thereby avoiding shutdowns while they await court approval of groundwater subdistricts. A statement issued by the engineer’s office said moving forward with the measure would create undue controversy and possibly result in amendments that hindered the proposal and complicated rule-making efforts for Rio Grande basin well users…

…letting go of the temporary plans could leave some of the valley’s 6,000 groundwater wells vulnerable to being shut down. Wolfe has said the engineer’s new rules, which would require shutting down wells that do not have replacement water, are expected to be in place by 2012. The subdistricts would tax its members to help buy replacement water to make the senior surface users whole, but the first subdistrict remains under review by the Colorado Supreme Court. Other potential subdistricts are awaiting that ruling before they attempt to gain approval from the valley’s local water court. The engineer’s office hopes the issue can be resolved by an advisory committee Wolfe selected two years ago to assist in drafting groundwater rules in regulations

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


No ‘Protect our rivers’ license plate for Trout Unlimited this year

February 8, 2011

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted 6-5 Monday against the “Protect Our Rivers” tag. Trout Unlimited agreed that money from the $25 additional tag fees would be banned from going for lobbying or litigation. But members of the Republican-controlled committee feared that despite the limit, tag fundraising would allow Trout Unlimited to spend more on those activities.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1172 killed in committee

February 8, 2011

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From the Associated Press (Kristen Wyatt) via Bloomberg:

The measure would have revived annual reports to the Colorado Legislature from the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission on the number of water-quality complaints it received. The measure also would have required state health authorities to report to lawmakers the results of a federal study due out this year on a gas extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The sponsor of the reporting bill, Democratic Rep. Roger Wilson of Garfield County, argued that the additional reporting would send the message that Colorado officials take seriously the public’s concern over “fracking” and its possible effect on water quality…

However, the Republican-led [House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources] voted against the idea, 8-4. An industry official and Republican lawmakers pointed out that the information Wilson identified is going to be public already, so his proposal would simply add a layer of bureaucracy.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald From the article:

The bill drew criticism from both defenders of the gas industry and its harshest critics. Republicans on the panel said they think fracking gets a bad reputation that it does not deserve. Wilson said his bill would have quelled public concerns. “That is exactly why I think this bill is important. Without the public having confidence that we’re looking at the scientific information that’s coming out, the public’s choice is to increase their suspicion and superstition about what’s going on,” Wilson said…

Environmentalists were split on the bill. The Colorado Environmental Coalition supported it, but the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, based in Durango, opposed it. OGAP lawyer Alan Curtis said the group would like to see a detailed baseline study of water quality in order to be able to measure possible pollution from drilling. But he did not want to put the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in charge of the study, as Wilson’s bill did. “Our experience with the commission has been that their primary motivation is to see that there is as much oil and gas production in the state as can be done. And the water quality concerns are secondary,” Curtis said.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1083 — Hydroelectricity and Pumped Hydro

February 8, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

[State Rep. Keith Swerdfeger's, (R-Pueblo West)] bill would give the Public Utilities Commission authority to treat hydroelectric as a source of renewable energy and allow developers of hydroelectricity to sell their product to utility companies. The [House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee] unanimously supported the bill…

Hydroelectric generation sites such as the proposed South Slope project create energy through an exchange of water between an elevated lake and a lower reservoir. They are capable of generating energy quickly and storing energy from sources like wind, solar and traditional power plants when they produce a greater load than is necessary. University of Colorado engineering professor Frank Barnes testified that hydroelectric storage and generation can greatly benefit utilities by capturing the excess energy they produce and releasing it at times when productivity is low…

Only two mechanisms for storing surplus energy exist, according to Barnes: compressed air and pumped hydro. Just two compressed-air energy storage sites exist, one in Alabama and one in Germany. In America alone, more than 120 hydro-pump plants exist, and the technology to operate them has been patented since 1917…

“You’ve got a large capital cost to get started, even though this turns out to be the cheapest way to store energy over the long haul,” Barnes said. It sometimes takes 20 years or more to reap the financial benefits of the initial investment. “Venture capitalists that want their money back within five years, this isn’t where they are going to invest it,” Barnes said, making the South Slope project unique in that a suitor already is in place…

Swerdfeger assuaged concerns from some committee members that hydro projects would injure downstream senior water-rights holders. He said projects such as South Slope would be one-time fills fed by negotiated water rights, and that water would be reused. The only water losses, he said, would be to evaporation and seepage. An amendment was added to the bill Monday that guards against water diversion under the guise of hydroelectricity production.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1083 — Hydroelectricity and Pumped Hydro

February 6, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Morley, along with other investors, has formed H2O HyPro LLC to develop a pumpback hydropower operation near Brush Hollow Reservoir at Penrose. Morley also is involved in Stonewall Springs LLC to develop reservoirs near the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Pueblo County. At one time, Morley had connected the two projects as a way to provide storage or water delivery as part of a regional project to move water to thirsty northern cities. Now, he insists, the two projects are separate and he wants to move ahead on the Fremont County plan. “We are no longer proposing any sort of Brush Hollow expansion,” Morley said. “It’s a hydropower project. There are no partnerships with those north of Colorado Springs. It’s me, my brother Jim and a couple of other investors we’ve known for years. There aren’t any mad money people behind it.”

The project has gotten renewed interest from Fremont County leaders and state lawmakers. Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, along with State Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, are sponsoring [HB 11-1083, Hydroelectricity & Pumped Hydro]. It would add hydroelectric power generation to the category of new energy technologies that the Public Utilities Commission can consider when authorizing incentives for power companies.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1068 — State Engineer Approve Ag Water Transfer

February 1, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The bill, HB 1068, is sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and would create a 40-year program in the Arkansas Valley that would allow the state engineer to approve sales of agricultural water to cities through leases. The term could be renewed for another 40 years. The bill, as introduced, would allow farmers to lease one-third of their water or lease water for one-third of the years in the term with only the state engineer’s approval.

During a meeting Thursday at the CWC’s annual convention, the bill was questioned by numerous water attorneys for being an end-run around Water Court that appears to benefit only the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Others, including Fischer, said such alternative measures are needed to reduce the cost of litigation and make water leasing programs pay off for farmers. “I have real concerns if we continue to go by the book and the only alternative is dry-up of agricultural lands,” Fischer said. “What I’m trying to do is keep the water in the hands of the producers.”[...]

…critics say the bill does nothing more than transfer the cost of court challenges and the burden of proof to those whose water rights could be injured. “You’re shifting the transaction costs from the cities,” said Alan Curtis, whose clients include Sterling and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. “There are also the issues of revegetation and transit losses that are usually addressed in front of Water Court.” While HB1068 sets up an administrative program only in the Arkansas River basin, Curtis said he fears the precedent could be used to set up a similar program in the South Platte, as well. That would create an additional layer of costs for communities such as Sterling because they would be forced to file suits in Water Court to protect their rights, he said…

Steven Janssen, attorney for the Henrylyn Irrigation District in the South Platte basin, said the legislation opens the door for more authority for the state engineer, and could lead to reversals of state engineer’s assumed authority that have been struck down in several recent state Supreme Court decisions…

Andy Jones, an attorney whose clients are primarily in the South Platte basin, supported the concept of the legislation, saying it is an example of the type of creative thinking that is needed to avoid further dry-up of ag lands. “If you want to be leaders, find a way to make this happen,” Jones said. “Transaction costs are huge. Markets need the flexibility to make transfers a reality.”[...]

“I appreciate the input,” Fischer said. “But how do we get around just saying no to everything? I want to do something proactive.”

More HB 11-1068 coverage here. More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Legislative Breakfast recap

January 29, 2011

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Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“I don’t see a great deal of movement on water issues this year,” Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty told the group at its annual convention. “Take the year off.”

His comments were reinforced by other lawmakers, who traditionally open the two-day convention with a wake up call at breakfast. “This year, it’s all about the budget,” said Senate President Brandon Shaffer. “To the extent we can keep water projects whole, we all agree, but with a deficit of $1.1 billion, we’re not making promises to anyone.”

Lawmakers are resistant to more raids on water project funds, which occurred during the past two years, limiting the ability of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to make loans. “When we think we can dip in and take $120 million previously allocated for water projects, we cannot believe that this will become a regular occurrence,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and the chair of the Senate Ag Committee. “We need to keep working toward a statewide solution.”


2011 Colorado legislation: State Representative Marsha Looper hopes to allow conservation easement disputes to bypass the Department of Revenue

January 23, 2011

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From the Associated Press via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Rep. Marsha Looper, a Republican from Calhan, wants to allow property owners given tax credits not to develop their property that were later denied, to take their appeals straight to court. The property owners are now required to appeal to the state Department of Revenue. She plans to meet with property owners and judges to discuss the plan on Friday.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Energy policy — hydroelectric: HB 11-1083

January 22, 2011

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I like the short name for this bill, Hydroelectricity & Pumped Hydro, on the General Assembly website.

I think you should generate hydroelectric power where you can. There are many facilities already in place ripe for retrofitting.

Pumped hydro plans include wind or solar to pump water to an uphill reservoir during the day to generate hyroelectric power at night. The water is stored in afterbay for pumping back uphill the next day or during the next wind event.

Here’s a report from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The legislation addresses the opportunity for energy companies to approach the Public Utilities Commission with “clean energy projects in the hydro and hydro-pumpback arena as a viable resource for electrical energy,” said state Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, who is sponsoring the bill. “If the projects are cost-effective and benefit the ratepayers, we need to put that on the table.”

State Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, are Senate sponsors of the bill. It would add hydroelectricity to the category of new energy technologies that the PUC can consider and authorize incentives for power companies for energy acquisition. “It’s all-around good,” Giron said. “This is a bipartisan bill with Southern Colorado jobs and clean energy in mind.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee votes 4-3 to continue weather modification licenses

January 21, 2011

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

On Thursday, state senators recommended the government continue to offer weather-modification licenses for at least another nine years…

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 4-3 to go forward with a bill that continues the licensing program. Without action by the Legislature this year, the state would stop offering licenses…

Only eight entities do cloud-seeding in Colorado, and three are in Southwest Colorado. The city of Durango and water districts around Bayfield and Pagosa Springs run one program, the Animas-La Plata and Dolores water districts cooperate with Durango Mountain Resort on another, and a third centers on Telluride ski area.

More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1068 — State Engineer Approve Ag Water Transfer

January 21, 2011

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The bill [HB 11-1068: Concerning the State Engineer's Authority to Approve Temporary Agricultural Water Transfer Agreements] would allow the State Engineer to approve leases for up to 40 years without a trip to water court. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Under HB1068, the state engineer would be granted authority to approve agricultural water transfer agreements lasting up to 40 years. Currently, similar agreements require a Water Court’s approval and can’t exceed a decade.

Specifically, the bill would apply to water originating in the Arkansas Valley below Pueblo Dam. It would allow holders of irrigation water rights to lease up to one-third of their holdings to municipalities. “The future growth and economic well-being of the state depend to some extent on the use of vested irrigation water rights to meet municipal needs,” the bill reads.

State Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is the bill’s sponsor in the House, where it originated. Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, are the Senate sponsors.

Giron said she supports the bill because it grants farmers greater options to lease their water without permanently relinquishing their rights, while still providing them with an income. “Otherwise, they’re going to sell those rights,” Giron said. “It’s going to be like they’re farming water. I see this as a tool to protect agriculture.” Meanwhile, she said, cities can develop water plans into the future. “I saw it as a win-win situation,” Giron said. “How can (cities) plan without getting a commitment of 40 years?”

Meanwhile, it didn’t take too long for opposition to the bill to surface. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

As president of this board, the legislation is not acceptable to me,” said President Bill Long at the [Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District] meeting Thursday. “This is the most overappropriated basin in the state.” Long asked the board to go on record in opposition of HB1068, a bill that would set up a 40-year program in the Arkansas Valley below Pueblo Dam that essentially could remove one-third of the water from irrigation during the entire period…

The board held off on opposing the bill, but instructed Executive Director Jim Broderick, in his capacity as the district’s state lobbyist, to push for changes in the bill. The board raised questions about why the bill has a 40-year term, but was billed this week as a “pilot program” by sponsor Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, at a meeting of the Colorado Water Congress legislative committee…

The board also does not want the bill to apply only to part of the Arkansas River basin, and does not want the measure used to move water outside the valley. “This gives the state engineer authority to move water from this basin all over the state,” said Vera Ortegon, a Pueblo director on the Southeastern board, who also ran unsuccessfully against Giron last November. “I think Southeastern should voice an objection to kill the bill earlier rather than later.”

Other board members cautioned against outright opposition of the bill, which has grown out of the Interbasin Compact Committee process to find alternatives to permanent sales of agricultural water rights to cities. “I would not like to see the board take a position in opposition to the state process,” said Harold Miskel, an El Paso County director. “If we try to thwart every effort to think outside the box, it will come right back to the buy-and-dry that happened the last 50 or 100 years.”[...]

The [Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District] gave its nod to the legislation as part of the Super Ditch effort at a meeting Wednesday. The district has supported the legal, engineering and administrative work needed to make Super Ditch work. “If this was tossed around last summer and fall, Jay, how come you’re the only one here who knows about it?” Long asked Winner. Winner said the concept of the bill had been thoroughly discussed by the Interbasin Compact Committee. Winner is one of two representatives from the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on the IBCC.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Justice Hobbs talks Colorado water history at the state legislature

January 20, 2011

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Wayne Aspinall is credited with saying, “In the West, when you touch water, you touch everything.” Well, these days you can hardly read an article about our new governor or the General Assembly that doesn’t mention water somewhere so I guess I have to agree with Aspinall.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs was at the capitol building yesterday talking Colorado water history. Here’s a report from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Ancestral Pueblo Indians built [water works] in the southwest corner of the state between 750 and 1180 A.D. The San Luis People’s Ditch, the state’s oldest water right dating from 1852, is still honored today. “We didn’t even become a territory until 1861,” Hobbs said…

He discussed the complexities of water source augmentation, the unique role Colorado’s courts play in water decisions (appellate courts are bypassed straight to the Supreme Court on appeal), how Colorado’s neutral decision makers on water disputes — the courts — differ from other states’ more political approaches and the state’s history of consideration to agriculture in structuring water law.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: Will the General Assembly tackle the vise grip of TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23?

January 17, 2011

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Here are some recommendations from former and current state budget wonks, from The Denver Post:

STRUCTURAL CHANGES: Colorado has some of the easiest requirements in the nation for citizen-initiated constitutional changes. This has led to problematic additions to the Constitution that have had unexpected and drastic consequences.

• Ask the voters to reform the state’s initiative process to make it more difficult for people to put changes to the state’s constitution on the ballot. The panel’s suggested changes are in line with 2008′s Referendum O. With no real supportive campaign, the measure failed 52 percent to 48 percent.

• Ask voters to revise the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to preserve the essential elements that were used to sell it to voters in 1992. The panel agreed that TABOR should be distilled to its basic tenet: no new or increased taxes without a vote of the people.

A revision would include keeping the requirement that voters have to approve tax rate hikes, any new taxes, and bonded indebtedness. The idea is to preserve voter approval while ridding our constitution of artificial restraints, such as the hard revenue cap, that prevent governments from keeping funds raised from existing taxes to provide core services.

• Ask voters to revise Amendment 23 (guarantees minimum levels of funding for K-12) that was passed as a response to TABOR and legislatively enacted permanent tax cuts.

Despite Amendment 23, the K-12 education budget is not protected. The majority of panelists supported amending the provision that directs 0.33 percent of state income tax to the state education fund as follows: reduce the amount to 0.25 percent and redirect the funds into the State Land Board Trust Fund, which is designated for education support in the Constitution. The interest from the collected funds would be used to support K-12 and could not be raided for other uses.

The Gallagher amendment was passed in 1982 as a way to maintain a constant ratio between property tax revenues coming from residential and business parcels. However, TABOR’s prohibition on assessment-rate increases without a popular vote has distorted the intent of Gallagher. One of the results has been a vast and unsustainable shift in responsibility for K-12 funding away from the local level to the state. Thus, funding for K-12 now takes up the lion’s share of the general fund.

• Ask voters to repeal Gallagher but freeze the assessment rate on residential properties at the current 7.96 percent. The ratio between the state and the local districts would remain constant, and there would be no increase in property tax rates, yet revenues could increase with increased values.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: State Senator Gail Schwartz to sponsor bill that will allow the State Engineer to approve groundwater sub-district management plans as substitute water supply plans in the San Luis Valley

January 12, 2011

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Steve Vandiver, manager for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District that is sponsoring the water management sub-districts in the Valley, explained the pending legislation to Rio Grande Roundtable members during their meeting on Tuesday…

He said the state engineer’s office and attorney general’s office requested the bill, which adds a phrase or two to existing legislation regarding substitute water supply plans. Vandiver said the current statute allows the state engineer to approve temporary operation of an augmentation plan or rotation crop management contract that has been filed with the water court, but the court has not yet issued a decree. The state engineer can approve the temporary operation of those plans until the decree is completed, Vandiver explained. The proposed legislation would add wording allowing the state engineer to do the same thing with sub-district water management plans. Under the proposed legislation, the state engineer could approve temporary operation of a groundwater management plan as a substitute water supply plan as long as the state engineer has approved the groundwater management plan application, judicial review of that approval has been filed with a water court and the court has not issued a decree…

Otherwise, [Vandiver] explained, the groundwater rules the state engineer is currently finalizing could become effective while water management plans are hung up in court, and all of the people who were relying on those plans to cover them might suddenly find their wells shut off.

Several proposed water management sub-districts, separated by Valley hydrology and geography, are in various stages of development. The sub-districts are designed to make up depletions to surface water rights and the aquifer as a whole, at least in part through reduction in irrigated acreage within the sub-district boundaries.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


2011 Colorado legislation: The General Assembly will start work on Wednesday

January 10, 2011

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From the Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

Water issues won’t be on his plate in the 2011 session, [House Minority Leader Sal Pace] said.

Here’s a recap of last week’s sit-down between Republican legislators and, “business groups, ” to discuss, “regulatory reform and [review] the Independence Institute’s proposals on how to solve the state’s budget woes,” from Marianne Goodland writing for the Colorado Statesman. From the article:

The contractors, represented by Mike Gifford of the Association of General Contractors, asked for changes in four areas: retention of payments for public projects, which affects cash flow; storm water regulations; sales and use tax expansion, much of it by local governments; and contractor licensing and registration, a problem that requires contractors to be licensed by multiple local governments and the state. “We need a common system of license and registration,” Gifford pleaded.

More coverage from Marianne Goodland writing for The Fort Morgan Times. From the article:

[First-time legislator Rep. Jon Becker...who represents House District 63], like any legislator, can carry five bills in the session, and he`s looking at a bill to reduce the size of government by combining departments. He`s also interested in legislation on water storage, and is looking for funds from the Division of Wildlife that would go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

“Getting these departments to play well together on this issue will be the hard part,” he said, but the state is way behind in dealing with water storage issues. And he believes that using DOW money for water storage matches its mission. “I don`t want to hurt hunters, [or have people think he`s taking DOW money for agricultural purposes] but as long as we benefit wildlife with water storage, that can be another purpose” of those dollars, he said. The bill carries a sunset provision that will end the transfer in 10 years, which he says will be standard in his bills…

[Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg,...of HD 65 has been tapped to play several leadership roles in the 2011 session. Sonnenberg is the new chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. also plans to carry a sunset review bill that applies to weather modification in water conservation districts.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: Continuous groundwater monitoring around hydraulic fracturing sites?

January 8, 2011

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Legislation aimed at developing a high-tech method for continuous water quality monitoring around natural gas frac’ing operations is among the bills state Rep.-elect Roger Wilson plans to introduce when he takes the House District 61 seat in the Colorado Legislature next week. The focus of the ground-water monitoring bill will be to create a demonstration project in cooperation with the state’s universities to do ongoing, real-time monitoring using electronic sensor networks around well sites, the Glenwood Springs Democrat said this week as he prepares to be sworn into office on Jan. 12. “Rather than having individuals conducting infrequent sampling, the idea is to use inexpensive, widely deployed sensor networks to do the monitoring on an ongoing basis,” Wilson said.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here. More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Northern Integrated Supply Project: Supplemental EIS expected, ‘…latter part of 2011′

January 3, 2011

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From email from Save the Poudre (Gary Wockner):

The initial release for the Supplemental DEIS for NISP was supposed to be in June of 2010, and was initially delayed until the summer of 2011, but is now estimated to be delayed until the “latter part of 2011″ according to an email from [Chandler Peter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] to Save the Poudre.

Additionally, the Draft EIS for the new Halligan (Fort Collins) and Seaman (Greeley) dams and reservoirs on the North Fork of the Poudre was slated for the summer of 2011, but is now delayed for a half year after the release of the NISP SDEIS (according to the email from Mr. Peter), which will put them into 2012 and well beyond previous estimates.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.


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