DWR: HB13-1248 Fowler Pilot Project Lessons Learned Workshop, June 5

April 28, 2014
Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center

Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From email from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Kevin Rein):

During the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly enacted HB-1248 to provide for fallowing-leasing pilot projects. At its November 2013 Board meeting, the CWCB approved Criteria and Guidelines for the pilot projects and in December, the CWCB received an application for selection and approval of a pilot project for the Town of Fowler. That application was subsequently withdrawn.

On June 5, 2014, CWCB staff will hold an informal workshop to review the Fowler Pilot Project and discuss the lessons learned through the application and review process. The CWCB’s objective is to apply lessons learned to any upcoming pilot project applications.

Fowler Pilot Project
Lessons Learned Workshop
June 5, 2014
9:00 am to Noon
1313 Sherman Street
Room 318

RSVP Not Required

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 (Irrigation Water Leasing Municipal Pilot Projects) implementation

August 22, 2013


Chris Woodka is at the Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer shindig up in Steamboat Springs. Yesterday the interim water resources review committee met and implementing last session’s HB13-1248 was part of the discussion. Here’s Mr. Woodka’s report:

Lawmakers are hoping a bill that would expand opportunities for demonstrating projects that share water between farms and cities is implemented as quickly as possible. The interim water resources review committee Wednesday heard from the prime backers of SB-1248, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Super Ditch, on the need for it.

“I think this is about having a conversation about keeping agriculture vital in the Arkansas River basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

“Agricultural-municipal transfers have to become the preferred alternative, rather than continued buy-and-dry,” added Peter Nichols, attorney for both the Lower Ark and Super Ditch.

At the heart of the bill is an attempt to streamline state procedures in order to allow transfers to occur on a short-term, limited basis, said Kevin Rein, deputy director for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Winner said the current structure of law and engineering hung up a pilot project to transfer 250 acre-feet (81 million gallons) last year over the timing of delivery of 23 gallons in the 74th month of return flows. The new law gave the Colorado Water Conservation Board authority to look at programs that could sidestep those types of issues in order to allow water users to work out details of such plans. Rein said the CWCB should develop criteria and guidelines by November.

Legislators want the program to be implemented soon and smoothly. “My concern is that CWCB is on board to implement it in as timely fashion as possible and that we’re not going back to rehashing arguments made against HB1248 when we were passing it,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, chairman of the House ag committee.

The arguments included that it bypassed water court proceedings meant to prevent injury to other water users. The bill also has been criticized because it disallows transfers only from the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins, while ignoring more exports from the Arkansas River basin.

“I want to make sure there is the opportunity for public input, comments and concerns,” Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “There needs to be the opportunity for the public to weigh in.”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The U.S. Forest Service is evaluating its policies as it deals with the damage from two years of large wildfires in Colorado and other Western states. “The unfortunate side effect of fires is flood and mud,” Dan Jiron, regional forester for the Forest Service told the interim water resources review committee of the state Legislature Wednesday. He cited recent damage in Manitou Springs from last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire as an example.

In Colorado, 60 percent of the water that affects the population comes off Forest Service lands. “We still have a very active fire season,” Jiron said. “Even though there were large fires earlier, we continue to fight fires every day. The Forest Service is looking at partnerships, as well as redirecting resources, to mitigate large fires and prevent future blazes, he said.

About $500,000 already has gone into rehabilitation of the West Fork Complex near Creede, which has been difficult because much of the fire was in steep canyons in an inaccessible wilderness area. That’s part of $35 million in resources the Forest Service has put into firefighting and remedial work in Colorado.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, questioned whether the Forest Service would look at changing policies in wilderness areas to allow more proactive thinning. “We were west of the West Fork Complex and it looked like an atomic bomb cloud,” she said.

“It would not have been safe to put firefighters on the ground at West Fork,” Jiron said. While firefighters are sometimes deployed in wilderness areas, the steep slopes in the West Fork Complex were more of a factor than wilderness declaration. “A lot of Forest Service land is not in wilderness,” he said.

Partnerships with timber companies, utilities, counties and water districts are providing more proactive protection in areas prone to fires, Jiron added. “It’s important how we pull together at a regional level to put resources in place, to be proactive and to protect communities,” committee chairwoman Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “We are at a very important juncture. This is critical.”

More HB13-1248 coverage here.

Sterling Ranch gets another chance in front of the Douglas County Commissioners

July 1, 2013


From The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

A special hearing is scheduled for next month, when Douglas County commissioners will hear from Sterling Ranch and the public to see whether the county will give a thumbs-up to the project, which includes up to 12,050 new homes in the Chatfield Basin.

The hearing comes after a judge blocked the project in August. Citing state law, the judge argued that Sterling Ranch had not lined up enough water and needed to prove it had enough water secured though build-out.

Douglas County appealed that ruling, and then sought and received a change in state law this legislative session. Now, Sterling Ranch officials believe the project can finally move forward.

More 2013 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB13-019 (Promote Water Conservation) #COleg

May 19, 2013


From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Saturday, May 18, 2013 — Gov. John Hickenlooper signed 13 bills into law today and yesterday…

SB13-019, Promote Water Conservation, Schwartz / Fischer Concerning the promotion of water conservation measures.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB13-1044 (Authorize Graywater Use) #COleg

May 16, 2013


From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed 12 bills into law today and yesterday…

HB13-1044, Authorize Graywater Use, Fischer/Schwartz, Concerning the authorization of the use of graywater.

More HB13-1044 coverage here. More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: ‘Each one of these things was epic’ — Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carrol #COleg

May 12, 2013


Joe Hanel sums up this year’s legislative session in his article running in The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

During the last 120 days, Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to push through a progressive agenda that’s been pent up for a decade.

Election Day voter registration. Background checks for guns. Renewable-energy mandates. More health care for the poor. A $100 million tax break for low-wage workers. Civil unions for same-sex couples, and in-state tuition for students in the country illegally. Democrats in many other states can only daydream about the goals that Colorado Democrats achieved during the 2013 legislative session, which ended Wednesday.

For good or ill, Capitol veterans called it the most consequential session in memory.

“Each one of these things was epic,” said Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. “We were (able) to do public-safety measures with commonsense background checks that Congress couldn’t get done. Any one of these things by themselves would have been historic and epic for a session, and we did one after another after another.”

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Upper Ark District board meeting recap: All district reservoirs are full, except DeWeese (89%) — Jord Gertson #COdrought

May 12, 2013


From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Recent weather patterns in the Upper Arkansas River Valley precipitated discussion of snowpack and water supplies during the Thursday meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. District hydrologist Jord Gertson reported that all district reservoirs are full, except for DeWeese Reservoir in Custer County, which is at 89 percent of capacity.

Gertson presented Natural Resources Conservation Service data compiled May 1 that show Upper Arkansas River Basin snowpack at 93 percent of average and 287 percent of 2012 snowpack levels. Gertson said Snowpack Telemetry sites at Fremont Pass and Brumley show the snow water equivalent at 101 percent and 109 percent of median, respectively. The Fremont Pass SNOTEL site also reports precipitation at 106 percent of average for the current water year, which began Oct. 1. Gertson also showed snowpack charts indicating measurements at upper basin SNOTEL sites are “way better than last year,” including sites at Porphyry Creek, Independence Pass and St. Elmo.

District directors also reported good news about the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, which is expected to import 47,000 acre-feet of water from the Western Slope this year, compared to 14,000 acre-feet in 2012. Diversions of Fry-Ark Project water into the Arkansas Basin average approximately 52,000 acre-feet of water per year. In 2011, the project imported 98,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water, the second highest amount in the project’s 50-year history of operations.

In other business, directors heard a legislative report from consultant Ken Baker. Baker’s report mainly focused on House Bill 1130, which, he said, targets Arkansas Basin water and is expected to be signed by the governor.

Baker said HB 1130 would create a “selective application” of a 130-year-old Colorado water law. The bill would create the potential for 30 years of interruptible-supply agreements that are currently limited to a maximum of 10 years. The state engineer would have authority to approve these agreements, changing the use of the water and bypassing Water Court proceedings that are currently required to change the use of a water right. Baker said the bill mainly benefits Aurora, allowing the city to take Arkansas Basin water without having to pursue a change-of-use case in Water Court.

To gain the votes needed to pass the bill, Baker said a special exclusion was added that exempts Western Slope water.

In other business, Upper Ark directors:

  • Approved a modification to a Nestlé Waters North America augmentation agreement for 200 acre-feet of Fry-Ark Project water per year for 35 years.
  • Agreed to stipulate out of Poncha Springs case 09CW138, subject to favorable review of the stipulations by district engineer Ivan Walter.
  • Approved an agreement with law firm Wilderson, Lock and Hill to provide legal counsel for a flat fee of $2,000 per month.
  • Received an update on an integrated water agreement with Buena Vista.
  • Approved a cooperative water agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
  • Learned that the gate wheel at O’Haver Lake has been replaced after the old one was damaged by a vehicle.
  • Received an update on the Trout Creek Ditch exchange case, 08CW106, which is scheduled to go to trial June 11 if the Department of Corrections, division engineer and Colorado Water Conservation Board do not agree to proposed stipulations.
  • From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District directors heard a report about the potential for underground water storage in Chaffee County during their Thursday meeting. Tammy Ivahnenko and Ken Watts with the U.S. Geological Survey said areas identified for further study include aquifers near Salida, Nathrop, Johnson Village, Buena Vista and north of Buena Vista.

    Watts said the locations were identified based on slope (less than 3 percent), soil texture at a depth of 5 feet (loam, sandy loam or gravel preferred) and surface geology (alluvial or gravel deposits).

    Another important factor, Watts said, is the “stream-accretion response time factor,” which provides an indication of how long water will stay in an aquifer before draining into a stream.

    Ivahnenko described “water budgets” she developed for Cottonwood, Chalk and Browns creeks and the South Arkansas River.
    The water budgets include irrigated acres, consumptive use by crops and amount of water diverted for irrigation, and help determine how much water may be available for storage at a given time.

    Watts said he conducted “slug tests” at 29 wells to determine hydraulic properties in the aquifers, including conductivity and permeability. He also reported on findings from Colorado State University monitoring wells. Hourly readings from the monitoring wells documented seasonal changes in water level and temperature, showing seasonal changes in groundwater levels and surface-water infiltration.

    Some wells showed significant influence from surface irrigation while others indicated a more stable, natural water level.
    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District officials are developing plans to increase water storage capacity in the Upper Arkansas River basin. An important component of those plans is underground storage in alluvial aquifers, which would eliminate evaporative water losses and provide augmentation water through natural recharge to surface waters.

    Conservancy district officials said they will rely on USGS findings to help determine possible locations for underground water storage projects.

    More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.

    Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: State water plan development front and center at Wednesday’s meeting

    May 9, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado is moving quickly to develop a state water plan by late 2015, culminating more than a decade of work. “I think it’s exciting for Colorado, when you look at all the work that’s been done,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. He made his comments during a report to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

    The CWCB is going through changes, with executive director Jennifer Gimbel leaving in June and an ongoing search for a new chief.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked the CWCB and the Interbasin Compact Committee to speed up efforts to develop a plan for future water supply that meets the need for more urban growth while preserving water for the environment and agriculture.

    “During my reign of terror as state engineer, at least one legislator every year would stand up and say, ‘We have to have a state water plan,’ ” said Jeris Danielson, who represents the basin on the IBCC. “We might actually get something done.”

    Both Danielson and Hamel cautioned the roundtable that the state’s prior appropriation system, administered through water courts, needs to be preserved. But it can be tweaked to allow certain types of flexibility to share water for more than one purpose.

    One example of that is House Bill 1248, which breezed through both legislative houses this year after it was altered to have a statewide focus. The bill allows rotational fallowing demonstration projects that would allow farmers to lease water to cities with the oversight of the CWCB. Originally, the bill just included the Arkansas River basin, which has received several CWCB grants designed to gauge the impact of water transfers related to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

    “We are ahead of the other roundtables in terms of planning,” Hamel said.

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here and here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1130 (Reapprove Interruptible Water Supply Agreements) is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper #COleg

    May 9, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Aurora prevailed in the final days of the state Legislature after a conference committee largely unraveled a Senate committee’s changes to a water transfer bill. A bill that would give the state engineer up to 30 years authority over water transfers was approved by the House Wednesday on the last day of the Colorado legislative session. The Senate approved the bill Tuesday. It now goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.

    “In general, it’s not too far from where we started,” said Gerry Knapp, who oversees Arkansas Valley and Colorado River operations for Aurora. House Bill 1130, backed by Aurora, was heavily amended in the Senate agriculture committee in April, but most of those changes were undone in conference committee Monday.

    The bill makes changes in the interruptible water supply law, which allows cities to lease water from farms for three years in any 10-year period. The amended version of the bill allows two renewals by the state engineer, with certain conditions, although it expands the water court appeal period for renewals to four months.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: House Joint Resolution 1026 (Protect Agricultural Water Supplies) passes the state House #COleg

    May 8, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The state House Tuesday passed a bipartisan resolution to protect Colorado’s water supply and recognize the benefits irrigated agriculture provides to Colorado. “We want to make sure we protect water, it’s a precious resource,” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono. “Water is the lifeblood of our state. I’m glad to see bipartisan support for this resolution.”

    House Joint Resolution 1026 calls on the Legislature to work with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado’s water community to continue addressing Colorado’s predicted water supply-demand imbalance. HJR1026 recognizes the importance of Colorado’s irrigated agriculture and encourages investment in outreach and education to increase Coloradans’ awareness of how beneficial irrigated agriculture is to Colorado.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Interbasin Compact Committee have been working on meeting future demand for more than a decade. Hickenlooper wants to have a state water plan in place by 2016. “Agriculture contributes about $40 billion to our state’s economy,” Saine said. “We have to make sure that water rights are protected.”

    More than 85 percent of Colorado’s water use is for agriculture, but a growing amount is required for city and industrial uses.
    “Our water demands will only increase going forward,” Saine added.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1316 (Oil Gas Commn Uniform Groundwater Sample Rule) passes state House #COleg

    May 5, 2013


    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    HB 1316, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Dickie Lee Hullinghorst of Gunbarrel and Joe Salazar of Thornton, would require the state to undertake the same stringency of groundwater testing in the oil-rich Wattenberg basin as it does across most of the state…

    HB 1316 passed the House on its third and final reading in that chamber Wednesday morning and now goes to the Senate for consideration…

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in January changed its rules to require companies to conduct one groundwater test per quarter-section, the equivalent to four tests per square mile, in the Wattenberg area. Due to the number of wells drilled and planned in that area, the new standard will result in a database of 11,000 samples, according to the state. HB 1316 proposes to change the new rule and require companies working the Wattenberg to sample up to four groundwater sources within a half mile of the new well…

    The Colorado Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group, opposes the bill because it undermines the influence of the state regulatory agency charged with overseeing the oil and gas industry, spokesman Doug Flanders said. “A statewide ‘one size fits all’ water sampling rule does not fit Colorado, is unnecessary and fails to account for unique characteristics of specific areas of the state,” he said.

    More coverage from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    House Bill 1316, sponsored by House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, and Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, would require the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to adopt uniform groundwater sampling rules. It passed by a narrow 34-29 vote. Northern Colorado was partially exempted from the new rules in January, when they were adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    Coincindentally, the new rules also took effect Wednesday. The new rules require companies to sample as many as four water wells within one-half mile of a new oil and gas well before drilling. Two more samples of each well must be taken between six and 12 months and again between five and six years…

    Neither oil industry representatives or environmental groups embraced the new monitoring rules. Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, criticized HB-1316, saying that it disregards scientific data presented during the creation of groundwater testing rules and derails efforts to address the needs of local communities.

    “There were parts of the COGCC’s water sampling rule we would have preferred to see enacted differently,” Dempsey said in a statement. “But we believe that the role of the executive branch should be respected and that the outcomes of extensive rule making ought to be much more carefully evaluated before being overturned.”

    Environmentalists have criticized the exemption in the Northern Colorado oil field, calling it the “Anadarko-Noble loophole” after two major producers in the region, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: Graywater bill may make it to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk this session

    May 3, 2013


    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Dallas Heltzell):

    Co-sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, it now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers there will consider a $110,000 appropriation to fund development of gray-water standards by the state Department of Public Health and Environment…

    The bill directs the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to develop minimum statewide standards for gray-water systems and lets cities and towns decide whether to approve them.

    Fischer talked with the Business Report about why the bill is needed — and why it failed last year.

    Q: What first made you aware that this was an issue in Colorado? Why did you decide to introduce this bill now?

    Answer: Dr. Larry Roesner at Colorado State University’s Urban Water Center first contacted me about the need for legislation to authorize use of gray water in late autumn 2010. I was somewhat familiar with gray water systems and their potential to significantly reduce municipal and industrial water consumption. However, I was unaware that Colorado was the only arid western state whose statutes did not recognize or explicitly authorize the installation and operation of gray-water systems. Roesner and his colleague Sybil Sharvelle and I worked to draft legislation and meet with a broad stakeholder group to develop support for legislation. I introduced our bill in December 2011 for consideration during the 2012 legislative session. Regrettably, HB 1003 fell victim to political considerations early in the session. I committed to continuing to work on the bill and reintroduce it in 2013. HB 1044 is the result of literally 2 1/2 years of work on the part of Roesner, Sharvelle and me.

    Q: If gray water is safe and beneficial to use, why are gray-water systems illegal in Colorado?

    A: Gray water derived from a properly designed and functioning system is safe for indoor use to flush toilets and for outdoor drip irrigation systems. However, current Colorado statutes do not recognize or explicitly authorize its use. The Legislature has likewise never directed the applicable regulatory agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), to promulgate rules or to set minimum statewide standards for its use. The absence of authorizing legislation, CDPHE rules and statewide standards has created regulatory uncertainty. This uncertainty prevents people from choosing to install gray-water systems because of the risk that their systems could be ruled illegal. When adopted, HB 1044 will direct CDPHE to promulgate rules and standards that will resolve the current regulatory uncertainty.

    Q: What do Northern Colorado and the state have to gain by passing your bill, both environmentally and economically?

    A: Gray water systems are capable of conserving 25 percent to 30 percent of the indoor water consumed in a typical residence. The water savings from new residential developments using gray water could be substantial and could be a cost-effective tool for helping to meet Colorado’s water needs for the 21st century. In addition, municipal water and wastewater service providers will realize energy and treatment cost savings in the operation of drinking water and wastewater treatment plants.

    Q: This is the second time you’ve introduced a bill of this nature. Why did the first one get shot down, and what is different about this bill?

    A: Bills dealing with water issues almost always are assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. However, last year’s gray-water bill was assigned by then-Speaker Frank McNulty to the House State Affairs Committee for its first hearing. Regrettably, the speaker’s choice of the State Affairs Committee to hear the 2012 bill indicated that he was not going to let it advance for purely political reasons. This year, the political environment for water conservations bills such as HB-1044 is greatly improved, and Roesner and I have had an additional year to continue working with stakeholders to build support for the bill.

    Q: If passed, what are the next steps to implementing gray-water systems? Do you foresee any other major hurdles?

    A: Upon passage of HB 1044, the CDPHE will be required to promulgate rules and minimum statewide standards for installation of systems and use of gray water. The State Plumbing Board also needs to adopt a version of the International Plumbing Code that recognizes gray-water systems and provides guidance for installers. Finally, local governments will have the choice of authorizing the use of gray water within their jurisdictional boundaries. Local jurisdictions will have to adopt ordinances or resolutions authoring the use of gray water in consultation with local health departments and water and wastewater service providers. After passage of the bill, I hope that education, outreach and public acceptance will grow with time such that gray-water systems become a routine part of new residential development and that the potential for water conservation is realized.

    More graywater reclamation coverage here and here.

    2013 Colorado legislation roundup: Drought helps drive the legislative agenda

    April 30, 2013


    From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

    The work for the 2013 legislators began last summer, with the annual interim water resources review committee. The group of 10 legislators traveled the state last summer and fall, hearing about water conservation and legal issues on water rights. The end result was a recommendation for eight measures for 2013: two joint resolutions and six bills. Three other proposed bills were not approved by the entire com-mittee, but members of the committee sponsored two of those bills anyway.

    The group’s legislative agenda was its most aggressive since the 2002 decision by the General Assembly to make it an annual permanent interim committee. Six bills and two resolutions came from the committee’s summer work, and two other bills that were not adopted by the committee got to the legislature anyway, introduced by committee members…

    A drought can make legislators do things that they haven’t been able to do in the past, and that may hold best for HB 1044, which would authorize the use of graywater. Legislators, including those on the interim water committee, have tried for several years to get a graywater statute into the books, without success. This year, however, the General Assembly is just one more vote away from making it part of the state’s conservation efforts…

    Perhaps the most significant bill on water rights was Senate Bill 13-074, which clarifies water court decrees issued prior to 1937; according to sponsors, that’s most of the decrees.

    Prior to 1937, some decrees did not specify the amount of acreage that would be irrigated under a water right; SB 74 says that in a dispute, the court could rely on the historical acreage irrigated in the first 50 years after the decree was entered. Supporters claimed that farmers have counted on that water for generations, and that it has substantial value, including for estate planning purposes.

    Opponents, including the Colorado Water Congress, claimed it might harm senior water rights and intends to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s unusual for the CWC to oppose anything coming from the interim committee, according to attorney Steve Simms. He said that the water courts have faced virtually every possible scenario on water rights during the past 100 years, and in 95 percent of those cases, they can go back to the original intent of the decree and figure out how much acreage was to be irrigated. SB 74 says “if you cheat and get away with it, we’ll legitimize it as long as you can hide it long enough,” Simms said.

    State Water Engineer Richard Wolfe said there are more than 16,000 water decrees. He said he could not estimate how many would be affected by SB 74 without reviewing each one individually. The bill was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on April 4…

    SB 75 was signed into law by the governor on March 15. It prohibits reductions in the amount of water allocated when a user has undertaken conservation measures. Sponsors, including Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, explained that farmers are implementing better irrigation systems and techniques for water use, but they should not have their water allocations reduced as a consequence, particularly in drought situations.

    SB 19 is another one of the bills not supported by the interim committee but that got onto the legislative calendar anyway. The bill, in its final form, applies to three water districts on the western slope, and provides opportunities for conservation, according to Schwartz, its primary sponsor. Some mountain water districts have voluntarily curtailed water use in order to maintain river flows, according to attorney Kristin Moseley, who represented the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. SB 19 encourages voluntary curtailments without penalizing the water user long-term by reducing their water diversion rights, Moseley said. SB 19 has passed the General Assembly and is awaiting signature from the governor…

    SB 41 also deals with water rights and conservation, and another state need: firefighting. State water law is basically “use it or lose it,” and it includes a variety of needs that are considered “beneficial use,” such as irrigation, dust suppression, recreation and domestic. However, water storage isn’t among the approved uses under state law, and that was verified in 2011 by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court, in stating that storage is not a beneficial use, could have forced the state water engineer to empty reservoirs every year. SB 41 reverses the Supreme Court position to allow water storage as a beneficial use, and it also adds firefighting to that list. The governor signed the bill into law on April 8.

    There are two major water bills still moving through the process: HB 1248 and HB 1316.

    HB 1248 is the legislature’s attempt to save water rights on agricultural land; it sets up a pilot program on fallowing agricultural land and letting that water be used for municipal purposes. The bill is based upon concerns that Colorado could lose more than a half-million irrigated acres statewide and basins could lose up to 35 percent of their irrigated acreage, all by 2050. “If we do nothing, ‘buy and dry’ becomes the default for meeting 21st century water needs,” according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Fischer. “Buy and dry” refers to the practice of permanently selling off agricultural water rights for development purposes.

    Under HB 1248, the Colorado Water Conservation Board would authorize up to three pilot programs that would allow for temporary leasing of agricultural water rights, for up to 10 years, for four river districts: the South Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande and certain portions of the Colorado. It doesn’t solve long-term water needs, but according to attorney Peter Nichols, it would create a short-term supply for municipalities during times of drought. The bill is awaiting Senate action.

    The last major bill is HB 1316, which passed the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee 6-5 on Thursday and ends an exemption for the largest oil and gas field in Colorado and increases groundwater testing. Currently 25 percent of all drilling activity and the most intense growth of development and applications for new drilling occurs in the Greater Wattenberg Area (GWA) in northern Colorado. This month, of the 28 spills that have been reported to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 15 occurred in the GWA.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes state Senate Ag committee #COleg

    April 29, 2013


    From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

    [Patti] Mason says water rights concerns, specifically the idea that every drop of rain is already bought and paid for, has kept state lawmakers from loosening their grip over graywater usage, despite the fact that using it would help conserve the precious resource…

    Senator Ted Harvey, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, agrees. “The bill is different from the one last year,” Harvey says. “This is very voluntary. It does not require local water providers to regulate it, so it’s not a mandate on water providers.” Harvey, who supports the bill, says water conservation is increasingly on the mind of lawmakers at the State Capitol. “This is not a partisan issue; water is never a partisan issue,” said Harvey…

    Patti Mason says the graywater bill has a pretty good chance of passing. But she says it’s just the first step in educating lawmakers about the full potential of graywater use.“I do think that broadening the community’s ability to capture precipitation is next,” said Mason. “There are examples of existing policy in place that has allowed for precipitation harvesting to take place in limited scale. “

    The graywater bill easily passed through the House, and was approved unanimously in its first Senate hearing. If the bill is approved by both chambers, it would become law later this year.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: ‘Water law doctrine in Colorado was developed in a much simpler time’ — Jim Lochhead

    April 28, 2013


    From TheDenverChannel.com (Ryan Budnick):

    Slowly, the state legislature has been making minor changes in water accords and laws to reflect the current needs of the state. Senate Bill 41, which was signed into law earlier in April, is an example of those minor changes that can have major ramifications.

    “Water law doctrine in Colorado was developed in a much simpler time,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “So this law is a very small step toward simplifying what has become an overly-complex and burdensome water law system.”

    As the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Mary Hodge sees it, it was correcting an oversight. The new law designates that storing water for fighting wildfires and for drought are beneficial uses. How it is currently set up, water can not be stored unless it is for one of three purposes: irrigation, residential use and mining.

    “People are concerned when you start storing water that you’re either hoarding water or you’re using it as a speculative purpose,” Hodge said.

    Meaning that the resource could be monopolized and cause price gouging. That was how the state’s anti-speculation doctrine was created, said water attorney Joe Dischinger.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 (Irrigation Water Leasing Municipal Pilot Projects) is backed by the CWCB

    April 27, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board wants to develop strategies that would allow temporary transfers of water from farms to cities that allow farmers to maintain ownership of water rights, staffer Todd Doherty told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum this week.

    “Programs are being set up to reduce the costs of transactions to lease water,” he said. Much of that cost is legal fees by taking cases to water court, but some want to determine how to avoid injury to water rights without going to court.

    The CWCB is backing legislation, [HB13-1248], to set up 10 pilot programs in Colorado to explore alternative transfer options under the supervision of the CWCB. The bill passed the House and is now moving in the Senate. The bill allows water to be leased by farmers to cities three years in 10 through rotational fallowing through programs such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. The goal of the programs, along with other efforts already undertaken by the CWCB, is to streamline engineering questions to make sure engineering is correct while other water rights are not injured, Doherty said.

    Among the current efforts is a cooperative project among the CWCB, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and farmers Wes and Brenda Herman on the High Line Canal. The idea is to use a conservation easement to ensure water stays in farming, but allows temporary leases to cities.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1316 (Oil Gas Commn Uniform Groundwater Sample Rule) passes out of committee #COleg

    April 26, 2013


    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    A new measure to protect Colorado water quality from fracking impacts narrowly passed a House committee on a 6-5 vote. HB 1316 requires state regulators to adopt uniform statewide groundwater sampling rules and ends an exemption for the largest oil and gas field in Colorado in the Greater Wattenberg area. The measure would require sampling of all groundwater sources (up to a maximum of four wells) within a half-mile of proposed oil and gas wells, as well as follow-up sampling after the wells are drilled.

    Conservation groups who slammed Gov. Hickenlooper for creating the giant loophole for the Wattenberg Field said the committee vote is another step toward better protection of public health and the environment…

    Currently 25 percent of all drilling activity and the most intense growth of development and applications for new drilling occurs in the Greater Wattenberg Area. Of the twenty eight spills that have been reported to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this month, fifteen occurred in that area. The current testing regime requires sampling of only one water source in each quarter section. More widespread sampling will help with early detection of spills and contamination, according to conservation advocates.

    “In recent months, Adams County has seen increasing public concern about oil and gas development happening close to homes and neighborhoods. In our community, we see areas with very tight development across our entire county, yet the Greater Wattenberg Area is exempt from this rule,” said Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry. “Why should the wells be treated differently when it comes to monitoring groundwater just because they are on the wrong side of our county? We are relying on the state to create baseline monitoring, which is not possible with two different standards. all of Adams County deserves the same level of protection,” Henry said.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1130, sans the thirty year term, passes the Senate Ag committee #COleg

    April 20, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A watered-down version of a controversial bill that would expand state authority to approve water leases is making its way through the Legislature. The legislation, HB1130, was approved this week by the Senate agriculture committee. It would alter the state’s interruptible water supply statute. The statute now allows temporary transfers of water from farms to cities with approval from the state engineer for three years in a 10-year period.

    Aurora, supported by farmers on the High Line Canal, is backing the legislation. Aurora leased water from the High Line Canal in 2004-05. Numerous water interests, particularly in the South Platte basin, opposed the original legislation as an end-run around water court. Originally, the bill allowed the state Division of Water Resources to approve water transfers for up to 30 years without going to water court.

    The legislation, as amended by the ag committee, now limits renewal to just one 10-year period, and only in the Lower Arkansas Valley (water districts 14, 17 and 67 in water division 2). Aurora argued for two renewal periods in order to give cities more certainty of supply.

    The bill also strengthens water court appeals and state engineer notification procedures, while giving opponents 126 days, rather than 30, to respond to notifications.

    The bill also prohibits transfer of water across the Continental Divide, at the request of Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who chairs the Senate ag committee. It does not prohibit transfers from the Rio Grande or Arkansas River basins using interruptible supply.

    The bill was sent to the Senate floor on Wednesday, and could be approved by the Senate as soon as Monday. The House would then have to reconsider the legislation, since substantial changes were made.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes state Senate Ag committee #COleg

    April 18, 2013


    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    The bill, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers there will consider a $110,000 appropriation to fund development of gray water standards by the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The measure passed the House Appropriations Committee unanimously earlier this month. “It’s looking pretty positive, I think, in terms of its possibility” of passing the Senate Appropriations Committee, Fischer said. “There’s no opposition to it that I’m aware of.”

    Colorado water law allows just one use of water before it goes down the drain, through a wastewater treatment plant and back into the river for others to use. Gray water systems “actually aren’t legal right now,” Fischer said. He pointed out that the University of Colorado at Boulder cannot use a gray water system it installed in a newer residence hall because of state health regulations. “The most important thing the bill does is direct the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to promulgate minimum statewide standards for gray water systems,” he said.

    The bill also lets cities and towns decide whether to approve gray water systems, he said.

    More 2013 Colorado legisation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) to get a hearing Wednesday in state Senate committee #COLeg

    April 16, 2013


    From The Denver Post (Lynn Bartels):</p

    Graywater is wastewater in a building that comes from showers, hand-washing sinks and washing machines. It does not come from toilets, urinals or kitchen sinks. Colorado is the only western state that doesn’t allow treated graywater to be used for flushing toilets, landscaping and such, but a proposal scheduled to be heard Wednesday in a Senate committee would change that.

    House Bill 1044, by [Senator Gail] Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, legalizes the use of graywater, calls for the development of regulations to protect the public health and gives cities and counties the discretion to offer graywater permits to single- or multi-family dwellings.

    Bill supporters say a household with four people could save 58,000 gallons a year if it had a graywater filtration system installed.

    The House unanimously passed the measure, which will be heard Wednesday by the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who sits on the committee, said he’s excited to hear the bill. “As long as we can protect the downstream users’ historical rights, there is nothing wrong with this idea,” he said. “A lot of money and energy goes into cleaning up water to bring it to drinking water standards, merely to put it on lawns and flush toilets, and we don’t need to do that.”

    Schwartz also addressed that point, saying a number of Colorado’s wastewater treatment facilities are aging and need to be updated. She said the use of graywater would mean less input into those plants.

    Fischer said he got the idea for carrying the bill from two Colorado State University professors who have been working on graywater issues. They have a graywater disinfectant vat set up in one of the residence halls and have been testing the system.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB13-074 #COleg

    April 16, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation, Senate Bill 74, to correct a glitch in Colorado water law that threatened the value of senior water rights, specifically pre-1937 decrees.

    Sponsored by state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, the new law is designed to mitigate the impact of two recent Colorado Supreme Court decisions, which require senior ditch companies to prove that the farmers who initiated the rights in the 1860s intended to irrigate all the lands and ditches irrigated today.

    “If farmers couldn’t find sufficient evidence demonstrating the intent of the original appropriator, the water court reduced the number of acres that could be served by the rights, even though the ditches had been irrigating the acreages for over 100 years,” said Andy Jones, a water lawyer representing the Legacy Ditch Association. “Colorado farmers, especially those in the South Platte River Basin, faced the prospect of having a substantial percentage of their net worth wiped out.”

    SB74 restores certainty for Colorado farmers by saying that if a decree was granted prior to 1937 and is silent on permissible acreage, then all acreage [irrigated by the water right] within 50 years of the decree is lawful.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    HJR13-1004 supports the NSAA’s position regarding water rights associated with ski areas #COleg

    April 14, 2013


    From the Craig Daily Press:

    A Sen. Randy Baumgardner-sponsored water rights measure unanimously passed out of the Colorado Senate Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. House Joint Resolution 13-1004 calls on the U.S. Forest Service to rescind a 2012 directive that stipulates water rights revert to the federal government upon termination of a special-use permit.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 passes the state House unanimously #COleg

    April 12, 2013


    Another bill that seeks to ease the way for cities to lease water from farms is moving to the Senate. The state House unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board to oversee up to 10 pilot programs to determine how other water rights could be affected.

    “It would be another method to look at alternative ag transfers to see what works and what doesn’t,” said Alan Hamel, Arkansas River basin representative on the CWCB. “This is something on everyone’s mind in the third year of drought.” HB1248 would allow temporary transfer of water for only three years out of a 10-year period and prohibits any movement of water over the Continental Divide or out of the Rio Grande basin. It would allow transfers between the Arkansas and South Platte basins. The bill also limits fallowing to 30 percent of any farm.

    The CWCB has supported several programs to weigh the impacts of transfers proposed by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, and this legislation furthers those efforts, Hamel said. “The CWCB supported it at last month’s meeting, and we’re excited about it,” Hamel said. “Ultimately, it could reduce costs when a change of use case goes to water court.” The bill moves to the Senate agriculture committee, whose chairman Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, is sponsor of the bill. House ag committee chairman Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is the House sponsor.

    The Senate committee Thursday postponed action on HB1130, which is supported by Aurora and some Arkansas Valley farmers. That bill would give the state engineer authority over water transfers for a 30-year period. Opponents of HB1130 say it bypasses water courts for too long a time period.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-258 would allow a developer to prove up water supplies at each stage of development #coleg

    April 11, 2013


    From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

    Senate Bill 258, introduced Tuesday, is sponsored by state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. If passed, the bill would declare that “each application included in the definition of development permit constitutes a stage in the development permit approval process.”

    Its introduction follows a recent ruling from a District Court judge that halted the proposed Sterling Ranch development, which calls for a 12,050-home community in northern Douglas County. Eighteenth Judicial District Judge Paul King ruled that Douglas County commissioners erred when they agreed to rezone the 3,400-acre site in 2011. Commissioners also had decided the developer, Sterling Ranch LLC, could prove it had enough water to serve the community later as each platting of the development was approved. But on Aug. 22, King ruled that the commissioners, in allowing the developer to take an incremental approach later in the planning stages, “exceeded its jurisdiction and abused its discretion.” King’s Nov. 9 order states he followed the letter of the 2008 Colorado law when making his ruling striking down the Board’s decision.

    Government and business leaders filed an amicus brief asking King to reconsider, fearing his ruling would strip local governments of their ability to control development and landowners of the right to develop their land, and would have negative economic ramifications for the entire state.

    The new bill states: “With respect to the definition of ‘development permit’ as used in connection with the statutory provisions requiring that land development be supported by an adequate water supply, the bill modifies the definition to clarify that each application included in the definition of the term constitute a stage in the development permit approval process.”

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    HB13-1044 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes the state house, now on to the state senate

    April 9, 2013


    From email from State Representative Randy Fisher:

    I’m pleased to announce that one of my top priority bills for the 2013 legislative session, HB-1044, was passed in the House on third reading on April 5. If the bill becomes law, it will authorize the use of graywater recycling in Colorado and will provide Coloradans with a powerful and readily available water conservation tool.

    HB-1044 has its roots at CSU where professors Larry Roesner and Sybil Sharvelle have conducted foundational research and development on graywater systems. Drs. Roesner and Sharvelle are the co-directors of the Urban Water Center at CSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Both professors have spent countless hours at the Capitol advocating for passage of HB-1044. They have earned my respect and gratitude for their efforts to help write and advocate for the bill.

    “Graywater” consists of the discharge from fixtures other than toilets, kitchen sinks, and dishwashers that is collected and recycled within residential, commercial, or industrial facilities with minimal treatment in accordance with public health standards. HB-1044 amends Colorado’s public health statutes to allow more efficient first-use of water by enabling the recycling of graywater within the facilities in which it is generated. Graywater reuse is an important municipal and industrial water conservation tool that has the capability of reducing per capita water consumption by up to 30%.

    The Coloradoan newspaper had a very positive editorial about HB-1044 in its Sunday, February 3, edition. Here is a link to the article:


    A critical vote on the HB-1044 occurred last week when the House Appropriations Committee voted to approve a small general fund appropriation required by the health department for rulemaking. The approval of the appropriation paved the way for consideration of the bill in the House. The Senate will begin deliberation on HB-1044 in the coming days.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB13-041 and SB13-074 #coleg

    April 8, 2013


    From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

    SB13-074: Irrigation Water Right Historical Use Acreage — Hodge/Sonnenberg. Concerning the resolution of ambiguities in old water right decrees regarding the place of use of irrigation water.

    SB13-041: Protect Water Storage Long-term Use — Hodge & Roberts/Fischer & Sonnenberg. Concerning the protection of stored water and preserving supplies for drought and long-term needs.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: A look at the week ahead from the Fort Collins Coloradoan #coleg

    April 7, 2013


    From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:


    Last year’s devastating fire season has prompted lawmakers to think about establishing a state firefighting fleet. Under the bill, a new division would have the power to buy or lease firefighting aircraft. The bill faces its first test in a Senate committee on Thursday.


    Democratic efforts to put new limits on oil and gas drillers continue this week. A House committee hears two of them Thursday, including a bill to allow local governments to charge for drill-site inspections. Another bill would commission a study of whether Front Range drilling operations can harm human health.

    From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe) via the Loveland Reporter Herald:

    Drilling for oil and gas has nearly doubled on the Front Range since 2006, sparking local concerns and seven legislative bills — with more possible. Some bills focus on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the agency overseeing oil and gas development. The measures seek to boost inspections, increase spill reporting, raise fines and limit industry influence. Others seek to buttress the role of local government in overseeing oil and gas development…

    In 2013, the two largest operators in the region, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy, are poised to spend more than $3.2 billion on Front Range oil and gas development and drill about 650 wells. The discretionary portion of the state’s budget, by comparison, is about $8.2 billion. For Hickenlooper, who supports oil and gas development and maintains that the state has sole control over regulating drilling, the Democrat-sponsored and -supported bills create a dilemma. “I am very sympathetic to communities that are seeing a changing landscape and are worried about an industrial activity within a thousand feet of their homes,” Hickenlooper said in an interview. “But what are you going to do, take away everyone’s mineral rights?”[...]

    In 2012, Colorado oil production reached a 51-year high — 48 million barrels — and Anadarko and Noble are projecting drilling about 1,600 wells in the next five years. In February, ConocoPhillips announced that it had found a “sweet spot” in the Arapahoe-Adams County area and is planning to drill 38 wells this year. Almost all the activity has been in Weld County, but local officials in neighboring areas are struggling, as drilling spreads, to meet their residents’ concerns over health, safety and property values. “As a local official, you feel your hands are tied,” said Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. “That’s why you are seeing these bills in the legislature.”

    A lack of confidence in state regulators is also fueling much of the debate…

    “The people rose up and did this because they are not getting satisfaction from their government,” Kaye Fissinger, a spokeswoman for the citizens group Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, testified at a hearing. “They were not getting satisfaction from the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission,” Fissinger said.

    The administration is trying to find common ground with legislators on some of the bills, Matt Lepore, the executive director of the oil-and-gas commission, said in an e-mail.

    But bills requiring an $8.2 million increase in oil and gas inspectors and blocking anyone paid by the industry from serving on the commission — which has three industry-designated seats — are problems, administration officials said. “You want to think very carefully before you change the commission’s mission,” Hickenlooper said…

    “It will be interesting to see what the governor does,” said Peter Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, an environmental group supporting the bills.

    “Representatives are bringing their constituents’ concerns about a state agency they do not see as being responsive,” Maysmith said. “This is democracy playing out.”

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-019 still alive #coleg

    April 6, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A controversial water bill that would give the state engineer authority over water transfers for up to 30 years was discussed Thursday in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who chairs the committee, scheduled a vote for next Thursday after about three hours of testimony for and against the bill. She had concerns that the bill could be used to increase diversions from one basin to another. She added that the bill should be laid over to allow sponsors time to make amendments based on testimony, but did not call for a vote.

    Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulfur Springs, are sponsoring the bill after Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, removed her name as a sponsor.

    The bill would expand current legislation on interruptible supply agreements. Currently, cities may lease water for three years out of 10 from farms without changing use of a water right. The bill extends the arrangement for two additional 10-year periods.

    Opponents of the bill, mostly water interests in the South Platte basin, objected to the legislation because it could allow injury to senior water rights without due process in water courts.

    The bill was supported by Aurora, farmers from the Rocky Ford area, the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. They argued the 30-year period would facilitate lease agreements between cities and farmers and prevent permanent dry-up of farmland. “I support it because it eliminates re-engineering and rediscussion,” said Alan Frantz, a Rocky Ford farmer who participated in a 2004-05 lease to Aurora. “We don’t pay any more to prove that it didn’t hurt anybody down the stream.”

    Schwartz asked Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer, if farmers and cities could simply apply for an extension now. Rein said the current statute prohibits extending an application, but added that a completely new application would require less engineering work after going through the process the first time.

    More water law coverage here and here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-019 moves along to the state house #coleg

    March 26, 2013


    From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    The drought-fueled measure, put forth by state Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, passed unanimously in the Senate last week and now moves to the House, starting with the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is the sponsor.

    While the legislation, Senate Bill 13-19, was amended to gain the necessary support — losing its most ambitious provisions in the process, Schwartz on Thursday called the measure a critical first step and one that will lead to further conversations this summer about water conservation. With Colorado likely facing a second straight summer of severe drought, Schwartz said she hopes to encourage water conservation among agricultural users without punishing them in the process. “We need to modify our thinking and our attitudes about how we use water,” the senator said.

    The legislation was originally to apply statewide, but concerns among the state’s seven river basins were varied and ultimately, the bill’s focus was narrowed to the Gunnison, Colorado main stem and Yampa/White River basins…

    Under Schwartz’s bill, a water user who enrolls in various conservation programs could reduce their water use in drought years but the reduction would not be considered by a water judge in determining that user’s historic consumptive use. “What we’re trying to say is, ‘If you’re willing to do this, your historical consumptive use is protected,’” Schwartz said.

    The conservation programs include those enacted by local water districts. Last year, for example, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which provides water to the eastern half of Eagle County and is a main user of water from Gore Creek and the Eagle River, worked with its customers to conserve water but also convinced other water diverters to do with less, according to spokesperson Diane Johnson. Entities such as golf courses and the town of Avon, which uses raw water to irrigate its parks, got on board, she said. Schwartz’s bill would mean those entities wouldn’t get dinged in a calculation of consumptive use if that voluntarily reduction is repeated, she said.

    “Gail’s bill is quite significant,” said Basalt attorney Ken Ransford, secretary for the Colorado Basin Roundtable. The group is one of nine in the state that focuses on water-management issues under the umbrella of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Ransford has watched Schwartz’s legislation closely. Its passage would mean an important incentive for conservation, he said. “It’s a significant change in the law. It takes away a disincentive to a landowner who wants to enroll their land in a conservation program,” he said…

    Gone from the legislation, however, are provisions that would have provided incentives to irrigators to increase the efficiency of their watering systems without jeopardizing their water rights.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 gets a rewrite to expand its reach statewide #coleg

    March 24, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A late bill in the Colorado Legislature would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board to administer three pilot projects to test water leasing strategies. The bill, HB1248, was introduced earlier this month and is sponsored by Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Gayle Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. They chair legislative agriculture committees. As written, the bill applied only to the Arkansas River Basin. Fischer sent it to a subcommittee to rewrite the bill to apply it to the entire state and to clarify the role of the state engineer in approval of plans. It should be heard in committee this week.

    The bill would give the CWCB authority over the pilot projects for one 10year period to demonstrate how irrigated agricultural land could be fallowed and the water temporally leased for municipal use, along the lines proposed by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. CWCB board member Alan Hamel said the board already has funded several projects looking at the impact of leasing programs like Super Ditch.

    A similar bill, HB1130, seeks to extend state engineer approval of interruptible water supply agreements for up to 30 years. The agreements now can be operated three years out of a 10-year period. The bill would allow that period to be renewed twice. The bill, backed by Aurora, passed the House last month, but has yet to be heard in the Senate ag committee.

    Other water bills:

    SB19, allowing water rights to be temporarily used for conservation purposes without penalty to consumptive use calculations, passed the Senate, but reportedly has been amended in the House to exclude water divisions 1, 2, 3 and 7.

    SB41, protecting stored water for drought and long-term needs, passed both houses.

    SB74, concerning ambiguities of water rights, passed both houses. The bill was amended from its original form to give water judges leeway in determining how much acreage historically was irrigated.

    SB181, the water projects bill, passed the Senate and is in the House ag committee. It includes $72 million in water projects administered by the CWCB.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-183 passes out of the state senate #coleg

    March 21, 2013


    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Bill Vogrin):

    Under SB 183, HOAs would not be able to fine homeowners whose lawns die because they observe watering restrictions, which are anticipated this summer amid the current drought. It also overrides any covenants that demand water-guzzling turf lawns and ban xeriscape landscaping methods featuring drought-tolerant plants. The bill has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-074 is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk #coleg

    March 21, 2013


    From The Holyoke Enterprise (Marianne Goodland):

    The bill to clarify ambiguous water decrees prior to 1937 is on its way to the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 13-074 passed the House on a 55-8 vote on March 10. Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) carried the bill on behalf of last fall’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee. The House agriculture committee approved it on March 4. The committee amended it to clarify some of the language regarding enforcement of old water decrees.

    SB 74 is in response to several recent Colorado Supreme Court cases that could impact senior irrigation water rights, according to Sonnenberg. Those cases resulted in dramatic reductions in the irrigated acres on the South Platte River, acres that had been irrigated for close to 100 years. Farm families have relied on these diversions for generations, Sonnenberg told the House, and the court decisions destabilized those water rights.

    SB 74 notes that some decrees do not include acreage limitations, and water courts have looked at historic consumptive use to determine the lawful historical consumptive use, based on the original appropriator’s intent. SB 74 says that if a decree entered prior to Jan. 1, 1937, establishes an irrigation water right and doesn’t limit the number of irrigated acres, the lawful maximum amount would equal the maximum number of acres irrigated for the first 50 years after the original decree was entered.

    Opponents, including attorney Steve Simms, who represented the Colorado Water Congress, testified that the bill sends a “bad message: if you cheat and get away with it, we’ll legitimize it as long as you can hide it long enough.”

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    March 20, 2013


    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District recently finalized acquisition of a new source of water in the Wet Mountain Valley. Attorney Kendall Burgemeister with Wilderson, Lock & Hill LLC reported at the district meeting Thursday that the judge had issued a “final signed decree” in the district’s water court case to change the use of water purchased from Hermit Basin Lodge in Custer County. The district will use the water as a source of replacement water under its augmentation plans, and engineer Ivan Walter said, now that the decree has been signed, his goal is to complete the engineering work so the district can use the water this year…

    With the Colorado Legislature in session, consultant Ken Baker reported on several bills under consideration, including Senate Bill 41, which would expand the beneficial uses of water to include storage. Baker said the bill is likely to pass.

    Baker also reported on SB 19, sponsored by District 5 Sen. Gail Schwarz, who has described the bill as a way to “encourage farmers and producers to take water efficiency measures or upgrade their irrigation technology.” Baker pointed out that a provision of the bill would allow senior water-rights holder to curtail their water usage without losing credit for beneficial use of the water. This would allow junior rights holders to use water that they could not otherwise use, allowing them to expand their beneficial use of the water, which would affect future water court cases.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

    HB13-1013 scheduled for appropriations committee Friday #coleg

    March 5, 2013


    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

    [State Representative Jerry Sonnenberg] is sponsoring House Bill 1013, which forbids the federal government from forcing people to cede their water rights in order to get a special use permit. The bill matters because the Forest Service usually defers to state law on water rights.

    Sonnenberg’s hometown is about as far from a ski resort as a Coloradan can get without crossing the border to Nebraska, but he has bigger concerns than fresh powder. “This isn’t just about ski resorts. This affects agriculture. Agriculture has a number of grazing permits on public lands,” Sonnenberg said.

    But the unanimous votes Sonnenberg has received so far mask some serious concerns from Democrats…

    The Forest Service’s 2011 policy was just the latest in three decades of efforts to make sure ski water rights stay tied to ski mountains.

    Ski areas won a victory in a Denver courtroom last December when U.S. District Judge William Martinez threw out the policy nationwide. He cited “severe” and “serious” problems with the way the Forest Service wrote the rule without soliciting public input.

    After that case, the Forest Service announced a public process to create a new water-rights rule for ski areas. The process should start this spring.

    Legislators want to get a bill passed before the Forest Service approves a new rule.

    The Forest Service, too, wants to get something done, especially in light of global warming and the recent dry winters.

    “We know that the need for snowmaking is likely to grow, as evidenced by our current prolonged drought and warmer winters, which increases the importance of these issues for the industry and the public,” [Regional Forester Dan Jirón] said in testimony last month.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    SB13-074: Irrigation Water Right Historical Use Acreage, clears Colorado senate #coleg

    March 5, 2013


    From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

    [SB13-074] came out of the Interim Water Resources Review Committee in September, and got a 34-1 vote from the Senate on Feb. 20, where Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) called it the most important water bill in a decade. The bill intends to clear up ambiguous language regarding water decrees put into place prior to January 1, 1937.

    SB 74 would affect decrees that are silent on the maximum amount of irrigated acres. The bill creates a mechanism for determining the maximum number of irrigated acres, to be based on the amount irrigated in the first 50 years after the decree was issued. According to State Water Engineer Dick Wolfe, there are 16,338 water decrees statewide issued prior to Jan. 1, 1937. He said he could not determine how many would be affected by SB 74 without reviewing each one individually.

    The bill stems from concerns over Colorado Supreme Court decisions involving the Jones irrigation ditch (Greeley) and Burlington irrigation ditch (Adams and Weld counties). In the Jones case, the court ruled that while farmers had been irrigating 700 to 900 acres for generations, the original intent was to irrigate only about 300 acres. In the Burlington case, the original intent was to irrigate only above Barr Lake, although the ditch had been using water flowing below the lake as well…

    SB 74 was opposed by the Colorado Water Congress. Attorney Steve Simms, representing the CWC, said the bill was unnecessary and wouldn’t solve the problem. It also wouldn’t apply retroactively to the Jones or Burlington cases.

    Simms, who was the lead counsel in the Burlington case, explained that the case was based on the legal location of the use of water, which he said SB 74 doesn’t address. In 95 percent of the cases brought to water court, the original decree should be sufficient. “The normal rule is that you go back to see what original farmer asked for,” Simms said. Look at the original claim, which shows how much water the farmer wants, here’s what he’ll do with it, and the judge figures out the legal area of use, a system Simms said has worked for 100 years. “A bill designed to say maximum use doesn’t solve the question.”[...]

    Sen. Mary Hodge (D-Brighton) has thrown out her original bill to grant eminent domain rights to oil companies and has started over, but the new bill picked up more opposition. SB 21 claimed that it would simply make a technical correction to a 19th-century statute regarding the authority of pipeline companies to obtain rights-of-way for new pipelines. The original bill stated that its intent was to overturn a 2012 decision by the Colorado Supreme Court over alleged eminent domain and condemnation rights by oil companies. SB 21 would have granted those rights to oil companies.

    The original bill has since been scrapped, and on Feb. 22, Hodge introduced a new bill, SB 191, which adds oil, petroleum and hydrocarbon to the types of pipelines and companies that can exercise eminent domain rights. The bill quickly moved to the Senate Local Government Committee for a Tuesday, Feb. 26 hearing. But that’s where the bill got more opposition, this time from irrigation ditch companies throughout northeastern Colorado.

    Attorney Michael Shimmin, who represents the Bijou Irrigation Company, said SB 191 raises concerns for ditch companies that grant pipeline companies permission to cross irrigation ditches. Under a 2001 legal decision, Roaring Fork v. St. Jude, ditch companies have the right to deny pipeline crossings unless there is an agreement between the pipeline company and the ditch company. However, in the past year, Shimmin said, oil and gas companies feel they no longer need the agreement of the ditch company. In January, Shimmin obtained a temporary restraining order in Weld District Court against Kerr McGee Gathering, which attempted to cross the Bijou ditch without permission…

    Much of the concern over how pipelines dig under ditches stems from an incident in 2008, when a gas pipeline went 20 feet under the North Sterling ditch. The ditch was full of water at the time, and although the ditch company believed 20 feet would be a safe depth, the ditch collapsed and emptied itself, and the ditch company lost water for three weeks. After that, Shimmin testified, the ditch companies changed their crossing agreements to make sure no crossings took place while the ditch was full of water. Most ditches are dry at least half of the year, so there is ample opportunity for crossings when the ditch is empty, he said.

    The prospect that SB 191 would grant oil companies the right to put in pipelines whenever they want to “terrifies” the directors of the Bijou Ditch, Shimmin said.

    Mike Groves, president of the Bijou Irrigation Company, testified that the oil companies do not “play ball” with the ditch companies. “We’re protecting what’s ours.”

    The language in SB 191 would take away some of our rights, claimed Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling Irrigation Ditch. “We want oil and gas companies to succeed, but we want control of when and how.”

    Scott Edgar, representing the Farmer Reservoir and Burlington irrigation companies, said they are not opposed to crossings and in fact granted 150 of them in 2012. However, the ditch companies cannot afford to go to battle with international oil companies. He said his ditch companies have gotten condemnation threats from the oil companies, and is currently fighting with one company that says it doesn’t have to get a crossing agreement.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: Acequia bill passes house, more inclusive than 2009 bill

    March 3, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    A bill that passed through the state House of Representatives in Denver this week would help preserve the communal irrigation ditches dug by Hispanic settlers when they came to parts of Southern Colorado.

    The bill is the second measure from state Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, to address the ditches, called acequias in Spanish, but this version loosens landuse requirements for participation from the one he carried in 2009. “It’s inclusive now,” Vigil said.

    The measure, which applied to pre-statehood ditches built in Conejos, Costilla, Huerfano and Las Animas counties, required that at least two-thirds of the land they irrigated remain in the long-lot style that would have existed at the time of settlement. But Vigil heard from irrigators that the requirement was too strict. While long lots, or varas as they’re known in Spanish, can still be seen in Costilla County, they’re far less common in the other counties. “That’s just not the case here in Conejos County anymore,” rancher Lawrence Gallegos said. “Today they’ve been consolidated.”

    He waters pastures off of two different acequias that were built in 1855 and 1856 and draw from the San Antonio River. Gallegos, who testified in favor of the bill before the House Agricultural Committee, said he thinks his fellow members on the two ditches might be interested in taking up some of the provisions from the bill. He pointed specifically to a clause that allowed the ditch the right of first refusal regarding the sale, lease or exchange of water.

    The law also incorporates elements that were historically common to acequias but did not become a part of Colorado law, such as each member of a ditch having an equal vote. The measure would also allow for ditch policy that required members to provide labor for maintenance. Vigil did not know when it would be taken up in the Senate.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    HB13-1130 is on its way to the state senate #coleg

    March 1, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A bill that would allow state engineer approval of water transfers without a court decree for up to 30 years is headed to the state Senate. The state House this week approved the legislation, HB1130. Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, is listed as the Senate sponsor.

    The bill would allow extended operation of interruptible supply agreements. Current law allows for water leases from farms to cities for three years out of 10 on the approval of the state engineer. The agreements cannot be renewed, and would require a water court decree to continue the arrangement beyond the initial 10-year period. The new law would allow the leases to be approved by the state engineer for two additional 10-year periods. Aurora, which is seeking water leases this year to replenish its water storage supply, is pushing the legislation. In 2004-05, Aurora leased water from theRocky Ford High Line Canal, selling part of the lease to Colorado Springs in the second year. Aurora City Council has approved up to $5 million for leases this year.

    While Aurora has talked to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, they have so far been unable to come to terms. Farmers say Aurora’s offer of $500 per acre-foot is too low because crop prices have improved since a 2010 memorandum of understanding was signed.

    Opponents of the legislation say 30 years is too-long a period to lease water without a water court action. Water court provides a forum to determine how an action injures other water rights, which cannot be allowed under the state Constitution. The new law would allow appeals to water court only after agreements were negotiated.

    A state-administered substitute water supply plan for a proposed pilot program last year to lease a much smaller amount of water from the Super Ditch to El Paso County cities drew unprecedentedopposition. Several water interests challenged the state engineer’s authority to approve moving water under existing state law without a filing in water court.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    SB13-183 would allow homeowners under HOA agreements to choose xeriscape over turf #coleg

    February 26, 2013

    Click here to read the bill.

    SB13-181: Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects moves out of committee, would fund Chatfield reallocation

    February 25, 2013


    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    A water development project of huge interest to local farmers got a big boost Thursday, after it had endured setbacks in recent weeks when a couple of participants backed out. The Colorado Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee moved forward a bill that supports $70 million in water projects, with about $28 million of that going toward the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, according to a news release from Senate Majority Whip Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, who introduced the bill. The measure, [Senate Bill 13-181: Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects] will go to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

    The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, which provides augmentation water to more than 100,000 acres of irrigated farm ground in the area, is one of 13 water-providers participating in the proposed Chatfield project. The endeavor would raise the Denver-area lake by as much as 12 feet, and, in doing so, would provide an additional 2,849 acre-feet of water to some of Central’s users.

    The $184-million Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project wouldn’t provide immediate help for local farmers, who battled drought last year and are potentially facing another round in the upcoming growing season. But local farmers say they need to secure future water supplies quickly, because the cities around them are growing and are increasing their own water needs.
    Central Water and the farmers within its boundaries have long been dependant on leasing excess water from local cities, but those supplies will soon be limited, and are already becoming more expensive. Augmentation water is needed to make up for depletions to the aquifer and surrounding surface flows caused by pumping water out of the ground.

    In addition to battling cities for supplies, the additional augmentation water is needed since many of the wells in Central Water’s boundaries were either curtailed or shut down in 2006, when the state made augmentation requirements more stringent. Some farmers haven’t been able to use their wells since then because they haven’t had the necessary amount of augmentation water to do so. Randy Ray, executive director for Central Water, said that, if S.B. 181 goes through, it could speed up the Chatfield project by at least several months. Ray said he expects the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project to get federal approval by the end of 2013, meaning participants can go forward with needed mitigation efforts.

    Before additional water can be stored at Chatfield Reservoir, facilities at the state park must be relocated to higher ground and new wildlife habitats must be created, along with other measures. Without the new bill freeing up state funding, the water-providers participating in the proposed project wouldn’t have enough dollars to get going on those mitigation efforts, Ray said.

    Two water providers — Aurora Water and the Roxborough Water and Sanitation District — recently backed out of the Chatfield project to pursue other projects. Ray described that development as a “setback.” They had accounted for about 20 percent of the funding for the project. But if the bill can pass this year and make state funds available, mitigation efforts at Chatfield can take place as soon as federal approval comes.

    Without the state funds, though, there’s uncertainty about whether there would be enough dollars available, and the project, even with federal approval, would be at a standstill until state funding was available later in 2014, or maybe even farther down the road. According to the news release from Schwartz, the 15 water projects in the bill would get under way without taking money from the General Fund. The funds will come from the state’s Construction Fund and the Severance Tax Trust Fund Perpetual Base Account, both of which include sustainable revolving loan programs. The Construction Fund has helped nearly 440 water projects get going since 1971, according to Schwartz.

    In November, voters in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District approved a pair of water measures, including a $60 million bond issue that would help pay for Central Water’s portion of the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, along with other endeavors. Central Water officials also are considering the construction of gravel pits for an additional 8,000- 9,000 acre-feet of storage, and buying 1,000 acre-feet of senior water rights with the approved bonds.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    SB13-075: Promote Water Conservation Of Designated Ground Water

    February 24, 2013


    Click here to read the bill SB13-075: Promote Water Conservation Of Designated Ground Water (Brophy/Sonneberg):

    Here’s a report from Tony Rayl writing for The Yuma Pioneer. Here’s an excerpt:

    On Wednesday, February 13th, Senate Bill 75 passed the Colorado Senate. The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray), would prevent any government organization from changing the amount of water a permit holder can draw from an aquifer based on conservation measures. This practice, Senator Brophy argues, encourages overconsumption.

    “Something happened in the water permitting process that created an incentive to use the maximum amount of water that you possibly can on your farm,” Brophy stated. “What this bill is trying to do is remove the incentive to waste water and instead incentivize conservation.” To keep groundwater aquifers from being depleted, the state regulates how much water a permit holder can draw from an aquifer. The amount an individual is allowed to draw is based on how much water they have needed to water their crops in the past.

    “When users try to conserve water, the state sees their water usage drop and sometimes lessens the amount of water they can use from then on,” argued Senator Brophy. “This encourages irrigators to waste water to avoid having their allowable water consumption amount permanently reduced.”

    The bill would protect permitted consumptive use — in designated groundwater basins — as the floor for a permit in perpetuity and would prevent the reduction of pumping rates or annual volumetrics based on consumptive use after implementation of conservation measures.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    HB13-1130: ‘Bill would hurt rural Colorado’ — State Rep. Clarice Navarro #codrought

    February 24, 2013


    Here’s a column from State Representative Clarice Navarro urging the legislature to reject expanded authority for the State Engineer, under HB13-1130: Reapprove Interruptible Water Supply Agreements. From the column:

    Colorado Water Law is a unique, complex series of statutes, court cases and decreed water rights. This framework of laws is designed to protect people who do not live next to the river, but have a real need to use the water that flows from snowmelt in the spring and summer months.

    Some of my colleagues in the state Legislature are seeking to change this system in favor of benefiting large cities such as Aurora and Denver at the expense of rural Colorado.

    House Bill 1130 seeks to extend the operation of interruptible water supply agreements in Colorado. Because of the arid nature of our state, the Legislature entrusts the Colorado water courts to oversee the decreed water rights in order to ensure that people with junior water rights are treated equitably with those who have senior water rights.

    This bill gives the Colorado water engineer the ability to grant interruptible supply agreements in three-year increments outside of court oversight for up to 30 years. Only after the state engineer has made a determination can someone appeal to water court. This simply entrusts the state engineer with more authority, and it will lead to rural Coloradans losing the water to large, metropolitan areas of the state.

    Southern Colorado cannot stand for this. There are better ways for the Legislature to allow, in times of drought, the ability to divert water out of priority. The current network of laws, in my opinion, adequately addresses all surface water rights. I hope that my fellow legislators are able to work together and defeat HB 1130. This is bad legislation for Southern Colorado.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: ‘The number of water-related bills tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of snowpack we have’ — Randy Fischer

    February 16, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A bill that would extend the state engineer’s authority to approve interruptible supply agreements was heard in the state House Agriculture Committee this week. Most of the testimony was against the bill, which would allow the state engineer to approve temporary water transfer agreements between cities and farms for up to 30 years, rather than the current limit of 10 years. Leases of water could occur for only three years within each 10-­year period. Claims of injury could be filed in water court.

    Opponents of the bill argue that the time period is too long, and that applications in water court are needed in advance to determine if other water rights are injured. Aurora Water, which has sought leases from the Arkansas River basin, is supporting the legislation, [HB13-1013: Protect Water Right Ownership Rights]. Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-­Sterling, and Rep. Randy Fischer, D­-Fort Collins, are co­sponsors of the bill. Sen. Angela Giron, D-­Pueblo, is listed as the Senate sponsor. No vote was taken on the bill during the committee meeting, in order to allow changes to be made.

    Another bill, [SB13-074: Irrigation Water Right Historical Use Acreage], passed the Senate ag committee on a 4-­1 vote last week. The bill attempts to clear up ambiguities in pre­-1937 agricultural water rights by allowing the maximum amount of land irrigated during the first 50 years to be claimed as historical usage. The Colorado Water Congress recently voted to oppose the bill because it does not take into account other deliberations water courts used to determine rights. It could expand the amount of acreage claimed in some cases.

    A third bill, [SB13-019: Promote Water Conservation], is sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D­-Snowmass Village, and seeks to provide more incentives for water conservation by easing the requirements to use the water or lose the right. It has not been heard in committee.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    Six weeks into the session, water concerns are emerging among the biggest issues lawmakers are addressing. “The number of water-related bills tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of snowpack we have,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins. “A lot of people are concerned about the drought coming up, anticipating we’ll be in another year of severe drought.”

    Fischer, who is chairman of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, is sponsoring or co-sponsoring at least seven bills that address water supply, irrigation, water conservation or a combination of those issues. Most have quickly gained traction in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

    A bipartisan bill Fischer is working on with the previous GOP chairman of Fischer’s committee, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would allow farmers to share their water with cities and towns through temporary water exchanges. The bill, [House Bill 13-1130: Reapprove Interruptible Water Supply Agreements], would allow farmers to share their water with businesses and cities without losing the right to use it later, Fischer said…

    Fischer said lawmakers were waiting for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to approve new rules on groundwater testing around oil and gas wells and a new regulation requiring a 500 buffer zone between an oil well and the nearest building. Those rules have now been approved, and oil and gas-related legislation will likely be introduced soon, Fischer said…

    Lawmakers are coordinating to write legislation addressing local control of oil and gas permitting and resolving a conflict between that local control and state law that requires oil and gas to be regulated only at the state level, [Fischer] said.

    A bill likely to be introduced soon will propose increases in penalties for oil and gas companies that spill their products, he said. Another bill may propose additional studies looking into the affects of oil and gas development on public health…

    Fischer said he plans to sponsor a bill that will propose a renewable thermal standard similar to the state’s renewable standards for electricity generation. “There is no incentive for people to use ground-source heat pumps for heating and cooling,” he said.

    More legislative news from the Coloradoan:

    Bills on the move

    Senate Bill 19: Promoting water conservation
    Allows farmers to reduce the water they consume without losing their water right. Currently, farmers have to use all the water they’re entitled to, or risk losing the right to some of that water.
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
    Status: Assigned to Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

    Senate Bill 41: Preserves water supplies for drought
    Reverses a Colorado Supreme Court decision declaring that storing water in reservoirs to prepare for wildfire and drought are not sufficient for water rights owners to keep the right to that water without emptying reservoirs and putting the water to “beneficial use.”
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
    Status: Passed Senate, introduced in House.

    Senate Bill 70: Alternative fuels for state fleet vehicles
    State fleet vehicles are currently required to be fueled by compressed natural gas. The bill would allow the purchase of other vehicles that run on other cost-effective alternative fuels.
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins; Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
    Status: Passed Senate.

    Senate Bill 110: Emergency wildfire funds
    Creates a wildland fire cost recovery fund in the Colorado Treasury.
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins; Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
    Status: Signed into law.

    House Bill 1044: Allowing use of graywater
    Allows the state to determine how residential and commercial wastewater that is considered “graywater” can be put to beneficial use as a water conservation measure.
    Northern Colorado sponsor: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
    Status: Passed House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee and referred to House Appropriations Committee.

    House Bill 1091: Air quality testing for diesel fleet vehicles
    Allows the state to write new rules for air quality testing regarding heavy-duty diesel fleet vehicle owners who can prove excellent maintenance of their fleet.
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins; Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
    Status: Passed House Transportation Committee and referred to House floor.

    House Bill 1130: Water supply agreements between farmers and cities
    Allows farmers to share water through temporary exchanges with municipal and industrial water users.
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
    Status: In discussion in House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee.

    House Bill 1191: Regulations for wastewater treatment plants
    Allows state public health officials to award grants to cities and towns for waste water treatment plant improvements.
    Northern Colorado sponsor: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
    Status: Passed House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee and referred to House Appropriations Committee.

    Senate Bill 142: Ceding federal lands
    Bill would require the United States government to transfer title to about 23 million acres of national forests and other “agricultural” public lands to the state of Colorado.
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley; Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins
    Status: Passed in Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee; awaits Senate vote.

    House Bill 1122: Energy, jobs and higher education act
    Would create “incentive” oil and gas wells, exempting them from severance taxes for two years before severance tax collection resumes and is used for a “college opportunity fund.”
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling; Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor.
    Status: Died in committee

    House Bill 1128: Excluding counties from vehicle emissions tests
    Would allow county commissioners to exclude all or part of a county from Colorado’s motor vehicle emissions testing program if that part of the county meets ambient air quality standards.
    Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland; Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor; Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance; Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.
    Status: Died in committee

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    HB13-013 passes out of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee #coleg

    February 10, 2013


    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

    [HB13-1013: Protect Water Right Ownership Rights], which is sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), passed the committee unanimously, but not without a little last-minute wrangling during the Feb. 4 hearing. Rep. Mike McLachlan (D-Durango) announced during the hearing he intended to amend the bill to limit the impact to ski areas because he said the bill was too broad.

    The issue was brought to the Legislature by the ski industry, but during a Jan. 28 hearing, attorney Glenn Porzak told the committee that the Forest Service had issued similar directives on water rights for ranchers and other agricultural users who lease federal lands for grazing.

    McLachlan eventually decided not to add the amendment and HB 1013 is now awaiting action from the House Appropriations Committee. A companion measure, House Joint Resolution 13-1004, passed the full House on Feb. 1 and is headed to the Senate. Sonnenberg also won House support this week for HB 1034, which would allow commodities warehouses and elevators to issue electronic receipts that could be shared with banks and other financial institutions. HB 1034 passed the House 64-0 on Feb. 4, and is now in the Senate.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    ‘Ski areas’ water rights should be protected from federal infringement’ — Mike McLachlan (HD 59) #coleg

    February 7, 2013


    From The Durango Herald (Mike McLachlan HD 59):

    On Monday, I attended the Colorado Water Congress and met with former Sen. Bruce Whitehead. Later in committee, we had a full discussion about the relationship between U.S. Forest Service attempts to link the ski area permit system to what some people consider an infringement on ski area water rights. One side of the debate wants to make this a full-fledged assault on all levels of the U.S. government. As a legislator who has a significant number of ski areas in his district, I listened earnestly to all the testimony and do understand that the ski areas’ water rights should be protected from federal infringement. Because the bill as currently drafted is so broad and so sweeping, I cannot support it in its current form, but if it is narrowed to the U.S. Forest Service and our Colorado ski area water rights, I will support House Bill 1013…

    On Thursday I also was privileged to attend and participate in a legislative panel at the Colorado Water Congress. As I told its membership, I continue to remain committed to bipartisanship and good government. I fully understand the responsibilities of a Western Slope legislator regarding the protection of our water rights, rivers and streams. It was good to see Sen. Ellen Roberts, Sen. Gail Schwartz, John Porter, Steve Fearn, Barry Spear, Steve Harris, Bob Wolfe, Billy Nesbitt, Frank Kugel and John McClow. I will continue my dialogue with the Colorado Water Congress to ensure that the water rights of the 59th District are fully protected.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    SB13-041 passes agriculture committee — defines firefighting and drought mitigation as beneficial uses #coleg

    February 5, 2013


    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:

    Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, won unanimous support for Senate Bill [13-041] in the agriculture committee. Her bill counteracts a 2011 court ruling on the Yampa River that said reservoir owners can’t get an absolute right to water in their reservoirs unless it is all put to a “beneficial use.”

    Colorado law has a “use it or lose it” approach to water, in order to prevent hoarding or speculation. But legislators and their allies in the water business think the court took that doctrine to an extreme…

    Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said that unless the bill passes and reverses the Supreme Court ruling, utilities would have to suck their reservoirs dry before they could get new water rights…

    The bill declares that storing water for firefighting and drought mitigation is a beneficial use, and it says water rights can’t be considered to be abandoned when the water is in long-term storage.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    House Joint Resolution 13-1044 clears House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee

    February 4, 2013


    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

    The committee unanimously approved House Joint Resolution 13-1004, which encourages the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to withdraw a 2012 directive that requires ski areas to turn over their water rights, without compensation, for federal lands leased from the Forest Service.

    HJR 1004 points out that federal law requires federal agencies to abide by the water laws of the states in which federal lands are located. However, according to resolution sponsor Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), the Forest Service drafted the 2012 directive in violation of that law, known as the McCarran Act.

    The National Ski Areas Association filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service over the directive, and a Denver District Court judge recently ruled in favor of the NSAA, but only on procedural grounds and not on the substance of the directive. According to testimony in Monday’s hearing, the judge told the Forest Service that “they didn’t do it right” when they issued the directive without public input, a violation of federal administrative procedures.

    Meanwhile, here’s the USFS release about the public meetings this spring (Chris Strebig):

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced today a public process to develop a directive regarding water rights on National Forest System lands that have ski areas and other permitted uses. The Forest Service plans to begin the public process this spring.

    “Establishing an inclusive process on this important issue will help meet long-term goals,” said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Daniel Jirón. “Maintaining the water with the land will ensure a vibrant ski industry, and resilient and healthy national forests and mountain communities into the future.”

    Regional Forester Jirón testified today before the Colorado General Assembly House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. The Committee scheduled the hearing to address water rights and ski areas brought up through Colorado House Bill 13-1013 and Colorado House Joint Resolution 13-1004.

    On December 19, 2012, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in National Ski Areas Association, Inc. v. United States Forest Service ruled to vacate the 2012 Forest Service directive on ski area water rights. The Court declined to rule on the substance of the Forest Service directive, but indicated the Agency should proceed with public notice and comment for this type of directive.

    The Forest Service Directive System consists of manuals and handbooks that codify policy and provide administrative direction for Forest Service employees to manage National Forest System lands.

    “Together, we can find solutions that support a strong ski industry, keep the water with the land to sustain local communities, and ensure the long-term viability of this unsurpassed winter recreational experience,” said Jirón. “We think it is a good idea to engage the public and communities to map out next steps on this issue.”

    The National Forest System lands comprise 192 million acres of forest and grasslands in 43 states. The Forest Service estimates that downhill skiers and snowboarders at 22 ski areas on national forests in Colorado contribute approximately $1.5 billion annually to Colorado’s economy.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    CMU: ‘Learn all about water in February’ — Hannah Holm #coriver

    January 28, 2013


    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

    What better way to spend three cold, dreary winter evenings than immersing yourself in water issues?

    You’ll get your chance in February with the Water Center at CMU’s annual water course, which is intended to bring all interested citizens up to speed on how water is managed in our region, with particular attention to recent developments in water policy and management. The course will be held in the University Center Ballroom from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 11, 18 and 25 — all Mondays.

    Session one will focus on Colorado water law, history and culture. Kirsten Kurath, an attorney at Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC will open the session with an orientation to Colorado water law and what water rights issues are of most concern to Grand Valley water users. Then, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs will take the stage to discuss the culture and history of Colorado water.

    In addition to being a judge, Hobbs is also a poet and the author of the book “Living the Four Corners: Colorado, Centennial State at the Headwaters,” which reviewer Tom I. Romero II described as “a collection of poems, oral testimony, multicultural teaching, inspired reflections, robust exchange, and legal reasoning about the great rivers and the varied people who comprise Colorado.”

    Session two will focus on cooperative initiatives for water management and river health. These include initiatives for salinity control, riparian restoration, canal hydropower and improving flows for native fish in the Dolores River. John Sottilare of the Bureau of Reclamation with discuss salinity control projects, which seek to keep irrigation water from leaching salt from our valley’s soils into the river, where they cause problems for farmers downstream.

    Tamarisk Coalition staff will discuss their efforts to work with a wide variety of stakeholders to remove tamarisk along riverbanks and restore native vegetation. David Graf, with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, will discuss the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for Native Fish, which is the product of several years of discussions among numerous stakeholders.

    Session three will focus on current water policy issues. Chris Treese of the Colorado River District will give us a rundown of the water bills introduced in the state legislature this session, which include proposals on agricultural water conservation and the reuse of graywater (that’s water that’s already been used once in your house, somewhere other than the toilet). Then we’ll learn about how the statewide process to figure out how to fill an anticipated gap between water supply and demand from Jacob Bornstein, a staffer for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. We’ll finish off the evening with a discussion of new water quality monitoring requirements for oil and gas drilling.

    So come out and join us! We’ll even feed you fruit and cookies while you learn. And keep you awake with coffee.

    The cost is $45 for the whole series or $20/session. We will provide certificates of completion for those who attend the whole series, and are seeking accreditation to provide continuing education credits for lawyers, teachers, water system operators and Realtors. Scholarships are available for high school students and K-12 teachers, and admission is free for CMU students and employees. For complete details, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter or call the Water Center at 970-248-1968.

    This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

    Whether it’s simply a coincidence or divine intervention, the water course being offered next month by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University comes at an opportune time. The three-seminar series on water law, policies and management begins Feb. 11 with other sessions Feb. 18 and 25.

    It seems a lot of people last year would have profited from knowing more about how water policy, and specifically the doctrine of prior appropriation, decides who gets water in a year when there isn’t enough to go around.

    Bob Hurford, state Division of Water Resources engineer for Division 4 in the Gunnison River Basin, said Thursday many people holding water rights were surprised last summer when the expected irrigation water never arrived. Speaking during Thursday’s Aspinall Unit operations meeting in Montrose, Hurford said it was people who had moved into the region within the past decade and hadn’t gone through a year of
    under-supplied and over-appropriated water. “People were saying, ‘But I own water rights, why aren’t I getting any water?’ ” Hurford recalled. “They couldn’t understand why they didn’t have water and yet the farmers did.”

    Hurford said the water shortages appeared much earlier than most people expected. “If you didn’t take your water before May 1, you probably weren’t getting it,” he said. “The Uncompahgre Valley was on call by May 2.”

    It was particularly severe in the North Fork Valley, which Hurford called “extremely, highly over-appropriated,” where water rights dating to 1882 take precedence over those coming later. That means those using the Fire Mountain Canal, with 1934 water rights, saw its water dry up after mid-July. “People were outraged,” Hurford said. “But it’s because they didn’t understand how prior appropriation works.”

    With this year’s water year shaping up as challenging or more so than 2012, the Water Center’s seminar series is bound to help. Information is available at http://www.coloradomesa.edu (http://www.coloradomesa.edu), click on Water Center.

    More education coverage here.

    ‘We will create incentives instead of disincentives in terms of creating efficiency in agriculture’ — Gail Schwartz

    January 27, 2013


    From the Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:

    Legislators are considering changes to Colorado water law that would take the first serious legal steps toward encouraging conservation instead of maximum use of water. But their ideas are controversial. “We need the ability to respond to the drought,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who is sponsoring a bill to allow more year-to-year water storage in reservoirs to save for the next dry spell.

    Currently, Colorado water law takes a “use it or lose it” attitude, and other legislators want to make a big change to the legal doctrine that dates back more than a century. “This is really the first time that we will create incentives instead of disincentives in terms of creating efficiency in agriculture,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

    The law is at once simple and maddeningly complicated. Basically, people can claim a water right by being the first to use unclaimed water on a stream, and they can keep the right as long as they’re still using the water. But the law doesn’t allow users to save for a non-rainy day. Courts can partially revoke a water right if the owners don’t use it. Schwartz’s Senate Bill 19 would forbid water judges from reducing farmers’ water rights after they install more efficient irrigation.

    In the House, Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is sponsoring House Bill 1044, which allows people to capture graywater – used water from showers and washing machines – for reuse.

    Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling…farms in Northeast Colorado, and he and his neighbors depend on water that’s “wasted” upstream in the Front Range cities. “That’s why when I’m in Denver, I always flush twice,” Sonnenberg said.

    He represents another side in the debate – one that looks to more reservoir storage as a solution to drought. “We’ve got to keep Colorado’s water in Colorado, and the only way to do that is water storage,” Sonnenberg said.

    Sonnenberg is a sponsor, along with Roberts and Fischer, of Senate Bill 41, which takes on Colorado Supreme Court decisions that future drought mitigation and firefighting cannot be used to justify a water storage right. Roberts said the law discourages prudent planning for droughts. “The idea of it is to push back on those court cases and say, no, you can store water for firefighting and drought mitigation,” Roberts said.

    Water bills typically attract intense lobbying, and Sonnenberg said his ideas aren’t popular at the influential Colorado Water Congress. “We have legislators trying to make water policy and lawyers who represent the Water Congress trying to stop water legislation,” Sonnenberg said…

    The House Agriculture Committee will hear four water bills Monday, including the graywater bill. Roberts’ storage bill has its first hearing Thursday.

    Also Thursday, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, has the first hearing for his bill to make it easier for gas and oil companies to use produced water for dust suppression.

    And finally Thursday, the Water Congress holds its annual convention, which will attract the state’s most powerful water lawyers to Denver.

    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

    The interim Water Resources Review Committee sent six bills and two resolutions to lawmakers for the 2013 legislative session. That committee was co-chaired by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), then chair of the House ag committee. Its ten members also included Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray).

    Monday, Sonnenberg will ask for ag committee approval on two measures from the interim water committee. They are: House Bill (HB) 13-1013, on protecting water rights for lease holders, and House Joint Resolution 13-1044, which opposes efforts by the US Forest Service to obtain the water rights on lands leased to ski areas and other permitted uses. Both measures are tied to problems with the Forest Service, which wants the water rights of the state’s 22 ski areas that lease national forest lands. The Forest Service changed a long-standing policy last year that allowed the ski areas to use the water rights as they saw fit. The new policy, now the subject of a federal lawsuit, requires lease holders to turn over their water rights to the Forest Service…

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation (HB13-1044): Consumptive use challenge on the horizon if the bill passes?

    January 26, 2013


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Patrick Malone):

    Sometime in the next three to five weeks, with the flip of a single valve, toilet tanks in the residence hall will fill with recycled water, a testament to [researchers Larry] Roesner and [Sybil] Sharvelle’s work.

    “We are very anxious for that first flush,” Roesner said. “We are ready to flush the toilet, but we’re taking some final tests to make sure it’s OK.”

    The conversation around gray water in Colorado also faces a new test.

    A gray water bill by state Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, has undergone some fine-tuning and appears poised to pass after a similar measure met swift defeat last year. This year’s incarnation faces its first hurdle Monday in the House Agriculture Committee that Fischer chairs.

    Fischer’s bill would recognize gray water systems as legal in statute, enable regulation of them to protect public health and grant cities and counties discretion to permit them — or not, if they so choose…

    “We can save about 50 percent of the indoor demand by using gray water for toilet flushing, and we can save about 30 percent of overall annual demand by gray-water reuse,” Roesner said. “A household of four could save 58,000 gallons a year using gray water, and a 40-home subdivision would save over 2 million gallons a year.”

    “There are not many other conservation practices that would allow you to achieve those types of conservation benefits,” Fischer said.

    But that wasn’t enough to get a proposal off the ground at the Legislature last year. In its first committee hearing, Republicans killed it on a party-line vote.

    “It’s been interesting, because it seems like a relatively simple idea, yet it’s been so difficult to achieve in legislation,” Fischer said.

    Opponents of last year’s version of the bill say concerns that proliferation of gray water systems would harm downstream water-rights holders — not partisan politics — torpedoed Fischer’s first bid.

    “That has always been my concern, how it affects downstream water users,” said agriculturally-oriented Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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

    January 13, 2013


    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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