2016 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB16-1256 (South Platte Storage study)

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Leave it to a Western Slope legislator to tell his colleagues on the Front Range just what they should do when it comes to finding more water for their thirsty cities.

While the South Platte River is miles away from Rep. J. Paul Brown’s southwest Colorado House district, it’s actually as close as the nearest Western Slope stream when it comes to statewide water management.

That’s why the Ignacio Republican introduced HB16-1256, which calls on the Colorado Water Conservation Board to study how much South Platte water has been allowed to flow into Nebraska over what the state’s water compact with the state requires.

Additionally, the bill, which Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law on Thursday, calls on the board to identify potential sites to create more storage projects no matter how small they might be.

“It’s just important that we not waste water in Colorado anywhere,” Brown said. “I’ve been watching the South Platte for several years. Today, there is about 6,000 cubic feet per second that is flowing out of the state. This study will give us the information we need to go ahead and really get serious about water storage on the South Platte.”

The legislator said he got involved in the issue for obvious reasons: water is a matter of statewide concern and he’s tired of Front Range folks first looking to the Western Slope for more water when there’s still plenty in their own backyard.

He said the board shouldn’t have any troubles doing the study despite its short timetable — it’s due in March — because that state agency already has all the information it needs to complete it.

Brown said the study hadn’t been done previously because of too many competing interests in the South Platte River basin, and prior attempts at looking at more storage projects failed before they could begin.

“They just had their feet knocked out from under them so many times, they just kind of got discouraged, but I think it just took a sheepherder who’s just crazy enough to say we can do this and get the ball rolling,” he said. “When I first started out, they said it was impossible to do, but I just kept after them.”

Once Brown started to make strides in getting people to come to an agreement over doing the study, others quickly stood behind him, including Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who shepherded the bill through the Senate.

Ultimately, it got through the House and Senate, including several committees in each, with only a single no vote.

“The number one concern is we’re going to be 400,000 acre-feet short on the Front Range for the growth they’re expecting,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to come up with that water, but you can’t conserve that much. We’ve got to come up with some alternatives.”

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