Senate Bill 14-115 would trump an executive order issued by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 that called for the Colorado Water Plan to be based on regional plans developed by river-basin “roundtables” around the state in coordination with the CWCB.
“The executive order did not identify a role for the general assembly, and yet we represent the people in the state,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, is chair of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, where SB 14-115 has been sent for review.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango who serves on the interim Water Resources Review Committee, also is a co-sponsor of the bill.
“When an executive order is issued, that bypasses the legislature,” Roberts said at the Colorado Water Congress meeting held last week. “Now, that is certainly the governor’s prerogative, but when something is called the Colorado state water plan, it means the legislature is at the table.”[...]
A key question for communities on both the Western Slope and along the Front Range is whether more water will be piped under the Continental Divide from the west, where most of the state’s water is, to the east, where most of the state’s people are.
Pitkin County commissioner Rachel Richards is an active member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and said she has “real concerns” about Schwartz’s bill.
“It brings so much politics into the issue,” Richards said about SB 14-115. “I think it will fall down to Front Range versus West Slope legislators. I have a hard time imagining any Front Range legislator running for re-election and saying he or she voted for a plan that did not include a new trans-mountain diversion of very significant magnitude. “
In addition to giving the legislature power over the final water plan, SB 14-115 also requires that regional public hearings be held after a draft is released and that public comment be taken into consideration in the final draft…
Gov. Hickenlooper’s executive order calls for the CWCB to finish a draft of the water plan by December and to complete a final version by December 2015.
The CWCB is to write the draft plan and then submit it “for review by the governor’s office,” according to the executive order. Then it is supposed to “work with the governor’s office to complete the final plan.”
The only substantive mention of the state legislature in the governor’s executive order is that the plan should include “recommendations to the governor for legislation that will improve coordination, streamline processes and align state efforts” regarding water projects.
That’s not a big enough role for the legislature, according to Schwartz.
“Yes, the plan may direct policy, but it does not have the weight of law,” she said.
SB 14-115 requires the plan to be reviewed by the Water Resources Committee, which would then introduce a bill to approve it — or not.
The bill also says that a water plan can only be considered official state policy if the legislature approves it. And it says that while the plan could still be the policy of the CWCB, the legislature also could declare that it is not.
In short, it gives the legislature firm control over future water projects in Colorado.
Roberts acknowledged that the bill might cause some “hurt feelings” among those at the basin roundtable level.
“It is not intended as any slight to the folks that are working hard on that, but we do feel that it is critically important that that be an open public process and it also involve the legislature,” Roberts said about the bill…
On Thursday, the board of the Colorado River District, which represents the Western Slope, voted to take a neutral position on the bill — for now.
Chris Treece, the external affairs manager for the river district, said SB 14-115 “was a very political bill” and suggested the organization monitor it “very closely from a very long distance.”
“I think it is an important discussion about who is in charge,” Treece said.
Mike King, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which includes the CWCB, said having the legislature involved as proposed by the bill would mix politics and water.
“We need to depoliticize the development of Colorado’s water,” King said at the Water Congress meeting. “We need to remove it from the political pressures that are inherent in the legislative process and make it organic.”
And he believes the CWCB can handle the job.
“Seventy-six years ago the general assembly delegated to the CWCB the express policy setting authority for the state’s water vision,” King said. “I think it served the state well. And I think the CWCB has exercised that authority judiciously and appropriately throughout that period of time.”