CFWE: Diane Hoppe Leadership Award presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper #COWaterPlan

Governor John Hickenlooper at the Colorado Foundation for Water Education's Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Reception, May 20, 2016.
Governor John Hickenlooper at the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Reception, May 20, 2016.

The administration of water rights is serious business. Governor Hickenlooper recognized the need for a Colorado Water Plan and then issued an executive order to produce one. Some said that he was asking them to, “Do the impossible,” that is, bring the varied entrenched water interests in Colorado together.

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education presented the Governor with their first Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award yesterday evening. Eric Hecox, board president, cited Hickenlooper’s leadership, dedication to wise governance, and faith in the power of listening to all sides in an issue to find common ground.

The governor credited everyone involved with the Water Plan. He singled out the IBCC and roundtables for their 10 years of effort working the grass roots across Colorado.

Heather Dutton received the Emerging Leader Award. Greg Hobbs’ introduction on Your Colorado Water Blog says, “[Heather Dutton] the newest manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, glories in the heritage of the Rio Grande River. She’s a fifth-generation daughter of the Valley’s farming and ranching community, like her father Doug, who farms in the center of the Valley.”

Ms. Dutton thanked her family for their support and also cited the collaboration and mentoring from friends and colleagues.

Nicole Seltzer and the CFWE staff are getting pretty good at throwing these shindigs. I thought it was a great tribute. to change the President’s Award name to the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award. She was instrumental in passing the legislation that established the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Diane passed this year but leaves a deep legacy.

Here’s a gallery of photos from the event:

2016 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB16-1005 (Residential Precipitation Collection)

Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.
Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Activities like watering the lawn and thirsty flower beds don’t require treated water from the tap. Until this week, the state technically could have fined Broderick $500 for his system.

The new law, which takes effect in August, allows homeowners to collect as much as 110 gallons of rain in up to two barrels.

‘Legalize It’

The state hasn’t issued fines in recent years. So why even bother changing the law?

Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheatridge says in the face of climate change, drought and a taxed water supply system, rain barrels are an important conservation tool.

“It will tie the consumer to their water usage a lot more closely,” said Danielson.

The bill was first introduced in 2015 but lacked support from the agricultural community and some lawmakers. However, it struck a chord with many homeowners this year. Danielson said as she posted Facebook updates about the bill during the session, those dispatches got more responses than any other posts.

One person was so devoted to the cause they started selling t-shirts.

“They put the words ‘legalize it’ at the top, and instead of it being some marijuana-themed t-shirt it was a picture of a rain barrel,” Danielson said. “This is a fun, important environmental issue that just makes sense to people.”

Drought and water supply concerns have been a catalyst for other state legislatures in Texas, Utah and California to take up rainwater collection.

Some western cities like Los Angeles even offer rebates on equipment.

But in Colorado, where drought is still fresh on many farmers’ minds, getting the bill passed wasn’t easy.

Getting From ‘No’ To ‘Yes’

After the bill was introduced, one of the largest opponents was the Colorado Farm Bureau…

“Rain barrels were kind of looked at as the red-headed step child in a sense,” said Marc Arnusch, a farmer and member of the Colorado Farm Bureau board.

Arnusch said amendments to the 2016 version of the bill guaranteed that rain barrels wouldn’t interfere with farmers’ water rights. The final bill literally says “a rain barrel does not constitute a water right.”

The law will also require the state engineer to track adoption and usage among homeowners. That was a big selling point for Arnusch.

“We need to start preaching heavily about conservation and using water intelligently,” said Arnusch. “And that starts quite frankly in the urban areas of our state.”

Debate and research on rainwater collection stretches back almost a decade in the state. Colorado launched a small-scale study back in 2007. It found that 97 percent of the rainwater in Douglas County is lost to evaporation and vegetation. The study was a catalyst for a 2009 law that gave well owners the right to collect rain water.

In Colorado, the debate may be complicated, but rain barrel owner Aaron Broderick said owning a rain barrel is pretty simple. It takes an afternoon to set up and it can cost under $100. The end result will be a cheaper water bill.

“The thing that’s interesting is that it really isn’t much of an inconvenience,” he said.

The true test will be whether the law causes an inconvenience for water rights holders in the near future. The state engineer’s office is expected to deliver its first report on rain barrels sometime in 2019.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

After two years and a downpour of controversy, Coloradans soon will be allowed to use barrels to collect rain that falls from their roofs…

Starting Aug. 10, Coloradans will be allowed to use up to two 55-gallon barrels, which cost about $100 on average.

“They promote education – pay attention to water and how it’s used – and they also promote stewardship,” Hickenlooper said of the barrels, signing the legislation in the backyard of the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver.

While the legislation seemed obvious to many observers, it struggled through the Legislature, failing last year, before picking up steam this year.

What held it back was fears that rain barrels would erode the state’s prior appropriations system, which grants water rights to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.

Several amendments this year helped garner support from factions that ardently fight for water rights, including the Colorado Farm Bureau.

The law allows water officials to curtail use of barrels if injury to water rights is found. The law also states that using a rain barrel is not a water right, and requires the state engineer to evaluate if the use of rain barrels impacts water rights across the state.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, helped push the measure along over the past two years by garnering support in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“We don’t want to impact anyone’s water rights. We just want to make sure that we aren’t the only state in the union where this was illegal,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, added: “It gives urbanites a more personal and intimate connection with the complicated water system in Colorado.”

Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, pointed out that it was remarkable to pass a controversial piece of legislation during a contentious legislative session.

“We keep hearing that there’s this gridlock and that we’re not able to get anything done in a hyper-partisan time,” Danielson said. “This bill is an example of working across the aisle.”

HB16-1005 signing ceremony photo via @ConservationCO
HB16-1005 signing ceremony photo via @ConservationCO

Here’s a release from Conservation Colorado:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper this afternoon signed H.B. 1005, a bill legalizing the use of residential rain barrels in Colorado.

Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith and Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois made the following comments:

This is a victory for Coloradans who care about their state’s incredible rivers, lakes, streams, and waters. Rain barrels are an important educational tool and a great first step toward conservation and increasing awareness about the water challenges facing Colorado. Water conservation is the cheapest, fastest, and most flexible water strategy we have to addressing these challenges. Moving forward, we are ready to work with the Hickenlooper administration, our legislature, and private citizens to implement more water conservation policies, starting with the statewide water conservation goal outlined in last year’s landmark Colorado Water Plan.

Pete Maysmith, Conservation Colorado

On this bright sunny day, we are dancing in the rain!! We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and Representatives Esgar and Danielson and Senator Merrifield for their leadership in passing HB 16-1005, legalizing rain barrels. Now Colorado joins other states across the nation in ensuring everyone can use this common-sense tool to help water their gardens. The entire West is facing water challenges with a growing population, limited water supplies, and a changing climate. We need increased water conservation to help meet these challenges. Someone with a rain barrel develops a better awareness of the water cycle, leading to a needed increased water conservation ethic. We look forward to working with state leaders to build on this step and implement our new Colorado Water Plan. This legislation shows what we can do when we all work together.

Jon Goldin-Dubois, Western Resource Advocates

For more photos and a video of the event, please contact Jessica Goad at jessica@conservationco.org

From CBS Denver:

“We just want to make sure we’re not the only state in the union where this is illegal. I think that’s why it gained so much national attention, even international attention,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Democrat representing Pueblo.

The new law allows residents to collect and store up to 110 gallons of rainwater as long as you put it back in the ground on your property.

“We thought this was just a good Colorado common sense measure,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat representing Wheat Ridge. “You could take water from the roof, collect it in a barrel and water your tomato plants. Seems straight forward, right? But it wasn’t.”

Danielson’s father is a farmer in Weld County. She said lawmakers initially met resistance from ranchers who worried that allowing people to store water for use when it’s dry would mean less water and runoff downstream.

“We did come to an agreement, one that assures that agriculture and other water users across the state will not have any injury,” said Danielson.

The Colorado Farm Bureau supported the measure. Other supporters say the bill is about conservation and education about the state’s mostprecious natural resource.

“As we move into the implementation of Colorado’s water plan we know that conservation is the cheapest, most effective approach we can do,” said Hickenlooper.

Esgar was one of the first to put the new law into practice, “My wife actually purchased me a rain barrel, although I won’t say it’s been filled yet.”

Sponsors of the bill struck a compromise with farmers and ranchers, adding a provision to the bill that says if there’s any proof rain barrels are hurting downstream users, the state engineer can curtail the usage of them.

Forum explores new potential use of Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A documentary screening about the Dolores River was followed by a lively forum about the issue of low flows below McPhee Dam.

“River of Sorrows” was commissioned by the Dolores River Boating Advocates to highlight the plight of the Lower Dolores River.

The new film, which is for sale on the DRBA website for $10, had several showings April 30 at the Sunflower Theatre.

A panel answered questions from a moderator and from the audience. The panel included Josh Munson of the DRBA; Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District; Eric White of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch; Mike Japhet, a retired aquatic biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and Amber Clark, of the Dolores River Dialogue.

What are the major challenges facing the Dolores River and what are the solutions for addressing those challenges?

Munson said the challenge is for people to see there are beneficial uses to Dolores River water other than just farming, such as for fishery health and boating. Changing the water rights system to allow individuals to sell or lease their water allocation so it stays in the river is one solution.

“Other uses helps to diversify the economy,” he said.

Preston said a major challenge is managing the reservoir in drought conditions. He said the goal is maximizing efficiencies in order to improve carryover in the reservoir year to year.

“High storage lifts all boats, including for recreation,” he said.

White said the film missed the compromises the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has made regarding water rights.

“Our allocation has dropped,” he said. “The tribe has fought for our water rights for a long time.”

Japhet said low flows below the dam are threatening three native fish: the flannelhead sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“They have been declining precipitously,” he said.

Japhet called for more flexibility in how water reserved for fish and wildlife is managed out of McPhee. For example, 850 acre-feet diverted to the Simon Draw wetlands could be used to augment low flows on the Lower Dolores to help fish.

Clark said the big picture solution need to be collaborative and local, “or somebody from outside will find a solution for us.”

The group revealed the difficulty in finding a compromise that improves the downstream fishery and recreation boating but does not threaten the local agricultural economy.

“Use if or lose it water doctrine is a waste of water resources for farmers and conservationists,” Munson said. “The system does not allow for an individual to lease their water” for instream purposes.

Preston pointed out that in the last eight years, there has been four years where there was a release from the dam. The last one was in 2011, and this year a spill is uncertain.

“We are four for four. When we have excess water we release for boating and the fishery,” he said.
Japhet said the “elephant in the room” is if one of the three native fish species is petitioned for listing on the endangered species list.

“It would cause the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take a very close look at what is going on with the water and fish resource,” he said. “The best solution is to be proactive and work something out locally to avoid a federal mandate telling us what to do.”

An audience member asked if the river itself has a right to water. Preston said the state instream flow program designates minimum flows for the river, including a 900 cfs below the confluence with the San Miguel. Below the dam the instream flow designation is 78 cfs.

“The river has a right to water, the fact that it was once wild should stay in people’s minds,” Munson replied. “The place itself has a beneficial use for fish, birds, otters. It’s recreation provides a way to make a living.”

Betty Ann Kohlner expressed concerns about McPhee water being used for hydraulic fracturing used for drilling natural gas.

Preston said about 4,000 acre-feet is available in McPhee for municipal and industrial purposes, including for fracking. But, he said, There has been limited use of the water for that purpose.

“If you can lease water to frack, why can’t water be leased for recreation and fish needs downstream from willing owners?” responded one man. “There is a contradiction in how we apply our understanding of how we should use water.”

Don Schwindt, of the DWCD board, pointed out that the Dolores River is part of the Colorado River compact that divides the state’s river water with several downstream states.

“Two thirds of the state’s water is required to leave by compact, and as it leaves it is available in the streams,” he said. “That two-thirds is more dominate than agricultural use.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

“Prior appropriation is a doctrine of scarcity” — Greg Hobbs

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If there was a message, it was: Water is everything and it starts here.

Retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs held the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum captive for about an hour with a mix of photos that ranged from historic images to family photo albums and a collection of historic maps, which he once owned but has donated to the Supreme Court.

His narrative wove a tale of almost mythical historic figures and hard-nosed facts to describe how Colorado water law took shape.

As is his custom, he opened his remarks with one of his own poems, “Colorado, Mother of Rivers.”

“When I was young, the waters sang of being here before I am, of falling wet and soft and slow to berry bog and high meadow,” Hobbs began, ending with: “I call the scarlet to the jaw as morning calls her own hatchlings, call Yampa, White, the Rio Grande, San Juan, the Platte, the Arkansas.”
Hobbs put a special emphasis on “Arkansas.”

“What a great river,” he gushed, marveling at how the Arkansas River flowed just a few yards from the auditorium at the Salida Steam Plant. “What a historical river this is.”

He then proceeded to take the crowd on a journey through time describing the state and the Arkansas River basin’s formation through civilization.

The Native Americans and Hispanic cultures that first occupied Colorado gave the state clues about how water should be managed. The people at Mesa Verde developed a domestic water system using reservoirs hundreds of years before Europeans arrived and Spanish settlers brought acequias to northern New Mexico to irrigate crops at a time when America was not yet a country.

“The more we get urbanized, the more we get dissociated from the land,” Hobbs said. “We need to recognize our Native American and Hispanic roots.”

North American Indian regional  losses 1850 thru 1890.
North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

Maybe that kind of thinking led to his own son’s path in life. Hobbs talked about his son, Dan, who carried a sketch book with him everywhere as a child to plan the farm he one day hoped to own. Dan Hobbs now is a farmer on the Bessemer Ditch.

The elder Hobbs’ interest in water was more shaped by a career as first a water lawyer — he jokingly said it is not an honorable profession — and then as a Colorado Supreme Court Justice for nearly 20 years before his retirement last year.

And an intense interest in history.

Hobbs tried to set the record straight on John Wesley Powell, an early explorer of the Colorado River who argued for division of Montana counties along the lines of watersheds, but is often “misquoted” as trying to divide the entire American West in the same way.

In the Arkansas River basin, the Santa Fe Trail brought the first outside settlers to Bent’s Fort, and the discovery of gold in 1858 led to the formation of the Colorado territory in 1861 — a rectangular shape that took land from Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska and Kansas territories. The action also set up the “Mother of Rivers” status for Colorado, which now encompasses the headwaters for the Platte, Colorado, Arkansas rivers and the Rio Grande.

In 1861, Colorado developed the first concept that makes its water law unique, the idea that water can be separated from the land. Unlike a riparian system, Colorado water can be moved to farms that are not located beside a river. It set up a system of prior appropriation, where the first farmer to use the water is entitled to the first diversion.

When Colorado became a state in 1876, another layer of law was added to declare public ownership of the water, rather than individual users.

“What a profound statement our ancestors made,” Hobbs said.

As a result, the senior agricultural water rights remain the most valuable in Colorado, Hobbs said.

“We have a system in place where we can transfer water rights, and the most valuable water rights are our senior water rights,” Hobbs said.

He called periodic attempts to change Colorado’s system to a market- based exchange at one end of the spectrum or a public trust doctrine at the other are equally dangerous because they could leave some without water.

“Prior appropriation is a doctrine of scarcity,” Hobbs emphasized.

During his talk, he also outlined Native American water rights, the formation of compacts with other states, the development of cities on agricultural land and his personal reflections on state water leaders like Wayne Aspinall, Felix Sparks, Jim Isgar and Diane Hoppe.

It was like watching a river of information flow quickly by, hard to grasp in one sitting. Understanding water is like another passage from Hobbs’ poem: “And shape the stones to carry me, when I am young and full of fight for roaring here and roaring there, for pouring torrents in the air.”

rifflesaspenjournalismbrentgardnersmith

2016 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB16-1109 (Application Of State Water Law To Federal Agencies)

Photo via Bob Berwyn
Photo via Bob Berwyn

From The Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Colorado lawmakers unanimously made federal water grabs almost impossible.

The Colorado Water Rights Protection Act passed both the Colorado House and Senate without a single dissenting vote. The bill thwarts federal efforts to control or own water that begins on or passes through federal land, and to do so without paying for it.

That’s important in our region because about 80 percent of Eagle and Summit counties are federal land, said Glenn Porzak…

In fact, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority both have water infrastructure on federal lands.

Rick Sackbauer, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District board chair, called the bill “a great victory for water right holders in the Eagle River valley and throughout Colorado.”

“The authority and other water providers have made enormous financial investments in water rights and water infrastructure in reliance on state laws,” said George Gregory, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority board chair.

WATER RIGHTS TRIFECTA

Porzak with Porzak, Browning & Bushong, is water counsel for Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and many others. He worked on the bill for three years.

Porzak said the legislation does three things:

1. Forces the feds to buy water rights, instead of taking them by manipulating policy.

2. Forces the feds to go through state water court, in compliance with federal law.

3. Orders Colorado’s state engineer not to enforce any water rights restriction by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, and provides tools for water right holders to fight these agencies in court if necessary.

In other words, if the feds want water rights, then they have to buy them, like everyone else does.

“Water rights are a saleable commodity,” Porzak said. “They’re trying to get the water for free. This bill creates a financial disincentive. They (the feds) can issue a directive, but they do so at their peril.”

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

WHY IT BEGAN

The impetus for the bill began in 2012, when the Forest Service demanded that ski areas, in exchange for renewing their leases on public land, turn over their private state issued water rights to the federal government.

The ski areas sued and the U.S. Forest Service lost on procedural grounds. The Court ordered the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board, and while improvements have been made in the context of ski area policy, the Forest Service has subsequently issued other policy directives that raise additional concerns for private water right holders throughout Colorado.

The Forest Service said it was trying to make sure water rights stay with the ski areas, and aren’t sold separately if the ski area is sold.

“This legislation is not pie in the sky. It has real substance to it,” Porzak said.

“#Colorado has a workable fabric of law and governance that has stood the test of time” — Greg Hobbs

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The 22nd annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum featured retired Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Gregory Hobbs as keynote speaker Thursday at Salida SteamPlant.

Terry Scanga, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District general manager, introduced Hobbs as “a mentor and teacher to the water community,” praising Hobbs’ talent for writing clearly and succinctly about Colorado water complexities.

Hobbs’ talk painted a historical picture of Colorado water management beginning with the Ancestral Puebloans who lived at Mesa Verde and Hovenweep, where they constructed water storage reservoirs using primitive wood and stone tools.

Hobbs’ talk included slides from his collection of historical maps that show the evolution of various countries and territories in what is now the western United States, including a watershed map created by famous explorer John Wesley Powell.

Hobbs said Powell wanted to organize settlements around water and watersheds, which would have prevented trans-basin water diversion, forcing water users to conserve the scarce resource in the arid West.

Hobbs shared a wealth of historical information, noting that federal legislation in the 1860s separated water from the land and allowed water to be taken from one place to be put to beneficial use in another location.

This change from riparian water rights of the eastern U.S. laid the foundation for Colorado’s system of Prior Appropriation, summarized as “First in time, first in right,” Hobbs said.

Key to this system is the fact that the Colorado Constitution established water as a public resource in 1876, Hobbs said, adding that rights to use water are a special type of property right.

The Prior Appropriation system allows the transfer of water rights, and Hobbs said senior water rights are the most valuable property rights in Colorado.

Hobbs said the system has worked for more than 100 years, and recent efforts to subject water rights to the free market system would have devastating consequences.

When it comes to water, Hobbs said, “Colorado has a workable fabric of law and governance that has stood the test of time.”

Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

2015 #coleg: HB16-1337 (Appellate Process For Decisions About Groundwater) killed in Senate Judiciary Comm.

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

A bill to prevent new evidence from being presented in groundwater rights appeals got caught in a legislative maelstrom Tuesday from which it can’t return.

After more than two hours of public testimony, most of which was in favor of the idea, the measure at first failed to get a motion to be referred out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaving it in a kind of legislative limbo for a while.

Later, however, the panel returned and killed HB1337 long after its sponsor, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, had left.

During that time, Scott had started to investigate ways to get the support he needed to revive the bill in hopes of persuading the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Ellen Roberts, to have an actual vote on it.

Problem was, though, that Durango Republican was one of a majority of senators on the five-member committee who opposed the bill, which the committee ultimately killed on a unanimous vote.

Scott wasn’t happy at the outcome because he believed he had the votes to get the measure out of committee even though it was opposed by Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, who took nearly three weeks to assign it to a committee.

“Sad to see such disingenuous activities by senators,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “Didn’t even have the courage to kill the bill in front of farmers and ranchers who are left holding the empty water bucket.”

The measure was designed to align the Colorado Groundwater Commission with other state panels when it comes to adjudicating certain issues, in this case, groundwater rights. Unlike decisions made by that commission, appeals in all other state panels — much like lower courts in general — bar the introduction of new evidence on appeal.

Scott said that practice has allowed well-funded water rights sellers to try a case twice, something small farmers and ranchers told the committee they can’t afford to do.

The bill also pitted two well-heeled investors against each other: former GOP Gov. Bill Owens and billionaire businessman Phil Anschutz. Owens, who opposed the bill, is executive director of a land and water development and asset management company; Anschutz, who supported the bill, has numerous farming interests, many of which rely on groundwater supplies…

On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to SB97 to bar the Legislature from using severance tax revenues for anything other then their intended purpose.

Those taxes, paid by mineral extraction companies, go to fund the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and in grant and direct disbursements to local communities, to offset the impact of such industries as mining and oil and gas development.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

A legislative battle over ground-water disputes that divided top Republicans washed out in committee Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 1337 would have made it harder for municipalities, developers or others to win court cases for permits to pump water that might otherwise be used agriculture didn’t get a motion for a vote after hours of testimony from farmers and water districts.

The bill would keep those who would dispute decisions from the state Ground Water Commission from introducing new evidence in the appeal process. Their competitors said it would allow them to out-spend farmers, ranchers and rural water districts to overpower them in court.

“The size of a checkbook should not determine how water is managed,” Marc Arnusch, a Weld County farmer and member of the Lost Creek Ground Water Management District told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Committee chairwoman Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango who is a lawyer, said that instead of the routine 2 out of 100 state Ground Water Commission cases a year that are appealed to district court, many more would have to pay for studies and legal expertise up front to hedge against the potential of an appeal later.

“I don’t see how this would reduce costs for everybody,” she said. “It would drive them up.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who is considering a run for governor in 2018.

Scott and House sponsor Don Coram have been at odds over the bill with Republican Senate President Bill Cadman and the last Republican governor, Bill Owens, who personally urged Republican lawmakers to kill the bill.

Owens works for an investment group that deals in water.

The legislation sailed through the Democrat-led House, passing 60-5 on April 1. It was not assigned to a Senate committee until three weeks later.

“It’s been a wild ride to get to this hearing,” Scott said.

The bill’s supporters fear municipalities getting well permits to pump year-round instead of seasonally, as agriculture does.

“No one wants to see more ‘buy and dry’ of ag water,” Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft said. “This legislation is necessary to level the playing field on applications to change water rights in designated basins. What’s happened is that if the application is appealed to the district court, the applicant is using legal maneuvering to bring new information that was not presented to the Ground Water Commission.”

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

A measure that aimed to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers appealing groundwater rights rulings drowned in the Legislature on Tuesday.

The legislation would have prohibited entering new evidence on appeal after a state commission makes a decision on groundwater disputes…

The bill had powerful opposition from former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.

“Big boy politics at its worst,” lamented Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, where it passed 60-5, with the support of Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

The 12-member Colorado Ground Water Commission issues decisions on disputes. Appeals, however, are handled by water court judges in district courts across the state.

State law allows for new evidence to be entered upon appeal when the issue hits water court, though such appeals are rare.

At that time, larger water interests – often those that try to transfer water from agricultural to municipal use – rely on water engineers and other experts to stack evidence in the case, say proponents of the bill.

Smaller farmers and ranchers – who are fighting for their water rights – are forced to invest in attorneys to combat the insertion of new evidence. Costs can become unbearable.

“It finally puts a stop to the games being played by those looking to take advantage of our designated basin system,” Marc Arnusch, a member of the Ground Water Commission, said of the legislation.

“A case must be heard again completely from the beginning, which causes a great deal of time and money.”

Coram assumed the measure would be a simple fix to an obvious problem. But that was before it became embroiled in politics.

Since leaving office in 2007, Owens has worked on water and land resource issues, including proposing water sales to municipalities. Coram gave Owens and Cadman “100 percent credit” for the bill’s troubled path in the Senate.

“I’ve worked on things in this building that’s taken me two, three years to get through. I’ll be back,” Coram said.

Critics of the bill – including Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango – say the measure would erode an unbiased appeals process before a judge. They point out that most of the commission members are political appointments by the governor, unlike a court.

“It’s a stacked commission,” Roberts said.

“When you go to court, there is an independent judge … there are procedural differences.”