SB 10-052: Alter Designated Groundwater Basin Area

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From The Holyoke Enterprise (Marianne Goodland):

SB 52 is sponsored by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray and Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison. Brophy said this week SB 52 is designed to provide assurance for people who own large capacity ground water wells those wells cannot be pulled out of the designated basin area. Under SB 52, the Ground Water Commission, which manages the eight designated basins along the eastern plains and the Front Range, could revise the basin’s boundaries to remove previously included areas only if the area does not include wells that have had final permits issued.

Brophy said in 40 years since the boundaries were designated, no one has challenged either the maps or the engineering. Without changes in the law, “the risk is a [surface] water user would sue and pull your well out and shut it down.” If SB 52 is signed into law, “you will know the wells are safe, and the banks who lend you money for the wells will know they are safe,” Brophy said.

Michael Shimmin, a Boulder water rights attorney who represents water management districts within one of the basin areas and the ground water commission, testified Thursday there are more than 7,000 high capacity wells in the eight basins. They provide irrigation for agricultural uses and serve industrial or municipal uses. Ground water is the only water source available and there is no meaningful connection to surface water, Shimmin said…

The need for SB 52 is based on whether the decision to create these designated basins was ever final. Shimmin said in 2006 the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted state law to say they were never final—the commission could always come back and either add to or subtract from the boundaries. That case, Gallegos v. Colorado Ground Water Commission, is currently awaiting a final outcome in court. The bill exempts any lawsuit that was in place as of Jan. 1, 2010 and would exempt the Gallegos case, according to Shimmin. A second lawsuit on the issue, involving the Republican River in Yuma County, was brought by surface water users. That case was settled out of court last year when the Yuma County Water Authority spent $20 million to buy the surface water rights. Roben Wiley, a Yuma County farmer and chair of the Yuma County Water Authority, said a small group of surface water owners petitioned the commission to redraw the boundaries and curtail high capacity wells that were within 20 miles of the north fork of the Republican River. This would have affected more than 1,300 wells, Wiley said.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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