2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1068 — State Engineer Approve Ag Water Transfer

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The bill [HB 11-1068: Concerning the State Engineer’s Authority to Approve Temporary Agricultural Water Transfer Agreements] would allow the State Engineer to approve leases for up to 40 years without a trip to water court. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Under HB1068, the state engineer would be granted authority to approve agricultural water transfer agreements lasting up to 40 years. Currently, similar agreements require a Water Court’s approval and can’t exceed a decade.

Specifically, the bill would apply to water originating in the Arkansas Valley below Pueblo Dam. It would allow holders of irrigation water rights to lease up to one-third of their holdings to municipalities. “The future growth and economic well-being of the state depend to some extent on the use of vested irrigation water rights to meet municipal needs,” the bill reads.

State Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is the bill’s sponsor in the House, where it originated. Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, are the Senate sponsors.

Giron said she supports the bill because it grants farmers greater options to lease their water without permanently relinquishing their rights, while still providing them with an income. “Otherwise, they’re going to sell those rights,” Giron said. “It’s going to be like they’re farming water. I see this as a tool to protect agriculture.” Meanwhile, she said, cities can develop water plans into the future. “I saw it as a win-win situation,” Giron said. “How can (cities) plan without getting a commitment of 40 years?”

Meanwhile, it didn’t take too long for opposition to the bill to surface. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

As president of this board, the legislation is not acceptable to me,” said President Bill Long at the [Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District] meeting Thursday. “This is the most overappropriated basin in the state.” Long asked the board to go on record in opposition of HB1068, a bill that would set up a 40-year program in the Arkansas Valley below Pueblo Dam that essentially could remove one-third of the water from irrigation during the entire period…

The board held off on opposing the bill, but instructed Executive Director Jim Broderick, in his capacity as the district’s state lobbyist, to push for changes in the bill. The board raised questions about why the bill has a 40-year term, but was billed this week as a “pilot program” by sponsor Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, at a meeting of the Colorado Water Congress legislative committee…

The board also does not want the bill to apply only to part of the Arkansas River basin, and does not want the measure used to move water outside the valley. “This gives the state engineer authority to move water from this basin all over the state,” said Vera Ortegon, a Pueblo director on the Southeastern board, who also ran unsuccessfully against Giron last November. “I think Southeastern should voice an objection to kill the bill earlier rather than later.”

Other board members cautioned against outright opposition of the bill, which has grown out of the Interbasin Compact Committee process to find alternatives to permanent sales of agricultural water rights to cities. “I would not like to see the board take a position in opposition to the state process,” said Harold Miskel, an El Paso County director. “If we try to thwart every effort to think outside the box, it will come right back to the buy-and-dry that happened the last 50 or 100 years.”[…]

The [Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District] gave its nod to the legislation as part of the Super Ditch effort at a meeting Wednesday. The district has supported the legal, engineering and administrative work needed to make Super Ditch work. “If this was tossed around last summer and fall, Jay, how come you’re the only one here who knows about it?” Long asked Winner. Winner said the concept of the bill had been thoroughly discussed by the Interbasin Compact Committee. Winner is one of two representatives from the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on the IBCC.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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