2013 Colorado legislation: ‘The number of water-related bills tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of snowpack we have’ — Randy Fischer

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would extend the state engineer’s authority to approve interruptible supply agreements was heard in the state House Agriculture Committee this week. Most of the testimony was against the bill, which would allow the state engineer to approve temporary water transfer agreements between cities and farms for up to 30 years, rather than the current limit of 10 years. Leases of water could occur for only three years within each 10-­year period. Claims of injury could be filed in water court.

Opponents of the bill argue that the time period is too long, and that applications in water court are needed in advance to determine if other water rights are injured. Aurora Water, which has sought leases from the Arkansas River basin, is supporting the legislation, [HB13-1013: Protect Water Right Ownership Rights]. Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-­Sterling, and Rep. Randy Fischer, D­-Fort Collins, are co­sponsors of the bill. Sen. Angela Giron, D-­Pueblo, is listed as the Senate sponsor. No vote was taken on the bill during the committee meeting, in order to allow changes to be made.

Another bill, [SB13-074: Irrigation Water Right Historical Use Acreage], passed the Senate ag committee on a 4-­1 vote last week. The bill attempts to clear up ambiguities in pre­-1937 agricultural water rights by allowing the maximum amount of land irrigated during the first 50 years to be claimed as historical usage. The Colorado Water Congress recently voted to oppose the bill because it does not take into account other deliberations water courts used to determine rights. It could expand the amount of acreage claimed in some cases.

A third bill, [SB13-019: Promote Water Conservation], is sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D­-Snowmass Village, and seeks to provide more incentives for water conservation by easing the requirements to use the water or lose the right. It has not been heard in committee.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Six weeks into the session, water concerns are emerging among the biggest issues lawmakers are addressing. “The number of water-related bills tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of snowpack we have,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins. “A lot of people are concerned about the drought coming up, anticipating we’ll be in another year of severe drought.”

Fischer, who is chairman of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, is sponsoring or co-sponsoring at least seven bills that address water supply, irrigation, water conservation or a combination of those issues. Most have quickly gained traction in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

A bipartisan bill Fischer is working on with the previous GOP chairman of Fischer’s committee, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would allow farmers to share their water with cities and towns through temporary water exchanges. The bill, [House Bill 13-1130: Reapprove Interruptible Water Supply Agreements], would allow farmers to share their water with businesses and cities without losing the right to use it later, Fischer said…

Fischer said lawmakers were waiting for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to approve new rules on groundwater testing around oil and gas wells and a new regulation requiring a 500 buffer zone between an oil well and the nearest building. Those rules have now been approved, and oil and gas-related legislation will likely be introduced soon, Fischer said…

Lawmakers are coordinating to write legislation addressing local control of oil and gas permitting and resolving a conflict between that local control and state law that requires oil and gas to be regulated only at the state level, [Fischer] said.

A bill likely to be introduced soon will propose increases in penalties for oil and gas companies that spill their products, he said. Another bill may propose additional studies looking into the affects of oil and gas development on public health…

Fischer said he plans to sponsor a bill that will propose a renewable thermal standard similar to the state’s renewable standards for electricity generation. “There is no incentive for people to use ground-source heat pumps for heating and cooling,” he said.

More legislative news from the Coloradoan:

Bills on the move

Senate Bill 19: Promoting water conservation
Allows farmers to reduce the water they consume without losing their water right. Currently, farmers have to use all the water they’re entitled to, or risk losing the right to some of that water.
Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
Status: Assigned to Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Senate Bill 41: Preserves water supplies for drought
Reverses a Colorado Supreme Court decision declaring that storing water in reservoirs to prepare for wildfire and drought are not sufficient for water rights owners to keep the right to that water without emptying reservoirs and putting the water to “beneficial use.”
Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
Status: Passed Senate, introduced in House.

Senate Bill 70: Alternative fuels for state fleet vehicles
State fleet vehicles are currently required to be fueled by compressed natural gas. The bill would allow the purchase of other vehicles that run on other cost-effective alternative fuels.
Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins; Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
Status: Passed Senate.

Senate Bill 110: Emergency wildfire funds
Creates a wildland fire cost recovery fund in the Colorado Treasury.
Northern Colorado sponsors: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins; Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
Status: Signed into law.

House Bill 1044: Allowing use of graywater
Allows the state to determine how residential and commercial wastewater that is considered “graywater” can be put to beneficial use as a water conservation measure.
Northern Colorado sponsor: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
Status: Passed House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee and referred to House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 1091: Air quality testing for diesel fleet vehicles
Allows the state to write new rules for air quality testing regarding heavy-duty diesel fleet vehicle owners who can prove excellent maintenance of their fleet.
Northern Colorado sponsors: Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins; Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
Status: Passed House Transportation Committee and referred to House floor.

House Bill 1130: Water supply agreements between farmers and cities
Allows farmers to share water through temporary exchanges with municipal and industrial water users.
Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
Status: In discussion in House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee.

House Bill 1191: Regulations for wastewater treatment plants
Allows state public health officials to award grants to cities and towns for waste water treatment plant improvements.
Northern Colorado sponsor: Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
Status: Passed House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee and referred to House Appropriations Committee.

Senate Bill 142: Ceding federal lands
Bill would require the United States government to transfer title to about 23 million acres of national forests and other “agricultural” public lands to the state of Colorado.
Northern Colorado sponsors: Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley; Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins
Status: Passed in Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee; awaits Senate vote.

House Bill 1122: Energy, jobs and higher education act
Would create “incentive” oil and gas wells, exempting them from severance taxes for two years before severance tax collection resumes and is used for a “college opportunity fund.”
Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling; Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor.
Status: Died in committee

House Bill 1128: Excluding counties from vehicle emissions tests
Would allow county commissioners to exclude all or part of a county from Colorado’s motor vehicle emissions testing program if that part of the county meets ambient air quality standards.
Northern Colorado sponsors: Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland; Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor; Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance; Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.
Status: Died in committee

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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