From The Holyoke Enterprise (Marianne Goodland):
The bill to clarify ambiguous water decrees prior to 1937 is on its way to the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 13-074 passed the House on a 55-8 vote on March 10. Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) carried the bill on behalf of last fall’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee. The House agriculture committee approved it on March 4. The committee amended it to clarify some of the language regarding enforcement of old water decrees.
SB 74 is in response to several recent Colorado Supreme Court cases that could impact senior irrigation water rights, according to Sonnenberg. Those cases resulted in dramatic reductions in the irrigated acres on the South Platte River, acres that had been irrigated for close to 100 years. Farm families have relied on these diversions for generations, Sonnenberg told the House, and the court decisions destabilized those water rights.
SB 74 notes that some decrees do not include acreage limitations, and water courts have looked at historic consumptive use to determine the lawful historical consumptive use, based on the original appropriator’s intent. SB 74 says that if a decree entered prior to Jan. 1, 1937, establishes an irrigation water right and doesn’t limit the number of irrigated acres, the lawful maximum amount would equal the maximum number of acres irrigated for the first 50 years after the original decree was entered.
Opponents, including attorney Steve Simms, who represented the Colorado Water Congress, testified that the bill sends a “bad message: if you cheat and get away with it, we’ll legitimize it as long as you can hide it long enough.”
More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.