2014 Colorado legislature: Next week is water bill week #COleg

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

Water takes center stage next week for the Senate and House Agriculture committees. Five bills will be reviewed that cover some of the biggest water issues of the session.

Two come from the interim Water Resources Review Committee, which met during the summer. HB 1028, carried by Sonnenberg, is a second attempt to tell the federal government to back off on a demand for water rights on federal lands used by ski areas and for grazing. However, that battle has already been won, thanks to intervention from Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

In late 2011, the U.S. Forest Service issued a directive that demanded water rights from those who lease federal lands for ski operations or grazing. The Forest Service claimed that they wanted the water rights in order to protect them should a ski area decide to sell off those rights, although that has never happened in Colorado. Opponents said that the federal demand was in direct conflict with Colorado water law, which should take precedent.

The demand drew howls from the ski areas and the interim water committee, as well as a lawsuit. While the court did not rule on the legality of the water rights issue, the ruling did point out that the Forest Service violated federal rulemaking procedures, and ordered it to start over with an open hearing process.

That process began anew before the 2013 legislative session was over, but it came to a halt in November when Udall announced that he had reached an agreement with the Forest Service.

On Nov. 13, Tom Tidwell, Forest Service Chief, issued a statement through Udall’s office that said the agency would “propose changes to the ski area water clause that would address the concerns” associated with the previous proposed clause. “We believe that these changes will provide assurances to the public and communities that depend on economic activities from ski areas that they will continue to provide recreation opportunities,” Tidwell said. “Further, we believe that these objectives can be met without requiring the transfer of privately owned water rights to the government.”

The water resources review committee decided on Oct. 30 to carry the bill although they were aware that a change in policy from the U.S. Forest Service might be forthcoming. Committee co-chair Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) asked that there be an opportunity to reflect that change when the bill comes up for its hearing. The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee will review HB 1028 on Jan. 29.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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