2014 #COleg (SB14-115): ‘You don’t have to be a Water Buffalo to have an opinion about water’ — Gail Schwartz #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state Legislature would have final say over a state water plan being drawn up under last year’s executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A bill, [SB14-115], giving the state Legislature that authority was introduced this week and has sponsors from both parties in both houses. It also calls for public hearings at basin roundtables in order to provide more public input.

“We think the state Legislature makes the laws,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, in supporting the bill Thursday at the Colorado Water Congress annual convention.

The bill would give the Legislature final say over state water policy, claiming that move is necessary to protect the public interest.

The bill caused grumbling among the water community in the room, with many scoffing at Roberts’ suggestion that a legislative committee could draw in more public interest than the work of the basin roundtables that have involved hundreds of people since 2005.

“As I read it, it seems like it could circumvent the priority system and take away power from the state engineer,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Arkansas basin representative on the Interbasin Compact Committee.

“I’m sorry if there are hurt feelings,” Roberts said. “Water is our No. 1 resource. It built our state and is critical to building our state in the future. The executive order bypasses the Legislature’s authority.”

She was backed up by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, who is co-sponsoring the bill.

“You don’t have to be a water buffalo to have an opinion about water,” Schwartz said. “We have to have an inclusive process and reach out to as many people as possible.”

In a subsequent panel discussion, three members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board — Travis Smith, April Montgomery and Patricia Wells — defended the roundtable process. The CWCB is given primary responsibility for drafting the water plan under the executive order.

“We have to look at the work we’ve been doing and fit it into the plan,” Smith said.

The members, from different corners of the state, agreed that the plan must protect agricultural and environmental interests as well as meeting the needs of future population growth.

Mike King, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the executive order already provides for legislative input into the plan.

“We will continue to work with the General Assembly,” King said.

Here’s the information from the Colorado Water Congress website:

The bill requires the Colorado water conservation board to hold a hearing on a draft state water plan within each basin roundtable, update the plan based on public comments, and present the draft plan to the water resources review committee. The committee must vote on whether to introduce legislation that would approve the plan. The plan does not embody state water policy unless the general assembly, acting by bill, approves the plan.

01/27/2014 Introduced In Senate – Assigned to Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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