2014 #COleg HB14-1005: ‘Flew through the House’ — Marianne Goodland

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call
New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

House Bill 14-1005 flew through the House this week; it was passed by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, got approved on second reading by the House Wednesday and a final 61-2 bipartisan vote on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate for further action. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) and other members of a flood relief committee appointed by the Governor after September’s floods.

Under HB 1005, a water right owner can relocate a ditch headgate without going to Water Court, so long as the relocation doesn’t interfere with other water rights. “We can do what we need to do to recover from the floods by rebuilding headgates so agriculture and cities have access to the water they’re entitled to,” Sonnenberg told the committee Monday.

Representatives from the Colorado Municipal League and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources testified in favor of the bill. Bob Randall, deputy director of DNR, said the bill would help bring water structure back online.

Next week, Sen. Greg Brophy, (R-Wray) will look for support from the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee for a bill that may try to find some good from the September floods.

Brophy and Rep. Randy Fischer (D-Fort Collins) are the sponsors of Senate Bill 14-072, which deals with groundwater depletions.

SB 72 simply states that all “out of priority” groundwater depletions that occurred in parts of the South Platte River Basin prior to Sept. 12, 2013 were “fully replaced” by the flooding. The bill impacts Division One, districts one through seven; and district 64, which encompasses the area east of Fort Morgan. Districts one through seven cover the areas from Clear Creek County north to Larimer County and east to Weld County.

What that means: Since 1974, some groundwater pumping exceeded allowed amounts, causing injury to senior water rights. Water users have been “paying back” those depletions through court-approved plans to replace the overpumped water. These augmentation plans protect the rights of senior water users.

Brophy told this reporter that “Mother Nature provided a huge augmentation plan that wiped out past pumping depletions.” His bill would recognize that the September floods “paid back” those past depletions. The only question is how much, and on that point Brophy says he is willing to negotiate. While the bill says “all” depletions were refilled, Brophy acknowledged that in some parts of the Division, such as district 64, the floodwater may have replaced about 30 percent of the groundwater depletion. The flood acted the same as an augmentation plan, Brophy said.

SB 72 will be heard on Thursday, Feb. 6.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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