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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
A House panel (House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources) unanimously approved a bill Monday to help local communities get rid of invasive species such as tamarisk and Russian olive trees because they drink up precious water.
While it may seem like that’s a good idea, not everyone was enamored with the measure, HB1006, as drafted, because it doesn’t go far enough.
It isn’t good enough just to get rid of the invasive plants, called phreatophytes. Native phreatophytes, such as cottonwoods and aspen, must be used to replace them to guard against erosion and maintain the animal habitat, those opponents said.
“Simply eradicating existing phreatophytes under the term ‘invasive’ implies that we’re going to have additional problems with flooding, with sedimentation, that we’re going to have some of the same problems that led us into the issues we have with tamarisk,” Jennifer Bolton, a lobbyist for the Audubon Society, told the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee.
But other supporters, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the measure is tied to the state’s existing laws dealing with noxious plants.
As a result, the Colorado Department of Agriculture is required to consider the entire health of a watershed, and not merely taking out a few noxious weeds here and there.
Chris Treece, external affairs director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said he’s not worried both of those things won’t occur.
“The clear purpose of this bill is to provide the resources to those who have the expertise, who have the programs set up, and would allow for the exercise of those programs,” Treece told the committee. “All of those programs … prioritize the proper removal, the proper weed control, the proper rehabilitation and restoration of the riparian area.”
Regardless, the committee tacked an amendment onto the bill to ensure that awarded grants include not only removing invasive species, but also encouraging the growth of native ones.
Coram also amended the bill to ensure that the funding for the grants — $5 million a year in each of the next five years — will come from severance tax revenues and not from the state’s general fund.
While some Western Slope lawmakers balked at that idea, given recent protestations against a proposal to use severance tax money to help offset any taxpayer refunds, Coram said these grants are for water projects, and that’s where some of the severance tax revenues are intended to be used.
The bill heads to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.
More invasive species coverage here.