From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Several Western Slope lawmakers didn’t get their way Tuesday on a bill that is designed to prevent so-called buy-and-dry tactics on water rights for farms and ranches.
While supporters of the measure, HB1038, say it gives water rights owners more flexibility in selling a portion of their water for other beneficial uses, opponents said it forgets water rights owners who aren’t parties in those sales.
The bill, which cleared the Colorado House on a bipartisan 42-22 vote, creates a “flex use” change in water decrees, which supporters say is designed to create a different option for water suppliers from buying agricultural water rights and then diverting that water from a farm or ranch.
But opponents said it has the potential to impact other water users, and would force them into water court to resolve issues created by those new flex decrees.
“The way water law works right now is, if you want to change the use then you go to water court and you prove that it’s not going to damage any other water right,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio. “What this bill does is, it does away with that process and bypasses the water courts. It will force legitimate water rights owners to go to water court if they feel like their water rights have been devalued.”
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the bill will end up doing the opposite of what it’s intended, saying that such decrees will increase the value of water and spur more sales for municipal uses, leading more farms and ranches to stop producing and dry up their lands as a result.
At the same time, it will harm farmers and ranchers who want to continue in agriculture but aren’t parties to those flex agreements because it will force them to go to court to protect their water rights.
“They don’t know if they’re going to have enough money to farm the next year, and if they are damaged they certainly don’t have the resources to bring it to water court,” Coram said.
Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, said that’s not going to happen because water owners still have to carve out agreements that keep the water for beneficial uses. At the same time, the bill will help address the growing need for municipal water in growing Front Range communities without drying up nearby farms and ranches, she said.
“We’re helping preserve agriculture and rural Colorado, addressing the state’s water needs and conserving our more precious natural resource,” she said.
The measure heads to the Senate for more debate.
More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.