2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1038 (Flexible Water Markets), “It still looks like there’s still a speculation issue” — Jay Winner

Rocky Ford Ditch
Rocky Ford Ditch

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Legislation purporting to offer more options for farmers appears to be just another way to dry up more farms in the eyes of a district set up to protect Arkansas Valley water.

The bill, House Bill 1038, would create a flexible water market right that would allow farmers to lease half their water to cities, recreation activities or even other farms. While it says it would keep water in farming, the district thinks it might do just the opposite.

“The way it was introduced, we just weren’t that interested,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “But to me, it looks like another form of buy-and-dry. We don’t understand the need for it.”

Winner said the legislation, backed by water interests in the South Platte, would harm the Arkansas River basin by allowing 10 consecutive years of the entire consumptive use from a farm to be moved to other uses. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch plans a pilot program this year that limits leases to just three years in 10.

“It still looks like there’s still a speculation issue,” Winner added. “We’re right back where we were last year on this same issue.”

The legislation passed the state House by a 42-22 vote on Feb. 10 and is now in the Senate.

The measure was substantially modified in the House agriculture committee and now includes a 10-year pilot program which would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board and state engineer to evaluate the need and effectiveness of flex marketing.

The bill limits the number of flex use water rights in any given basin to 10 water court applications and 10 substitute water supply plans for the pilot program’s first 10 years.

It also allows for drying up farmland five years in every 10 in order to move the consumptive use portion of the water for uses other than irrigation of the property served by the water right.

Winner thinks there is a potential to “stack” the court and administrative routes, since nothing in the law prevents it.

The bill still prohibits transfers from one basin to another and includes a provision for fixed points of delivery — an attempt to comply with the state’s anti-speculation doctrine. However, Winner is concerned one point, such as Lake Pueblo, could still open use of the water to multiple users.

The fiscal note by Legislative Council attached to the bill indicates there could be increased water court caseload over time because water rights holders would be able to more easily sell water rights to other users and the number of change-inuse applications would increase.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here

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