2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-183 (Quantify Water Rights Historical Consumptive Use) passes Senate assigned to House Ag committee #coleg

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

he Colorado Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a water bill that made some Western Slope lawmakers a bit uneasy.

The measure, [SB15-183], requires water court judges, when considering changes in water uses, to decide based on actual historical use of that water, rather than uses not approved by a prior water decree.

Several Western Slope lawmakers from both parties questioned why such a bill would be necessary, saying it allows water rights owners who use water for unapproved purposes to get away with that illegal use.

“We have water courts for a reason,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango. “Water courts are highly trained to deal with technical issues. This bill basically is skipping over the water courts system and coming here to the Legislature to try and get a legislative result, as compared to having it well considered in the court system that, again, is trained to deal with these kinds of things.”

Supporters of the measure said the bill is designed to give direction to water court judges based on a recent Colorado Supreme Court decision in a case between Dick Wolfe, the state’s water engineer, and the Sedalia Water and Sanitation District over the district’s historical use of water.

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and a sponsor of the bill, said it’s the Legislature’s job to give direction to the courts when there is undefined law on an issue.

“The question here is, do we want a consistent use of water, a consistent means of determining what the volume or quantity of that water is, as the Supreme Court did in the Sedalia case?” Sonnenberg said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, is clarify what they have asked us (about) what should and should not be used in quantifying a water right in a change of use.”

Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, said the bill rewards water users who use that water for unapproved uses.

The bill has support from virtually every water group in the state except the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

In the end, only eight senators voted against the bill, including Donovan, Roberts and Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican whose district includes Garfield County. It now heads to the House for more hearings.

In a related matter, the House approved a water bill Tuesday that allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to acquire water rights for up to 12 pilot projects to measure efficiency savings for instream flow use.

The pilot projects would take at least 10 years to complete.

The bill heads to the Senate for more debate.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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