2016 #COleg: Sonnenburg bills concentrating water project permitting under State Engineer die in interim committee

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From The Boulder Weekly (Matt Cortina):

There was an effort by half of the state’s Water Resources Review Committee last week to approve two bills that would have taken the permitting process for new dams and reservoirs away from federal and state regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other wildlife and public health agencies and given all dam and reservoir permit decisions solely to the Office of the State Engineer.

The first draft bill essentially intended to strip the rights of state regulators, including the state energy office, the water quality control division, the parks and wildlife commission and more from making decisions about any hydroelectric energy facility (dams); certification for water diversion, delivery and storage facilities (reservoirs); and state mitigation plans for water diversions that affect fish and wildlife.

The second draft bill sought to strip federal regulators, like the EPA, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and others, from permitting on water issues and resources done at the federal level.

Both bills would have consolidated all that regulation and decision-making to the Colorado Office of the State Engineer, otherwise known as the Division of Water Resources.

The bills were brought forth by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Wray) and were heard on Oct. 29 in the committee. The 10-member committee voted along party lines, and with an even split of Republicans voting for and Democrats voting against the bills, both quickly died — for now.

The bills could still be presented to the state legislature by Sonnenberg or another legislative member when the new session convenes in January. Given the split state legislature, which has been the cause of death for many bills, it’s unlikely the bills would gain any traction, but their introduction in the committee might represent a much larger push by some on the right to limit permitting regulation on water issues…

To those in the know about Colorado’s water issues, the suggestion of condensing all permitting powers to one office seems ludicrous. But the case made for these bills is likely to appeal to a large segment, particularly those who lean right, of Coloradans: less federal regulation, less state bureaucracy around permitting and a secure source of water for the state…

The state’s grand water regulation plan, Colorado’s Water Plan, is the product of an executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper, and will manifest as a final draft in December. The plan will include a more “efficient permitting process,” and the latest draft calls for the solicitation of private funds to help build new water supply projects that have yet to be determined.

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