From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):
Sonnenberg, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, has promised his staff he wouldn’t sponsor as many bills as he did in 2015: 42, a modern-day record. But he still has big plans.
Top among his priorities for 2016 is implementing parts of the state water plan, a two-year project of the Hickenlooper administration, seeking to address a looming water shortage projected for 2050.
Sonnenberg has several bills in mind to help move the state water plan along: one that would streamline the permitting process for building new storage, and another that would expand storage in existing facilities. One bill would set up a pilot project to pump water back into underground aquifers, which would reduce evaporation. Another bill would fund dredging of shallow reservoirs, such as in Pueblo and Morgan County, to expand their water storage.
Sonnenberg hasn’t fully committed to carrying those bills, but he would likely be the first legislator to tackle the state water plan. Monday, Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, told reporters she didn’t expect to see legislation from Democrats on the water plan until next year.
Sonnenberg tried to get the permitting bill through the Interim Water Resources Review Committee last fall, but lost on a 5-5 tie, which he blamed on opposition from Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Both Sonnenberg and Becker plan to tackle the issue of conservation easements: when a landowner voluntarily agrees to conserve part of his or her land, to keep it from being developed, in exchange for tax benefits. The land cannot be used for any other purpose, either at the time of the donation or in the future.
The program has been in trouble for years amidst allegations of abuse, but it’s reached new levels, as Sonnenberg found out in a hearing last August. According to The Denver Post, a Sterling couple, Alan and Julia Gentz, donated 20 acres of land to Logan County 10 years ago, and are now facing a $708,000 tax bill from the Department of Revenue after the appraisal was rejected. The Gentzes aren’t alone, either. Sonnenberg’s hearing drew residents throughout northeastern Colorado who experienced similar problems.
“The state made a contract with the people of Colorado and then backed out of the contract and changed the rules,” Sonnenberg said. The bill is likely to carry a large price tag, likely a problem in a tight budget year. “But it’s never too early to do the right thing.”
Finally, Sonnenberg is holding one bill in his pocket as a warning to those who want to ban fracking, a bill he sponsored last year: Communities that ban fracking would lose the tax revenue they would normally expect from oil and gas operations. The oil and gas industry is already struggling, he said, and continued regulation and barriers will force those companies to take their business to other states.
The 2016 General Assembly begins official business Wednesday, Jan. 13. Hickenlooper will present his State of the State address the following day.