In early April, the Division of Water Resources (“DWR”) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) will jointly hold four informational meetings and solicit public input related to the implementation of House Bill 16-1228, known as the Agricultural Water Protection Water Right Bill. This legislation, enacted in 2016, allows water users, if they choose, to change an irrigation water right through the water court to an “Agricultural Water Protection Water Right.” The change allows a portion of the water right to be put to a new beneficial use through a substitute water supply plan (“SWSP”) approved by the State Engineer, while a portion of the original water right must continue to be used for agricultural purposes. The legislation directed the CWCB to develop Criteria and Guidelines to address provisions in the bill and directed the State Engineer to promulgate rules that would guide the approval of a SWSP.
The meetings will be held at the following times and locations:
- Monday, April 3, 3 – 6 p.m., Island Grove Regional Park, Events Center Conference Room A, 501 N 14th Ave, Greeley, CO 80631
- Tuesday, April 4, 3 – 6 p.m., Otero Junior College Student Center Banquet Room, 1802 Colorado Ave, La Junta, CO 81050
- Wednesday, April 5, 3 – 6 p.m., Sterling Public Library Community Room, 420 N 5th St, Sterling, CO 80751
- Thursday, April 6, 3 – 6 p.m., Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Board Room, 339 E Rainbow Blvd # 101, Salida, CO 81201
The agenda for each meeting will be the same: description of House Bill 16-1228; discussion of the draft SWSP Rules; and discussion of the draft Criteria and Guidelines for the Agricultural Water Protection Program. Please visit the DWR website for more information on the legislation, public meetings, and process for providing feedback. The CWCB’s draft Criteria and Guidelines and the State Engineer’s draft Rules related to the implementation of House Bill 16-1228 are also available on the website, and the public is encouraged to review these drafts before the meetings.
Please use this link to RSVP to a particular meeting location by March 30 if you plan to attend.
From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):
The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Division of Water Resources will hold a series information and input meetings on the new Agricultural Water Protection Water Right law.
There will be a meeting in Sterling April 4 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Sterling Public Library.
Correction: The meeting is April 5th.
The new law, which was sponsored by both Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, installs safeguards in the event that irrigators want to change part of their water right to a new beneficial use.
Under Colorado water law, an irrigator who wants to lease part of his water to another end-user must go through a state water court process to get what is called a “decree change.” A key to the decree change is making sure the irrigator maintains the return flow that would have resulted from using the water for irrigation. Return flow is water that has been used to irrigate a crop and either runs off or seeps down into the river aquifer to be used by irrigators downstream.
Because water leases tend to be temporary, they are called “alternative transfer methods” because they are an alternative to buying the irrigated land outright and drying up the farmland, a practice called “buy and dry.”
Previously, the irrigator had to have a specified end user for the ATM. If a change in the end user was desired, the irrigator had to go back to water court and repeat the decree change process.
Under the new law, an irrigator will be able to change the end-user by submitting a substitute water supply plan to the state engineer’s office. The SWSP will have to include an explanation of how the irrigator will maintain his return flow obligation. The irrigator will still have to have a conservation program in place through a local agency such as a water conservancy district or irrigation district.
Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said the new law is an improvement over a similar measure that was introduced a year before.
“Before, there was some fear that (water transfers) could lead to speculation, and that’s just not something we want to see,” Frank said. “(SB 16-1228) allows some flexibility, but reins in on the speculation piece so you can’t change all of your water right.”
He said that while such alternative transfer methods are becoming more common, they aren’t ideal as a solution to the water shortage.
“We don’t want to make this the end-all solution to the gap (in water supply) because it is still drying up some ag, but it isn’t a permanent dry-up,” Frank said. “The good part is you don’t have to keep going back to change your end-user.”
More Coyote Gulch coverage of HB16-1228 here.