State Senator Simpson opposes “investment in water speculation” draft legislation — The #Alamosa Citizen

Center, Colorado, is surrounded by center-pivot-irrigated farms that draw water from shrinking aquifers below the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Google Earth

From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

COLORADO State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa said this week that a legislative bill in draft form that tries to address “investment in water speculation” is not a good bill and isn’t convinced there is a “need for a bill like this.”

“What you’re really trying to do is keep water attached to the land and productive agriculture,” Simpson said in a wide-ranging interview with The Alamosa Citizen. “So for me, rather than trying to force it this way, I take the advice of (state) representative Marc Catlin, that the best way to protect that is to make sure ag stays profitable, because profitable operations generally aren’t looking to sell their water or water rights.

“I encourage people to think about the things we do in the legislature,” he added, “either from a tax policy or environmental impacts. Just don’t overregulate or overtax the industry so much and give them a chance to succeed.”

The draft bill, “Concerning A Prohibition Against Engaging In Investment Water Speculation In the State” cleared the Colorado Legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee in October and is expected to be introduced in the 2022 Legislative Session. It is being sponsored by Sens. Kerry Donovan of Eagle County and Don Coram of Montrose County, and by Rep. Karen McCormick of Boulder.

One section of the bill addresses the sale or transfer of shares in mutual ditch companies. Simpson said he is a shareholder in a mutual ditch company and doesn’t support how the draft legislation attempts to control how shares are sold or transferred.

“I just think they’re better ways to do that versus you’re on this fine line of interfering with people’s private property rights,” Simpson said. “It’s like very generally going to you and saying you bought a house and going, ‘Well, you can’t sell the house for either a profit or you can’t buy a house on speculation and then sell it for more than you paid for it.’ There’s just this fine line we’re walking down about trying to protect water and ag, and people’s private property rights.”

Why it matters:

In addition to his state senate role, Simpson is general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is among the Colorado water experts working to address climate change and impacts on irrigitable ag land.

Through his role at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District he has worked to implement a variety of conservation measures to address the declining Upper Rio Grande Water Basin and the 20-year drought the San Luis Valley has been experiencing.

He also has been battling an effort led by former Gov. Bill Owens called Renewable Water Resources, which is a project that aims to purchase SLV ag land for its water rights and then control enough water on private land to pipe into the Front Range. Owens’ front man for the project is a person named Sean Tonner.

Asked if the draft legislation could help blunt the Renewable Water Resources project, he said it could help but he is still more concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposal.

“We have a handful of pretty rigorous and substantial barriers that make those kinds (RWR) of acquisitions and transfers pretty hard,” he said. “Not impossible, but pretty hard. I guess on the surface, this bill might give you another protection and maybe make it almost impossible. But then the unintended consequence again is, what does it do to everybody else?”

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