2011 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB 11-1289 and HB 11-1274

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Hickenlooper also signed into law a bill that requires water users’ approval before water structures can get a historical designation. Under HB1289, before a water structure can be placed on the National Historical Register, holders of water rights associated with the structure must consent. Its sponsors said historical designations can greatly delay needed improvements and maintenance to structures and be detrimental to water users…

Hickenlooper also signed HB1274, sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, which provides $14 million in funding for water projects from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It devotes $12 million to the Animas-La Plata project on the Western Slope. The bill provides $500,000 to the Arkansas River Decision Support System to map irrigated acreage, delineate parcels and collect surface and groundwater data.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1300 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Dispute Resolution) passes the state House Finance Committee

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From the Colorado News Agency (Debbie Brazale):

House Bill 1300, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, would allow disputes over the validity of conservation-easement tax credits to go directly to court rather than forcing landowners to await a ruling by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The measure would also allow those who buy and sell the tax credits granted to the original owners to be a party to disputes in court, and it offers deadlines for resolution of the 600 or so cases currently pending: July 2014 for the donor and 2016 for related parties.

Today’s action by the House Finance Committee represented the second time this month that the panel was asked to dissect aspects of the complex program, which has drawn scrutiny from the media and state regulators in recent years amid allegations of abuse. Earlier this month, the committee also heard House Bill 1208, by Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, and its fate has yet to be decided. McKinley’s bill seeks administrative remedies for current easements that are in dispute
Looper said her bill’s aim is to provide options for landowners and tax-credit buyers who have been snared in red tape over challenges by the Revenue Department over the validity of conservation-easement tax credits.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

The Arkansas River Roundtable approves a study of water law and new water sharing strategies

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The study would help projects like the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, or any effort that would allow farmers to retain water rights yet lease water, to determine what limitations could work against the concept, and what laws might help implementation. The study would then be discussed in a facilitated dialogue to air concerns in public…

The $20,000 study would be administered by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, which [Gary Barber, chairman of the roundtable] manages, and would be jointly funded by four separate roundtables, in hopes of avoiding the pitfalls of a failed bill that raised numerous objections. The study of laws would be done by Sand Dollar Research, a firm headed by policy analyst Dick Brown. Heather Bergman, of Peak Facilitation and the facilitator for the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, would referee community discussion about the findings…

Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher who sits on the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board that has supported Super Ditch, said the valley needs to find ways to make better use of water. “There’s extra water that could be put to use every year,” Brown said.

Some were nervous about the implications of changing water law. “You really risk a lot. What’s to prevent expansion of use?” asked Terry Scanga, manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “It’s important to find out where we are now.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: State Joint Budget Committee approves preserving a floor of $10 million of severance tax revenues for water projects

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

[JBC member Rep. Jon Becker] negotiated a lower cash transfer from a severance tax fund, an agreement that he said will preserve at least $10 million and maybe more for water projects…

[Sen. Greg Brophy] lauded [Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg] and especially Becker for making sure HB 1005 would pass. “Jon ensured that the money was there for the ag tax exemption, and he also made sure we put [millions more] into water projects. We cannot continue to fall behind in developing our water infrastructure.”

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1208 (Conservation Easements) gets a look-see from the state House Finance Committee

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

State Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, told the House Finance Committee that HB1208 aims to hold the state to its promise. “We made a deal with these people,” McKinley said. “We’re just going to have to go ahead and honor the deal.”[…]

McKinley said when the state began offering tax credits to leave land untouched, many in the land-rich but cash-poor agriculture community seized the opportunity. Because tax liabilities in the agriculture world are few, land donors parted with their tax credits for about 75 percent of their value to purchasers facing steep tax liabilities. When buyers redeemed those tax credits, the Department of Revenue rejected many because appraisers had overvalued the land by 500 to 1,000 times its true worth, in some cases. Buyers of the credits in turn sought to be made whole by the donors they had purchased the tax credits from, but often the proceeds of the easement sale had long been devoured by the expenses associated with agriculture — feed, seed and sustenance during droughts and blizzards that decimated crops and herds…

In short, HB1208 “simply says the credit will be allowed,” and the director will not contest or dig deeper into the appraised value of the conservation easement or its validity unless an appraiser associated with the credit has been found to commit fraud. The Department of Revenue has decried McKinley’s amnesty bill because landowners who recognize a prospect that could spare them the expense of squaring up with the state have been reluctant to participate in scheduled mediation sessions in hopes that the Legislature will whisk their problem away.

John Swartout, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, testified against the bill “because it treats everybody the same.”

More coverage from Debi Brazzale writing for the La Junta Tribune Democrat. From the article:

McKinley says the department has been demanding interest, fees and penalties on easements that they now say were overvalued. Some landowners receiving the notices have been waiting years, in some cases, for the department, who say they are overwhelmed and lack resources to resolve the disputes.

Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, expressed dismay at the predicament the landowners find themselves in. “This seems absurd that these cases are dragging on and on while interest is accruing,” said Acree.

Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch said the department is doing what it is obligated to do on behalf of taxpayers. Couch said that $466 million has been granted to filers since 2001 when the conservation-easement program began and that 16,000 tax returns have been honored.

“We don’t believe we’re the bad guys,” said Couch. “Our job is to protect the taxpayers, and we have the responsibility to make sure that the credits that are claimed are due to the filer.”

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1289 (Water Supply Structure Historic Register)

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, this week has quickly marshaled through a bill that would require consent of users of historic water structures when the state historical society wants to place the structure on an historic register. House Bill 11-1289 passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, received approval from the House on second reading on Wednesday and got a 51-12 vote from the full House on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate…

There are more than 22,000 ditches and reservoirs in the state, Shimmin said, and the document [History Colorado put out a 70-page document, prepared several years ago by an architecture professor at the University of Colorado Denver] suggests that all of them might qualify for historical designation on the National Register of Historic Places. “It raised the level of concern in the water user community” because it seemed to designate every ditch and reservoir as an historic structure, he explained. The potential for listing includes regulatory implications, Shimmin said. Any project with federal action, money or property and that requires a federal permit has to go through historical preservation review.

If a third party requests the listing and the owner objects, it can`t be listed, he said, but it can be designated as eligible for listing at the national level, and that triggers the same federal regulations, including control over maintenance or repair. That would include anything in the structure along the system — from headgates right down to the cottonwood trees along the ditch — and implies that every feature is somehow historically significant. “It scared the holy heck out of the owners of the ditch and reservoir systems” that a new wave of federal or state regulations was coming that would impact any act of maintenance, repair or other operating changes, he said.

Under HB 1289 the society must get consent from anyone who has a property interest, including water rights, in a water supply structure, prior to the structure`s nomination on the state or national register. In addition, the state engineer would also have to give his consent. Water users were excluded from the public process, and no public hearings were held by the history society, Shimmin said.

Democrats, however, objected to the bill, stating that requiring permission from the users would permanently end any efforts to put a structure on the National Register.

The four structures already designated as historical are two segments of the [Grand Diversion] structure in the Palisade Canyon along I-70, the San Luis Peoples Ditch and Smith’s Irrigation Ditch in Denver (now known as Denver Ditch).

Steve Turner from History Colorado said that 800 water structures have been reviewed in the past five years and that 200 are considered historic and could be considered for inclusion on the state or federal registers. Sonnenberg said currently there are no plans to put any historic water structures on the state or federal register. “This bill is proactive,” he said, and added that HB 1289 has the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1289 (Water Supply Structure Historic Register)

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

A bill moving briskly through the Legislature could make it more difficult for those old water supply structures to be included in either the Colorado Register of Historic Properties or the National Register of Historic Places. House Bill 1289, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Adams County, would require the consent of everyone with a property or water rights interest in a water supply structure for it to be considered for inclusion in the state or national register.

If any one of possibly many property owners objects, the structure would be ineligible for historic recognition by History Colorado, formerly the Colorado Historical Society, the state’s administrator of the National Register of Historic Places. “The fear was if someone needed to upgrade a diversion or a headgate, if it was on the historic list, then you have to go through extra paperwork or time and may not be able to get that done in a timely manner if you need to fix it,” Sonnenberg said.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.