As cities watch closely, Sterling Ranch launching first rainwater harvest in #Colorado — @WaterEdCO

A small yard in Sterling Ranch, a Douglas County community that is the first in the state to undertake a rainwater harvesting project. June 27, 2022. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Sterling Ranch, a conservation-oriented, fast-growing Douglas County community, is launching the first commercial effort to harvest rainwater in Colorado.

If the commercial pilot project succeeds, it could be used statewide to reduce water use in new developments, creating a supply of water that legally hasn’t existed before.

Andrea Cole is general manager of Dominion Water and Sanitation District, which serves Sterling Ranch. She said the project should prove that rain that runs off paved surfaces in developed areas can be used without harming natural water supplies that existed prior to development.

“When you change the landscape to a hardscape you produce more runoff,” Cole said. “The point is to capture the water off of a developed site without taking the water that would naturally be there.”

Sterling Ranch has been monitoring rainfall and infiltration of water into soils to ensure that the proposed collection system is gathering only the additional runoff from hard surfaces, and not the historic amount that the prairies collected pre-development.

Sterling Ranch must also convince its bigger neighbors, including Denver Water and Highlands Ranch, that Sterling’s rainwater collection is, in fact, a result of higher runoff from paved surfaces, not from the naturally occurring rain that falls in Douglas County.

“We’ve already heard from Denver and Centennial (the water district that serves Highlands Ranch) that we will have to prove we are not harming their water rights,” Cole said.

Swithin Dick, Centennial’s water rights administrator, said his agency was taking a wait-and-see approach to the rainwater pilot.

“If their application explains a project and plan that does not have the potential to injure Centennial’s water rights, and is consistent with existing law, it is not likely Centennial will oppose it,” Dick said via email.

Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said the agency had not yet taken a formal position on the project.

While collecting rainwater for drinking and irrigation is common elsewhere, it has been illegal in Colorado until recently because every drop of water that falls to the ground is owed to the rivers and streams, under the state’s 150-year-old allocation doctrine known as Prior Appropriation.

In 2016, Colorado legislators passed a law allowing individual homeowners to collect rainwater in two barrels per property with a combined storage capacity of up to 110 gallons, and also authorized a pilot program to see if a larger-scale, commercial effort could be done without harming downstream water users.

Harold and Diane Smethills began developing Sterling Ranch in 2004 and it now has 1,324 homes and will eventually have 12,050. The homes are among the most water-efficient that can be built and utilize small lots, hyper-efficient faucets and showers, and separate meters for indoor and outdoor water use.

Most Douglas County communities rely heavily on wells that tap water from deep, non-renewable aquifers, but heavy pumping over the years has lowered the aquifers’ levels. Water was already in short supply when Smethills first proposed Sterling Ranch, and he had to convince Douglas County planners that he could build the new development using much less water than the .75 acre-feet per single-family home the county required at the time. He also had to prove that he could do it using renewable surface water supplies in the South Platte River Basin.

He was eventually able to convince county planners that he could serve the community using .40 acre-feet of water per home, a number that now is closer to .20 acre-feet. An acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, or enough to cover an acre of land with 12 inches of water.

Smethills and his team have been awarded two state grants worth roughly $111,500. The latest grant, awarded in March, will be used to help complete the feasibility studies and begin design work.

Cole said the project should generate 400 acre-feet of water annually that can be captured and used to irrigate the community’s small parks, allowing the community to use its existing supplies elsewhere.

But hurdles remain. Sterling Ranch may have to seek new legislation in the face of new stormwater rules that require separate storage facilities for stormwater and rainwater, Cole said, because the new rules would significantly increase the capital costs of the collection and distribution systen.

And as with almost all new water projects seeking a legal right to collect water, the project will have to go through an extensive review in a special water court, where anyone who has a water right in the region can submit concerns and challenge the process.

Sterling Ranch will apply to water court later this year, Cole said, and because of what she believes will be significant opposition, she expects it to take up to three years to complete the legal process and win the right to legally collect rainwater.

“Will there be opposition? Yes,” said Smethills, “Everybody else is watching to see how we do and if we can get it through water court. We’re at the bleeding edge. But this isn’t amateur night. We’ve spent millions of dollars to capture this data.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

HB 15-1778: Dewatering grant applications moving forward — The Sterling Journal-Advocate

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

The Logan County Commissioners heard an update on the dewatering grant Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions are applying for during a work session Tuesday. Geologist Alan Horn spoke about how the funds will be used and the timeline for submitting the grant applications. The county is acting as a fiscal agent for the grant funds.

The grant program came about when House Bill 15-1778 was signed into law by the governor last year. The bill authorizes the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in collaboration with the State Engineer, to administer a grant program for emergency dewatering of areas in and around Gilcrest and Sterling.

Horn explained each subdivision will submit its own separate grant application, because the issues in each subdivision are different.

A total of $580,000 in grant funding is available for Sterling and Gilcrest, $290,000 for each fiscal year, 2016 and 2017.

“What I feel like would be the best way to approach this would be to try to get something as quickly as possible that could provide immediate relief for these residents in these areas,” Horn said, explaining they would like to start with temporary pipelines laying on the ground, then in the second fiscal year they could apply for funding “that would be sufficient to come out and do the excavation and bury these pipelines.”

In the Pawnee Ridge Subdivision, there are two locations that have been having trouble with high water conditions, Dakota Road and Westwood Drive, near the intersection of Westwood and Summit Drive.

Horn said on Dakota Road what he would like to do is put in a temporary pipeline and take the St. John dewatering well and a dewatering well next door, on Gene Thim’s property, manifold them together and then pump the water up so that it would discharge into the drainage and drain down into the Gentz pond, which is a natural drainage, and then the water would be bypassed on down to the river. When the water level drops work would be done to make the pipeline permanent.

Both wells will pump a total of about 400 gallons a minute.

In the Westwood area there only a couple of houses that have typically been having issues, so he would like to excavate and install a subsurface drain, which would go along Westwood Drive and would have a couple of laterals going up into the property at 18188 Westwood Dr. Horn said the homeowner, Michael Negley, installed a temporary drain several years ago when problems were real bad. Grant funds will be used to install it at a deeper level and “do a little more professional job.”

The PRN 3 well is being used to monitor the water conditions there. Horn noted as of early December the water was only about half a foot below ground surface at that well.

Water from the subsurface drain will make its way to a swell that goes into the Springdale Ditch. Horn estimated there will be no more than 50 to 100 gallons a minute draining out of this area once the drain is installed. He told the commissioners he doesn’t anticipate any damage to property.

Horn brought right of way applications for both Dakota Road and Westwood Drive. Rocky Samber asked if fees are being paid through the grant. Horn wanted to know if the county could waive those fees, which would be $100 to $200 each, because it would be helpful to the project funding availability and the CWCB looks favorably toward applicants that put forth some kind of services or funds. Samber asked if the county in the past has exempted permit fees; Horn said he believes they have.

The commissioners did not make a decision.

For the Country Club Hills Subdivision, all work will take place on public land that is being held in trust by the county, which requires a permit from the county. Horn explained they would like to excavate and install a concrete sump with an inlet structure to the little pond that’s by Cottonwood Lane. Then via a temporary pipeline to begin with — which would be made permanent later — the water would be pumped under Forest Road, under Cottonwood Lane and over to the Springdale Ditch.

He said Springdale Ditch has agreed in principal to work them on this and allow this water to be discharged to their ditch and then conveyed back to the river. Horn pointed out the good news is the water doesn’t seem to be rising as much in Country Club Hills as it is in Pawnee Ridge, so hopefully there will be some extra time to get the agreement with Springdale Ditch in place.

The pipeline will be for to six inches and will pump about 100 gallons a minute.

There was a question about who will pay for the power. The first couple of years it will be paid for by the grant funding and Scott Szabo, a resident of the subdivision, has said that he will pay for the power for future dewatering issues. Horn said there may be other residents that would be amenable to joining with him to help pay for the power.

Dave Donaldson asked if Gilcrest is more prepared to move forward than Sterling. Horn said Gilcrest has already received some funds, $80,000 or $90,000, but they’re running into some difficulties that are preventing them from expending the funds that have already been awarded. He is confident there will be enough funds for Sterling.

Horn said he hopes to have a draft application for the CWCB to review finished by the end of January. On Feb. 17 the South Platte Groundwater Basin Technical Committee will be meeting and will review the applications and pass them on to the CWCB, which will review them in mid-March. Funding should be available in mid-April.

#coleg: Logan County to act as fiscal agent for HB15-1178 grants — Sterling Journal Advocate

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

During the work session, the commissioners voted 2-0 for Logan County to be the fiscal agent to handle dewatering grant funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to the recipients, which include Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions. Rocky Samber recused himself from the vote, as he lives in the Pawnee Ridge subdivision.

The state approved a grant program providing financial aid for emergency dewatering when House Bill 15-1778 was signed into law by the governor on June 5. The bill authorizes the CWCB, in collaboration with the State Engineer, to administer a grant program for emergency dewatering of areas in and around Gilcrest and Sterling. The grants are intended for areas that, through the application and review process, the CWCB and the State Engineer determine are experiencing damaging high groundwater levels in recent years.

A group from Country Club Hills approached the commissioners at their work session last week, to request that the county act as financial agent for the grant. Commissioner Gene Meisner was not at the meeting; the other commissioners told the group they would talk with him and get back to them with their decision.

“I don’t think it would be that much work on the finance department,” Donaldson said Tuesday.

Samber agreed, noting the groups representing the subdivisions will do the writing and the paperwork.

They asked Meisner if he had any questions after reading the narrative he was given; he did not. With the grant application do next week, they decided to take action on the request during their work session.

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Colorado Water Congress Annual Summer Conference recap

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

People are “bored and frustrated” by what is going on in Washington, D.C., so U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was very happy to be in the Colorado mountains Wednesday…

Although there is gridlock in the nation’s Capitol, Bennet has recently toured the state with his Republican counterpart Sen. Cory Gardner. Common ground most often has been found on water issues.

In his opening remarks, he noted that his first legislation was a bill to provide a funding mechanism for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and among his most recent was creation of the Browns Canyon National Monument.

“We take water seriously in Colorado,” Bennet said. “We know that it is a limited resource that is fundamental to every aspect of our economy and our way of life.”

Bennet hit the key points that are driving Colorado to develop a water plan by December: agriculture, recreation, the environment and continued urban growth.

“Water sustains our agriculture industry.

It sustains the rivers, wildflowers and wildlife that bring in $13.2 billion in outdoor recreation spending every year. Water fuels the existence and growth of businesses throughout the state that have helped us build one of the strongest economies in the country,” Bennet said.

His message on this year’s ample rainfall was mixed.

“We are thankful for the rain we’ve had this year in Colorado. It’s helped our economy and decreased the threat of catastrophic wildfire,” he said. “But we know we are part of a much larger water system. We know that the Colorado River basin as a whole remains in a record drought.”

Lake Powell is just 53 percent full, and inflows will be about 88 percent of normal this year. Lake Mead is only 38 percent full.

“It’s incredible to think that the water level in Lake Mead has dropped by about the height of a 15-story building since 1983 over the surface of the lake. That’s about 18 million acre feet of water, potentially enough for 70 million families for a year,” Bennet said.

Bennet supports working with other states in the Upper Colorado River basin (New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) as the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) continue to rely more heavily on the Colorado River.

“We need to stay ahead of this continuing drought,” he said. “Colorado River security is not a west slope issue or an east slope issue — it’s a Colorado issue.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Fountain Creek isn’t the only area of the state where storm control and water rights have collided, the Colorado Water Congress learned Wednesday.

But it is unique in being the only area omitted from SB212, state legislation that allowed stormwater to be stored for up to 72 hours or 110 hours in an exceptional storm. That decision was applauded by some, but derided by one water attorney as “Monkey Business.”

As in the Marx Brothers classic movie.

Law-makers have overstepped their responsibility and subjected water law to “death by a thousand small cuts” by passing SB212 and HB1016, said Alan Curtis, a water lawyer with White and Jankowski.

Curtis lampooned the bills, along with failed legislation to allow rain barrels (SB1259) by showing video clips from “Monkey Business” — including Harpo’s antics in the crowded cruise ship cabin, jumping out of line in port and roiling the lemonade by splashing his legs in it. He ended by asking “which Marx Brother are you?” He declared he is Groucho and those who passed the legislation are more like Karl. Curtis’ point was that the new laws that passed, like the rain barrel bill that did not, jump some water rights ahead of others that have been in line for 150 years of water law, amounting to a taking of property rights. They also put the responsibility to prove damage on the party who is injured, which is the opposite of most water law, which requires proof of no injury or mitigation.

Engineer Jim Wulliman and Alan Searcy, of the Colorado Stormwater Council, argued that stormwater retention ponds are useful both to enhance water quality, by settling water, and to restore channel flows to pre-development conditions.

Wulliman detailed how paving urban surfaces sets up a scenario for damage to waterways as more water drains more quickly, causing erosion.

Finally, Steve Vandiver, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said the state Legislature moved too fast to pass the stormwater bill, saying junior water rights holders could be injured.

“I’d just like to slow the process down,” Vandiver said. “The science is not exact.”

Fountain Creek has been struggling with the stormwater control/water rights issue for years. It was removed from SB212, with the exception of Colorado Springs, which has a stormwater discharge permit.
This year, a preliminary study by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District attempted to quantify the damage at certain flows and suggested ways to mitigate the damage.
Pueblo County has hired Wright Water Engineers to quantify the damage caused by development in Colorado Springs to Fountain Creek.

2015 Colorado legislation water bill recap

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

It began with the interim water resources review committee, which last summer held hearings on studies on groundwater levels in the South Platte River Basin area. That led to four bills dealing with flooding and groundwater issues in the Basin.

House Bill 15-1178 provided $165,000 in 2015-16 for grants administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be used for emergency dewatering of wells in LaSalle and Sterling, due to high groundwater levels that have damaged crops, homes and businesses in those areas. The money comes the CWCB construction fund. It was signed into law on June 5 and went into effect upon the governor’s signature. Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, said emergency dewatering started in LaSalle in April. Another $290,000 will be available in 2016-17 for additional dewatering.

A related bill, HB 1013, requires the CWCB and state engineer to select two pilot programs, one from LaSalle/Gilcrest and the other from Sterling, to test different ways for lowering the water table. The law requires an annual report on the project to the General Assembly, with a final report due in 2020.

The law also tasks the state engineer with making changes on operations and design of recharge structures (such as wells) for augmentation plans that include construction of those wells. Augmentation plans are required when someone wants to take water out-of-priority and must replace enough water to avoid injury to the river or other water users.

Currently, when the water court considers an application for an augmentation plan with a well, the court looks at whether the plan will provide that replacement water, but the court hasn’t looked at the effect on groundwater for nearby water users. HB 1013 requires the state engineer to examine that issue. The bill was signed into law on May 29 and goes into effect on August 5.

A bill from the water resources review committee puts off a change to state law regarding the Dawson aquifer. The aquifer is one of four within the Denver Basin, which extends from Colorado Springs to Denver and east to Limon and into Morgan County. On July 1, 2015, those who pump from Dawson would have been required to use calculations based on the aquifer’s current condition when figuring out how much water would be needed to replace stream depletions. This dates back a law passed in 2001, and delayed several times since then. Because the state has never had the money to do the modeling necessary, the requirement needed to be postponed again. The legislation did not provide a new implementation date.

Finally, the annual CWCB projects list included $125,000 for South Platte River basin groundwater level data collection, analysis and remediation.

Among other significant water bills passed in the 2015 session:

• Major changes to the fallowing program administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Currently, agricultural land-owners can lease their water rights to municipalities for up to 10 years. This pilot program was expanded by the General Assembly to allow for leasing of water rights for other agricultural, industrial, environmental and recreational uses.

Garrett Mook, a fourth-generation farmer from Lamar, talked about the value of expanding the program with the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee in March. Mook cited as an example a feedlot in Swink that relies on well water. The well was shut down because of the drought in Southeastern Colorado, and farmers in the area wanted to help the lot owner by leasing some of their water. They weren’t able to do that because the lease-fallow program only allows leasing water rights to municipalities, and the feedlot owner had to find water elsewhere.

“The way crop prices varies from year to year and rainfall varies from year to year, a new source of revenue is crucial for us…It gives farmers my age a fighting chance,” he said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) and Rep. Ed Vigil (D-Fort Garland), sailed unanimously through both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor on May 1. The new law goes into effect on August 1.

• A $5 million grant program was set up to manage invasive phreatophytes. These are deep-rooted plants that draw their water from a nearby water table. In Colorado, that means tamarisk and Russian-olive trees. The bill, HB 1005, came from the water resources review committee.

Colorado has been dealing with these problem plants for more than a decade. The grant program goes into effect on August 5.

• Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, called SB 183 the most important water bill of the session. The bill quantifies historical use of consumptive water (water that is consumed by crops, for example, and not returned to a stream).

The bill ran into problems in the House, in the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. It was opposed by the Colorado River District, Trout Unlimited and the Audubon Society. Chris Treese of the Colorado River District said the issue had become a West Slope/Eastern Plains dispute. He pointed to two water court cases where the bill would hamper, rather than hinder, appropriate determinations of consumptive use.

In one case, an agricultural water right that came through a transmountain diversion (water that is diverted from the West Slope to the Eastern Plains) was sold to two municipalities. The Pueblo water board sought an immediate change-of-use decree from the water court. The city of Aurora did not, although it used the water for 22 years. The city finally went to water court in 2009 to seek the proper permit. But the judge in the case counted all the water used in the decree, including the 22 years of non-decreed (illegal) use. The state Division of Water Resources argued that the water decree should be reduced by 27 percent to account for the years of illegal use. That would be done by using zeros in the calculation, representing the years of non-decreed use.

The case is pending in the state Supreme Court.

Becker told this reporter that SB 183 would provide certainty and stability in water court cases. He disagreed with the suggestion that the court use zeros in its calculation of consumptive use. “Non-decreed uses can’t be a benefit but it shouldn’t be a detriment,” Becker said. The courts should use a calculation based on actual consumptive use. He also pointed out that in Aurora’s case, the state engineer had the authority to stop non-decreed use, and didn’t.

The law established under SB 183 would allow the courts to base the consumptive use on wet years, dry years, and average years, and exclude the year(s) of non-decreed use.

The law went into effect on May 4 when the governor signed the bill.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Governor to sign SB15-212 (Drinking Water Fund Assistance Nonprofit Entities) today in Rocky Ford

Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society
Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Nonprofit rural water districts will benefit from new legislation that will allow them to apply for state grants and loans.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is scheduled to sign the legislation into law this afternoon in Rocky Ford, at the offices of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“The beauty of this is that it just doesn’t help water districts in our area, but throughout the whole state,” said Bill Hancock, manager of conservation programs for the Lower Ark District.

Hancock is part of the Eureka Water District, one of 28 water districts in Otero County, many of them private associations. Those districts sprang up during a time when rural households were switching from cisterns to water delivery systems that served multiple households.

Now, those districts are finding it difficult to make changes required by stricter water quality regulations or just the need to keep up with repairs.

The legislation, Senate Bill 121, amends the law for the drinking water revolving fund administered by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to make private, nonprofit entities eligible for loans or grants. It was sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and others.

“A lot of the companies are dealing with radionuclides or have aging infrastructure, which is very costly to fix, and they have no good way to finance improvements,” Hancock said. “In order to get government help, they had to be a governmental entity.”

Some of the private water districts in Otero County formed an association last year in an attempt to get state funds, but it was treated as a “pass-through” agency by the state, Hancock said. The Lower Ark district pushed for the new law that keeps the funding door open.

“We needed a legislative change,” he said.

The new law also will help agencies in the Arkansas Valley Conduit prepare for hooking into the new water delivery system from Pueblo Dam when it is built.

More infrastructure coverage here.

2015 Colorado Legislation: Governor signs HB15-1057, bill will provide more opportunities to understand fiscal impact of new ballot measures — @COWaterCongress

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB15-1006 (Invasive Phreatophyte Grant Program)


From KVNF (Laura Palmisano):

House Bill 1006 creates the Invasive Phreatophyte Grant Program.

Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill at a ceremony in Montrose on Tuesday…

Republican Representative Don Coram of Montrose sponsored the bill.

He called the invasive plants ‘water thieves’ that menace riparian areas.

“I truly believe the eradication of phreatophytes is the first tool in the Colorado Water Plan,” Coram said at the signing ceremony.

Coram said these plants are a problem in his district and across the state.

“If you travel the Colorado River [and] the Dolores River for example, it’s a thicket in many areas that you can’t even walk through, but it’s also a water quality issue because the tree sucks up the water and it drops salt so nothing else really [can] grow,” he said.

The water conservation board will oversee the program and distribute grants for projects. The program is set to end in 2018.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Stormwater ‘recycling’ could help boost urban water supplies — The Colorado Independent #coleg

Detention pond
Detention pond

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

Even though the rain-barrel bill got dunked in the Colorado Legislature this year, another measure that could help conserve and reuse urban water on a much larger scale passed without much controversy.

Senate Bill 212 could make it easier for places like Denver to start designing new stormwater management systems that would reduce the demand for water from rivers and reservoirs. Instead of simply letting stormwater run down the drain, the water could potentially be slowed down to water parks and ballfields.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican representing a rural agricultural district in northeastern Colorado. Sonnenberg opposed the rainbarrel bill partly because he feared that a boom in the urban rain-barrel biz could cut flows to rivers that supply water for farms farther downstream.

But [SB15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)], the stormwater bill, doesn’t pose the same threat because it doesn’t specifically allow people to capture and use water, Sonnenberg said, explaining that his bill was aimed at ensuring that cities don’t have to apply for water rights when they design and build stormwater systems.

In a comment letter on the Colorado water plan, Denver Water explained the history of the stormwater runoff issue. Most senior water rights were established in a time when there weren’t a whole lot of paved surfaces to channel water into drains. Instead, the water from big rainstorms spread out evenly over the land.

The idea that cities should have to apply for water rights for the stormwater they manage is “shortsighted, unnecessary and in conflict with the goals and values” of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for the plan, Denver Water wrote.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Last minute effort to save HB15-1259 (#RainBarrel) fails in Senate 18-17

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights) passes out of House Local Government Committee #coleg

Detention pond
Detention pond

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that changes water rights for flood water storage passed the House Friday after it was diverted to the House Local Government Committee rather than the Agriculture Committee so it would not be killed.

The bill, SB212, allows water from five-year floods to be stored 72 hours and for water from larger floods to be released as “quickly as practicable.” It also allows storage of runoff water from areas burned by wildfire.

“We believe this bill changes the prior appropriation doctrine,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “It’s very disappointing.”

Winner and Peter Nichols, the Lower Ark’s water attorney, worked to amend the bill to satisfy waterrights issues, but failed to prevail. Farmers from the Arkansas Valley testified against the bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee, saying it would deprive junior water rights holders.

The bill does exempt Fountain Creek, but it allows entities with a state discharge permit to operate under the new guidelines. That means Colorado Springs will be able to operate runoff detention ponds in connection with the burn scars from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, as well as stormwater detention facilities.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway district does not intend to use the provisions of the bill, opting instead to continue a water rights study that is looking at how to ensure any water stored in its future detention ponds will be shepherded to the owners of water rights that would have been in priority without storage.

State Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, added the amendment exempting Fountain Creek. State Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, chairs the House agriculture committee, and was expected to kill the bill had it been assigned to that committee.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1178 (Emergency Well Pumping Damaging High Groundwater) sails through Senate Ag committee #coleg

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

State House Bill 15-1178 won unanimous approval from the state Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Thursday.

As introduced, HB 1178 would put $500,000 in general funds (income and sales tax revenue) into an emergency dewatering account that would pay for emergency pumping of wells in Gilcrest and LaSalle. The Ag Committee amended the bill to allow emergency pumping in Sterling, as well, and to put $165,000 immediately into the dewatering account. Another $290,000 would be available beginning July 1 to continue pumping. The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, told this reporter that Gilcrest will get priority in the pumping because the situation there is more critical.

The bill’s Senate co-sponsor, Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, told the committee Weld County is already clearing ditches from Gilcrest to the South Platte River, and pumping started earlier this week. Co-sponsor Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said that water levels are rising to the point that the water is coming up through water treatment facilities and damaging liners, which becomes a water contamination issue…

There’s another bill in play to help with the flooding problem, but it was changed substantially this week by its Senate co-sponsor, Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. That led to a little bit of sniping by Sonnenberg, the bill’s other co-sponsor, during Thursday’s hearing.

As introduced, House Bill 15-1013 requires the Colorado Water Conservation Board to conduct a study that would test alternative methods for lowering the water table along the South Platte near the Gilcrest/LaSalle and Sterling areas. The bill sets up application and approval criteria for the pilot projects, which would last four years. A second section of the bill authorizes the state engineer to review an augmentation plan submitted to water court if that plan includes construction of a recharge structure (ponds or ditches).

However, at Hodge’s request, the Senate on Thursday removed that second section, which did not go over well with Sonnenberg. The bill got final approval from the Senate Friday, and now goes back to the House. Should the House reject the Senate amendment, the bill would go to a conference committee. Sonnenberg said that if that happens, he will work to restore the bill to its original version.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: #RainBarrel bill dead for year

Colorado Water Congress: The 2015 Legislative Session is almost over #coleg

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Ranchers and farmers on the lower Ark oppose SB15-212

Detention pond
Detention pond

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Megan Schrader):

Several farmers and ranchers along the Lower Arkansas River remain opposed to a bill they say will harm their water rights, but proponents say [Senate Bill 212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)] is essential to protect the public from floods and contaminated water.

“It does harm rights, or it has the potential to harm rights,” said Don McBee, who made the long trek from his farm 10 miles north of Lamar to advocate for a change to the bill Wednesday when it was considered in the House Local Government Committee.

“We lost,” he said after an amendment he supported failed 8-3 and left him still opposing the bill.

The bill would do two things.

It would ensure flood mitigation and filtration systems constructed in response to wildfire burn scars can hold water without having to pay for the water rights of those downstream.

No one takes issue with that portion.

The second half of the bill deals with other water quality detention ponds that hold water to filter out sediments and prevent flooding. The bill stipulates those ponds cannot hold water for more than 72 hours unless it’s more than a five-year flood and then the water must be released within not more than 120 hours. But it also says that those facilities do not hurt downstream water rights and puts the onus of proving harm on water rights holders. In water court, it’s usually the opposite.

McBee said holding water in that way reduces the amount of water that comes during a peak flow, which will reduce the water that is available for junior water rights holders who can only get water when the flow of the Arkansas reaches a certain level.

Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer with the Division of Water Resources, said the farmers’ concerns are not unwarranted and water rights could be impacted by regional detention projects. But he said the bill is necessary.

“We definitely see the value in this bill giving us that codification in the statutes to say that yes, this detention is allowed,” Rein testified Wednesday. “It’s not the perfect bill, but what it does do is provide us that balance.”

McBee and others are particularly concerned about plans for flood restoration and mitigation projects along Fountain Creek, which flows from Colorado Springs to Pueblo where it joins the Arkansas.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, amended his bill in the Senate specifically to exempt Fountain Creek projects from protections under the bill.

McBee said that wasn’t enough.

Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff, R-Pueblo, agreed the bill didn’t do enough to protect downstream water rights. She proposed an amendment that McBee said would have allowed him to support the bill about guaranteeing that peak flows were not injured by detention systems.

The amendment failed. The bill passed out of committee 10-1 with Navarro-Ratzlaff the only no vote. It now goes to the House floor for consideration. If it passes, it will have to go back to the Senate for consideration of a technical change made in the House.

Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, sponsored the bill in the House.

2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-212 scheduled for hearing today in Senate Ag committee #coleg

Detention pond
Detention pond

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow flood water to be stored regardless of the impact on water rights would not affect a proposal to build flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The district is looking at building a dam or several detention ponds on Fountain Creek. It has no interest in getting blanket authority under [Senate Bill 15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)], which is moving slowly through the Legislature.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board has taken a neutral position on the legislation, and would not interrupt its study of flood control and water rights even if SB212 passes, said Larry Small, executive director.

“We have no intention to infringe on water rights,” Small said Tuesday. “We live and operate in this basin, and whatever we do has to be mutually beneficial.”

Small was speaking to a technical committee Tuesday studying how water rights can be protected while constructing flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The Denver Urban Drainage District and other water interests are pushing SB212, which is scheduled to be heard today in the Senate agriculture committee.

Farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley are interested because of its impact on junior water rights. Several testified last week against the bill. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District offered amendments to the bill that would exempt Fountain Creek or the Arkansas River basin from the bill.

“Once again, it looks like the Legislature wants to put all the mitigation for these projects on the backs of farmers,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

It also was suggested that fire mitigation basins, which are needed in areas such as Colorado Springs to deal with the aftermath of large wildfires, be allowed but to postpone action on flood control basins.

The state of Kansas also wrote an April 10 letter to Mike King, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Dick Wolfe saying the [bill] could have a negative impact on the Arkansas River Compact. It said a proposed notification system is not sufficient to protect its interests.

Small said that it might not be possible to move the legislation this year, since it would face more of a challenge in the House and the Legislature is set to adjourn on May 6.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Senate Ag Committee delays vote on HB15-1259 (Residential Precipitation Collection Rain Barrels) #coleg

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Homeowners who use rain barrels are violating state water laws, but a bill discussed in a Senate panel on Thursday would make it OK.

Under HB1259, which cleared the Colorado House last month on a 45-20 vote, homeowners would be able to use two 55-gallon barrels to collect rainwater, but only for use on their gardens and lawn.

The thinking behind the measure is two-fold, said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, its Senate sponsor.

One, it allows for a way of delaying water from flowing downstream too soon and acts as a kind of reservoir system.

Two, it helps Coloradans realize just how precious water is in the state, and helps teach them to be more judicious in how they use it.

Opponents, however, said the idea violates long-standing Colorado water law because it goes against its prior-appropriations standards of first-in-time, first-in-line water rights.

Opponents also said Colorado likely would be sued by neighboring states, all of which allow rainwater barrels.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee that reviewed the bill, delayed a vote on it over a disagreement on some of its provisions.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

HB15-1259 (Residential Precipitation Collection Rain Barrels) heads to Senate Ag Committee April 16 #coleg

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From The Greeley Tribune (James Redmond):

Although a number of Republicans joined Democrats in passing a bill in the House that could end Colorado’s ban on rain barrels, the legislation now awaits its first Senate committee hearing, where some Republicans remain wary of its possible long-term effects.

The Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee will hold a hearing for House Bill 1259 on April 16.

The bill passed out of the House with an easy bipartisan majority, 45-20, on March 23. It could have become a partisan issue, as no Democrats voted against it. But more than 10 Republicans cast a yes vote, with some calling it common sense legislation and saying rain water will go back into the ground anyway.

Many Republicans did not support the bill, which some say could cause issues with Colorado’s law of prior appropriation and potentially hurt water rights holders, such as farmers to whom they say the rainwater belongs.

But, some House Republicans who supported the bill represent counties with substantial agricultural interests, such as Weld County’s Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, and Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono.

Similarly, farmers and other professional and experts connected to water issues in Colorado have expressed views ranging from concern to support of the bill.

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee, hasn’t made up his mind about the bill yet, but he said Thursday he feels leery of voting for it and has not heard much from his constituents yet.

“You know, it looks like it’s a pretty innocuous bill,” he said. “Most people might say ‘hey why can’t we collect water off our own roof?’”

But if everyone took advantage of what the bill would allow and 50,000 homes in the Greeley and Evans areas started collecting rainwater, it could hurt the already over-appropriated South Platte River, Cooke said. Hurting the river could mean people with water rights do not get the water they are entitled too, he said.

“I’m not saying I’m opposed to the bill yet; I want to hear the testimony,” Cooke said.

Currently people cannot collect and store rainwater from roofs in Colorado. The bill would allow someone to collect and keep rain from his or her roofs in up to two 55-gallon barrels. Rainwater collected this way could only be used for outdoor purposes, such as lawn irrigation and gardening.

“The data we were given indicates that 97 percent of the water that comes off of roof tops never actually makes its way into the basins,” Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, said Wednesday. “I thought it made good sense.”

If most rooftop rainwater does not make its way into the system as it is now, Young said he would need to see data that showed how rain barrels negatively affect someone’s prior appropriation before he sees the bill as harmful to water rights owners.

Most of the northern Colorado legislators supported it the bill, he said, and of Weld County’s House representatives, only Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor, voted against the bill.

“I struggled with that bill,” Buck said Friday. She had concerns about the legality of letting people collect rainwater and how that could affect agriculture.

Although some people say most of the rainwater from roofs does not go into water basins, she said allowing all houses to collect and store their rainwater could negatively affect water rights owners.

Experts in the field have expressed concerns about broadly allowing all houses to collect their rainwater.

“My concern is this bill could result in injury to vested senior water rights,” said Robert Longenbaugh, a retired assistant state engineer and ground water specialist. Without requiring rain barrels to receive site-specific consideration, “I believe the potential is there for injury.”

Colorado has more demand for water than ever before, and a rain barrel takes away water, he said.

Glen Fritzler, a farmer who works near Gilcrest, thinks the bill could probably hurt farmers.

“It just seems like taking from the end users,” Fritzler said.

Not all farmers feel the same way. LaSalle farmer Harry Strohauer said the bill seems like common sense to him. Letting residents collect rainwater in insignificant amounts means they can put it to good use and avoid using other water sources.

“I don’t see a downside to that,” he said.

Conservation Colorado has also come out in support of the legislation, claiming the bill will raise awareness of Colorado’s water challenges and the need for water conservation polices.

The bill could set a nasty precedence, Cooke said, and if it does pass it could be hard to change it back. It would take hard work with stakeholders to find a different version to satisfy everyone, he said.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB 1159 Arndt — Instream Flow Incentive Tax Credit Passed 2nd (Becky Long)

2015 Colorado legislation: Water basins could have costly legal ramifications for El Paso County — @csgazette

Waldo Canyon Fire
Waldo Canyon Fire

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

More than two dozen El Paso County water basins that hold back flood debris and ensure local water quality are caught up in an unforeseen battle over water rights, putting the basins at the mercy of state lawmakers.

Colorado Springs utility and stormwater managers, along with nonprofits charged with managing recovery in the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar, were taken aback last fall when the state declared that 25 of the 30 major basins violate a state statute that prevents stored water from affecting other water rights. In a January follow-up letter, the Colorado Division of Water Resources said unless the handful of entities that manage the basins can afford to replace some of the lost water, they could face legal action from the state.

But the letter could all be for naught, if a bill clarifying water use in basins passes through the Colorado Legislature this spring. Senate Bill 212, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would allow retention basins to hold water for 72 hours without requiring agencies to make up for lost water.

But this is more than a tiff over water rights. The letter jeopardizes some of the most effective life-saving tools in western El Paso County, said Theresa Springer, environmental education coordinator for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, known as CUSP. The 25 basins listed in the letter catch flood debris coursing off the Waldo Canyon burn scar – debris that has claimed lives and damaged homes and roadways in the county since the 2012 fire.

“This is the biggest tool in our tool box,” Springer said of the basins. “Right now, we’ve got all of our hopes on this bill.”

Although the basins have become a key part of post-fire flood mitigation in the county, some were built without taking into consideration state requirements, said Steve Witte, a division engineer with the state who sent the letter.

Witte toured the basins with Springer last summer, and Springer had no idea the basins were in violation until she read the letter, she said.

Witte determined that the basins violate state guidelines because they do not make provisions for lost water to downstream junior rights users.

“We outlined some parameters under which these basins could be constructed,” Witte said. “But when we investigated, we found those parameters had not been observed. That’s what created some concerns for us.”

The majority of the basins inspected hold water for 72 hours, during which time they slowly drain. When it comes to basins, that’s a practice that Colorado has always allowed, although it wasn’t officially on the books, said Tim Mitros, the stormwater engineer for the city of Colorado Springs, which also received a copy of the letter from Witte. To his knowledge, this is the first time that the de facto 72-hour rule has been challenged, Mitros added.

The letter also calls into question state-mandated detention basins that are required to ensure water quality, Mitros said.

According to the letter, those kinds of basins are also in violation of junior water rights.

Springer said CUSP cannot afford to buy extra water rights to make up for what its basins hold.

In Colorado, “water is more valuable than gold,” Mitros joked.

Witte said he is protecting the water rights of those who live in a drought-stricken watershed. The basins have no right to hold water, particularly from junior water rights holders who depend on excess water.

“They are among those who are entitled to receive water when there is a shortage, and there is always a shortage,” Witte said.

There are a variety of fixes for the situation, Witte said, but none strikes a perfect balance between the needs of recovery managers and junior water rights holders, he added.

“The ponds could be filled in, but that doesn’t afford any flood protection. Not every solution is a satisfactory one for everybody,” he said.

The most typical solution would be for agencies like CUSP and Colorado Springs Utilities, among several others, to purchase water rights. While it might be the simplest solution for Witte, buying more water would be expensive and probably not feasible for others, Mitros said.

“There is no water available to purchase to offset that,” Springer said. “We are in the business of saving lives. Why would we spend the money to buy that water?”

Now everything depends on the outcome of [SB15-212: Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights], which is expected to be heard in the Senate’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy committee April 9.

Sonnenberg could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Although Witte requested that action be taken by April 1, he said he will wait to act until the legislative session is over. CUSP, along with the city of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities, will also be waiting to see if the bill passes.

As for what will happen if the bill gets killed, no one had a guess.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Mitros said. “I think the state needs to get that figured out between itself first.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-064 (Application Of State Water Law To Federal Agencies) dead #coleg

Photo via Bob Berwyn
Photo via Bob Berwyn

From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Woodland):

SB 64 sailed through the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee on an 8-1 vote. That included a “yes” vote from Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, whose district includes the Eagle County ski areas, as well as Crested Butte and Aspen. Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, also voted in favor of SB 64.

On the Senate floor, the bill picked up four more votes from Democrats, and passed on a 24-11 vote.

But instead of going to the House Ag Committee, where the previous versions had passed easily the last two years, SB 64 was assigned to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. And true to its reputation as the “kill” committee, the bill died on a 5-6 party-line vote. One of those “no” votes came from Rep. Mike Foote, D-Denver, who voted in favor of the 2014 version.

Sonnenberg was furious. He told The Colorado Statesman last week that it was just politics. “I don’t get it,” he said. “It’s politics at its worst, when we don’t defend Colorado water rights owners.”

This week, House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, defended her decision to send SB 64 to the State Affairs committee, and why she made that decision on a bill she’s supported for the past two years.

Hullinghorst said Tuesday she sent the bill to State Affairs because she wanted to see the issue addressed more broadly, and that she believed State Affairs was the appropriate committee. She said she changed her mind on the bill because of a legal opinion from Legislative Legal Services, although Legal Services issued the same opinion for the 2013 and 2014 bills.

“I believe that issue has been well-vetted, and we’ve had lots of good talk about it. But as a matter of fact, we have memos from Legal Services that tell us on two specific constitutional issues, that this bill is unconstitutional,” Hullinghorst said this week.

The first issue, according to the Legal Services memo, is that the federal government has preemption powers in this area. Preemption means that when a federal and state law conflict, the state law is considered invalid.

Second, the memo said the bill is considered special legislation since it is done for one specific agency. Hullinghorst said that bothered her more than the preemption issue. “I used my prerogative, I changed my mind.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products)

Graphic via
Graphic via


Gov. John Hickenlooper has made Colorado the third state to ban on tiny plastic particles from soaps and cosmetic products.

In May 2014, the CALL7 Investigators were first to expose concerns over microbeads in Colorado water. That investigation confirmed the plastic particles — which are found in some toothpastes, face washes, body washes, shampoos, eyeliners, lip glosses and deodorants — had made their way through state filtration systems and into the South Platte River. The CALL7 Investigators sent water samples from the South Platte to a specialized lab in Marietta, Ga., which found microbeads made of polypropylene, a type of plastic. The toxic particles can be consumed by fish, and ultimately, by humans.

The bill signed into law Thursday bans microbeads by 2020.

The ban has the backing of large personal-care product manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson.

Illinois and New York have already enacted bans, and other states are considering bans.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Salida: Town hall meeting discusses water issues

Salida Colorado early 1900s
Salida Colorado early 1900s

From The Mountain Mail (J.D. Thomas):

State Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, hosted a town hall meeting to discuss water issues Sunday in city council chambers.
Scanga opened the meeting by describing changes in Colorado water plans since 2002.

He said in 2011 a gap analysis of the various water basins showed the Arkansas River Basin will have a projected shortage of 54,000 acre-feet per year by 2035 or 2040.

He said various water conservancy districts are looking into conservation, identifying projects and processes, alternative transportation methods of water and new water supplies.

Another option being considered is rotational land fallowing and water leasing, which would lease water rights for irrigation from a section of land and transfer it to a municipality temporarily, which would increase water to an area that is experiencing a population growth, he said.

An issue raised involved poor irrigation and watering practices by agricultural users, which Scanga said is difficult to compare to poor watering practices of lawns in a municipality.

Another attendee asked about worst-case scenarios for future water shortages. Scanga said water conservancy groups in Arizona and Nevada have already started preparing for worst-case scenarios and have begun offering monetary incentives for users taking less water than before.

Donovan said she had been to Paonia and Delta Saturday and Crested Butte and Salida Sunday as part of her town hall meetings to obtain comments and gauge concerns of local residents about water in their basins.
She said feedback gained from meetings such as the one in Salida will be used to take the voices of locals to Denver.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1225 (Federal Land Coordination) makes it through Senate Local Government Committee

Federal land and Indian reservations in Colorado
Federal land and Indian reservations in Colorado

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

House Bill 1225 – which already made its way through the House with overwhelming support – made it through the Senate Local Government Committee unanimously.

The legislation would require that the state assist local governments with coordinating with the federal government over land-use issues. Local governments would be able to apply for a grant through the Department of Local Affairs asking for technical assistance on such issues as drafting a memorandum of understanding.

“By driving it at the local government level, you have the communities who are impacted by the federal lands surrounding them, you have that flavor that local government brings to it,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The bill comes as sportsmen and conservationists are calling on the Legislature to reject efforts that would transfer federal lands over to the state’s authority. They believe HB 1225, by requiring federal land coordination, is a way to keep lands public.

Sportsmen and conservationists held a rally at the Capitol in February opposing Senate Bill 39, which would allow Colorado to have some legislative and taxing authority over federal public lands. The federal government currently holds exclusive authority over its public land. SB 39 would allow Colorado to exercise authority along with the federal government.

Opponents say Senate Bill 39 is a slippery slope towards transferring federal lands over to the state’s authority, which they fear would result in a mismanagement of the lands acquired by the state. That could cut into the economic benefits Colorado gains from hunting, fishing and other outdoor tourism activities, critics said.

SB 39 has been delayed, as its sponsor, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, works on a few issues. He said the purpose is simply to establish clear jurisdictional authority.

Lambert said lines are blurry in several instances, making it unclear who has the authority, either the federal government, or local jurisdictions. That could impact even criminal investigations, he said.

“What is now part of the state may still be under federal jurisdiction,” he said. “So, if there’s a crime committed there, the state may not be able to prosecute the crime because it’s a federal jurisdiction.”

Another measure addressing federal lands, Senate Bill 232, was introduced Monday. The bill would create a commission to study transferring public lands from the federal government to the state.

Roberts said her bill, HB 1225, has more to do with how to best coordinate when it comes to such issues as forest management, water rights and energy and other issues.

“As we struggle with poor forest health, energy development, water issues – all of this is recognizing that it hasn’t been a level playing field,” Roberts said. “The local governments could use some technical assistance … which is incredibly complex and often far removed.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: The South Platte Roundtable is supporting HB15-1178 (Emergency Well Pumping Damaging High Groundwater)

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Fence Post (Kayla Young):

Members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable have unanimously approved a recommendation to temporarily dewater the Gilcrest and LaSalle area, which gives a needed boost to House Bill 1178 to bring down the rising water table that has been flooding area homes and farmland.

The House agriculture committee had previously requested the roundtable’s input in order to move forward on the legislation.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, and Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, introduced the bill. Saine said the roundtable’s support establishes the framework necessary to accept dewatering recommendations and establish the estimated $450,000 to $500,000 in funding to dewater the zone for two years.

“The idea behind the bill is really to fix the problem that’s been generated by a change in water management,” Saine said, referring to wells that were shut off by the state in 2006. “This is a short-term solution that is desperately needed and is not being offered by any other venue.”

A potential well pumping site has been identified on a property managed by Harry Strohauer near Weld County Road 42, said Robert Longenbaugh, a water consultant engineer and member of the Groundwater Coalition.

The water pumped from this site will not be permitted for consumptive use. It will instead be directed to a drainage ditch that runs northeastward and eventually flows into the river.

To bring down the water table, Longenbaugh said the pump would run constantly throughout the year, generating an estimated electric bill of $25,000 a year. While temporary funding has been established to dewater through the end of June, Saine said she hopes most funding will come from the state.

Saine hopes to begin dewatering by April 1, when groundwater levels traditionally begin to rise again due to spring runoff and activity in irrigation ditches.

The Colorado Legislature will likely not have approved a final version of HB1178 by that time, so Saine and other dewatering advocates plan to begin pumping using independently procured funding until the state steps in.

“Groups have come forward with funding but a majority should come from the state general fund because the state caused this problem due to a change in water management,” Saine said.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said the vote was the first time in his six years on the roundtable that a unanimous decision was reached on a proposal.

“This is the quickest, fastest way to address issues affecting Gilcrest,” he said.

While the water table has been rising and causing damage for several years now, Conway said recent cases of flooded basements and compromised farmland have made addressing the situation unavoidable.

“You cannot deny it anymore. When someone has a basement flooded, that’s real. That’s not hypothetical,” he said.

Longenbaugh said meetings will take place next week with Colorado State University and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District to further define which wells to pump and how to monitor them. The data taken from wells pumped this year could contribute to the creation of a long-term solution.

While dewatering will provide temporary relief, Saine emphasized that it is still necessary to identify the underlying causing of the high water table in order to develop a true solution.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1259 (#RainBarrel) passes final House vote 45 to 20 #coleg

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradan:

The bill allows homeowners to collect up to 110 gallons in rain barrels.

Colorado’s rain-barrel ban is little known and widely flouted, with rain barrels for sale at many home-gardening stores and commonly used by home gardeners.

But the barrels technically violate Colorado water law, which says that people don’t own the water that runs on or through their property. They can use the water, but they can’t keep it.

Colorado’s law banning rain barrels was amended in 2009 to allow use by people with their own wells. But the change didn’t apply to municipal water users.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The measure addresses what some believe to be an antiquated prohibition on collecting and storing rainwater from roofs in Colorado.

“Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, who co-sponsored the bill. “I’m glad to see so much bipartisan support for this common-sense bill.”

The measure was amended to allow individuals to keep rain from their roof in up to two 55-gallon rain barrels for use in their garden or on their lawn. The bill started at two rain barrels with a combined storage of 100 gallons, but lawmakers decided to slightly raise the number.

Sponsors pointed out that an estimated 97 percent of water that falls on residential property never ends up in a river or stream system.

But critics say the measure would steal water rights from downstream users. They say water does not belong to someone simply because it fell on a roof. Instead, the water is return flow that someone downstream has a right to, especially if that water is being stored, say critics.

Republican Reps. Don Coram of Montrose and J. Paul Brown of Ignacio both voted against the measure. Coram said the bill serves as a literal slippery slope, suggesting that what starts as roof collection could end in allowing Coloradans to collect rainwater off their entire property.

“We keep nibbling away on the prior appropriation doctrine, and you know you eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Coram said, referring to the system in Colorado in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.

“I object more to changing the process,” Coram added.

The bill would also set standards for rain barrels, including mandating screens to filter out debris and insects.

Sponsors estimated that with two 55-gallon barrels, residents cold capture more than 600 gallons of water each year.

Environmental groups praised the bill as another step towards conservation.

“While the amount of water saved is modest, having rain barrels in yards around the state will serve as an important tool to increase Coloradans’ knowledge of our limited rainfall and water supply,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “This common-sense step should help people understand the need for smart water conservation policies.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In the 1894 hit song “Playmate, Come Out and Play With Me,” the rain barrel is forever lodged in our collective consciousness right between the apple tree and cellar door.

But Colorado has waited 121 years since then for the use of rain barrels to become legal.

On Monday, the state House took the first step toward legal rain collection with the passage of HB1259, which would allow collection of up to 110 gallons in two 55-gallon drums. The bill passed 45-20 and now heads to the state Senate.

“Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” said state Rep. Daneya Esgar, who co-sponsored the legislation. “I’m glad to see so much bipartisan support for this common-sense bill.”

She sponsored the bill after hearing people talk about rainwater collection.

“It makes more sense to collect the water and use it when it’s needed,” Esgar said. “Really, the purpose is to get people to talk about water use and to be conscious of it.”

Colorado’s ban on rain barrels can be traced back to the state constitution and subsequent court cases that prohibit any sort of detention of water upstream from a senior right. It’s the same concept that poses a dilemma when considering flood detention structures.

Has the rain-barrel ban been rigorously enforced?

“Not that I can recall,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte. “I would say it’s been rarely enforced. If people ask, there is a policy on (the Division of Water Resources) website.”

A 2009 state law (SB80) authorized the use of rain barrels in connection with other water rights. Another 2009 bill (HB1129) authorized pilot projects for rainwater harvesting. So far, the proposed Sterling Ranch development in Douglas County has been the only applicant.

HB1259 would allow any single-family residence or multifamily residences with four or fewer units to collect rainwater. Rainwater could only be used on lawns or in gardens, and would not be allowed as drinking water or for any other indoor uses. Barrels also would be required to have a sealable lid.

Opponents of the bill said it opened the door to other forms of capturing water before it reaches downstream users. Supporters argued that 97 percent of the water on residential lots never makes it into the stream system anyway.

If the rain-barrel law passes, homeowners will have a new source of water for that apple tree, while keeping rain from sliding down the cellar door.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-183 (Quantify Water Rights Historical Consumptive Use) passes Senate assigned to House Ag committee #coleg

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

he Colorado Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a water bill that made some Western Slope lawmakers a bit uneasy.

The measure, [SB15-183], requires water court judges, when considering changes in water uses, to decide based on actual historical use of that water, rather than uses not approved by a prior water decree.

Several Western Slope lawmakers from both parties questioned why such a bill would be necessary, saying it allows water rights owners who use water for unapproved purposes to get away with that illegal use.

“We have water courts for a reason,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango. “Water courts are highly trained to deal with technical issues. This bill basically is skipping over the water courts system and coming here to the Legislature to try and get a legislative result, as compared to having it well considered in the court system that, again, is trained to deal with these kinds of things.”

Supporters of the measure said the bill is designed to give direction to water court judges based on a recent Colorado Supreme Court decision in a case between Dick Wolfe, the state’s water engineer, and the Sedalia Water and Sanitation District over the district’s historical use of water.

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and a sponsor of the bill, said it’s the Legislature’s job to give direction to the courts when there is undefined law on an issue.

“The question here is, do we want a consistent use of water, a consistent means of determining what the volume or quantity of that water is, as the Supreme Court did in the Sedalia case?” Sonnenberg said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, is clarify what they have asked us (about) what should and should not be used in quantifying a water right in a change of use.”

Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, said the bill rewards water users who use that water for unapproved uses.

The bill has support from virtually every water group in the state except the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

In the end, only eight senators voted against the bill, including Donovan, Roberts and Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican whose district includes Garfield County. It now heads to the House for more hearings.

In a related matter, the House approved a water bill Tuesday that allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to acquire water rights for up to 12 pilot projects to measure efficiency savings for instream flow use.

The pilot projects would take at least 10 years to complete.

The bill heads to the Senate for more debate.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Water dominates [Four States Ag Expo] talks — The Cortez Journal

Montezuma Valley
Montezuma Valley

From The Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

Addressing less than 10 people at the Four States Ag Expo on Saturday, March 21, Colorado Representative J. Paul Brown said his top legislative issue was water storage. He’s introduced HB 1157, a bill to study water storage on the South Platte River.

A member of the House Agriculture Committee, Brown said the bill had received broad support, even from environmentalists. He added that sending water from the state’s Western Slope via transcontinental diversion had to be addressed. Since 2010, 2.5 million acre feet of water has been sent out of state on the South Platte River, Brown said.

“We don’t have anymore water to send down,” the District 59 representative proclaimed.

Much of the American west has experienced drought-like conditions in 11 of the past 14 years. Scientists have warned the area could be entering a 35-year mega drought.

“I keep hoping that we’re getting out of the drought,” said Brown. “I’m an eternal optimist. You have to be as a farmer.”

A life-long sheep rancher in Ignacio, Colo., Brown said the worst drought he experienced came in 2002.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but storage is the answer,” said Brown.

Brown added the agriculture committee had received lots of water concerns. He explained a balance was necessary between demands from environmentalists calling for more in-stream flow regulations, for example, and agriculture needs.

“Agriculture is the second leading industry in state at $40 billion,” said Brown. “That’s why we need to store water on the South Platte.”

During the informal agriculture summit discussion, one man questioned Environmental Protection Agency actions.

“The EPA wants a complete power grab,” responded Brown.

Indicating the federal government would control water collected in potholes if they could, Brown said the state would have to be remain vigilant against additional regulations and oversight.

“When they control water, then they control you,” Brown warned.

More 2015 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1259 passes House #coleg #RainBarrel

2015 Colorado legislation: Bills on Colorado ski-area water, mineral rights do a face plant in Legislature — Denver Business Journal


From the Denver Business Journal (Ed Sealover):

Democrats on the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Monday killed Senate Bills 64 and 93, both sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, on party-line votes.

SB 93 would have required local governments to compensate mineral-rights owners for imposing new regulations that limited the use of their land, while SB 64 would have banned the federal government from requiring ski resorts to hand over their water rights in exchange for permits to use federal land.

Democratic leaders had complained that SB 64 was unenforceable and was moot after the federal government stopped requiring such concessions several years ago, and they claimed that SB 93 established a takings principle that only courts are allowed to interpret.

But Rep. Jon Becker, the Fort Morgan Republican who acted as the House sponsor for both bills, said afterward that Democrats “have set a dangerous precedent for all property owners in Colorado by granting their misguided ideology more weight than private property rights.”

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Senate Bill 93 would have offered a means for mineral-rights owners to claim compensation from a local government if that government reduced the value of the owner’s royalties by at least 60 percent.

The measure previously made its way through the Republican-controlled Senate but was rejected on a party-line vote by the Democratic-controlled House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

A second measure, House Bill 1119, would have also held a local government liable for the value of lost royalties if that government enacted laws that limited natural-gas and oil extraction. That measure was also killed by the House earlier in the session.

Supporters said the issue had to do with property rights. Colorado is still grappling with the controversial issue of fracking after a task force recommended only modest steps to address local control over rules and regulations.

“We can all agree that in the state of Colorado these mineral rights are as much of a property right as the property you have in your home,” said Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, who sponsored SB 93. “If we do not allow access, then they should be just compensated for the loss of use of those rights as if they were a taking.”

The state currently holds the authority to enact rules and regulations. But several local governments have taken matters into their own hands through ordinances and voter initiatives. Those actions have setup legal battles.

Residents are threatening to once again take the issue to the ballot in 2016 since the oil and gas task force did not take concrete steps.

Mineral-rights owners worry that a ban on fracking in local communities would result in an elimination of their property.

But environmentalists and homeowners spoke of the health, safety, environmental and nuisance factors associated with fracking, including loud noise and the fear of contaminating groundwater with chemicals that are injected into the ground along with sand and water to break open natural-gas and oil deposits underground.

“The point of government is to balance the rights of some people with the rights of other people,” said Jen Bolton, representing both the Audubon Society and Colorado Trout Unlimited. “If you take away the ability of a community to regulate, you take away the ability to solve those sort of issues.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Two groundwater bills, no solutions to high groundwater near Gilcrest yet

South Platte River alluvial aquifer
South Platte River alluvial aquifer

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

Among the bills awaiting action (and funding) in the House are House Bill 15-1013 and HB 1178. The latter would take $500,000 over two years from general funds and put it into an “emergency dewatering grant account.” If the bill makes it to the governor’s desk and is signed, then the money, under the control of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), could be used to start emergency pumping of wells permitted for dewatering in the Gilcrest and LaSalle areas. Those areas are experiencing high groundwater that has damaged crops, flooded basements and streets.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, one of the bill’s sponsors, told this reporter she sought the legislation as a short-term fix to the groundwater problems for residents in her district. It is “the only short-term solution available for Gilcrest and surrounding areas,” she said this week.

Saine pointed out that her bill has the support of the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

But her bill is at odds with another that is intended to address the high groundwater problem in her district and in Sterling.

HB 1013 comes from the annual interim Water Resource Review Committee, of which Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is a member. Sonnenberg is the Senate sponsor of HB 1013, along with Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. In the House, HB 1013 is sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. It passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee in late January.

Both bills arise from the 2013 CWCB report that recommended local solutions for high groundwater problems in Gilcrest/LaSalle and north from Sterling to Julesburg, rather than a one-size-fits-all plan.

HB 1013, also awaiting action from the House Appropriations Committee, would require the CWCB to conduct a study that would test alternative methods for lowering the water table along the South Platte near the Gilcrest/LaSalle and Sterling areas. The bill sets up application and approval criteria for the pilot projects, which would last four years. The bill also deals with related issues, such as augmentation plans and recharge structures (ponds or ditches).

HB 1013 sets up a lengthy process for the pilot projects, starting with a 45 days’ notice for proposed criteria and public comment. Another 75 days is allotted for comments on the pilot project applications. Once the CWCB approves the applications, another 35 days is available for appeals.

Should it become law, the bill wouldn’t go into effect until around Aug. 5. That contrasts with the timelines for HB 1178, which addresses the problem only in Gilcrest. Because HB 1178 has what’s known as a safety clause, if signed, it would go into effect immediately.

“Had 1013 addressed the immediate problem of flooding basements and potential health and safety issues, I would not have run 1178,” Saine said this week. Testimony given during the HB 1178’s March 2 hearing indicated that pumping could start as soon as April 15.

But the emergency dewatering plan wasn’t supported by the water resources review committee. During their Sept. 30, 2014, meeting, then-Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, commented that if action was not taken soon, those affected by the high groundwater problems would take legal action. “We owe it to the people of Colorado” to solve this problem with a smart approach, Brophy said. Dewatering wells take out the water “and dump it in the river, which I think is a waste of water. How can that be okay if it’s not okay to pull it out for beneficial use?”

Coram, during the January hearing on HB 1013, said dewatering was not the solution. HB 1013 is not the only solution, he said, “but it’s a start.”

HB 1013 has another important distinction: its cost. While HB 1178 seeks $500,000 in general funds, which come from income and sales tax, HB 1013 seeks less than $100,000 over two years for evaluation of the pilot projects. Sonnenberg told this reporter this week he is attempting to get those dollars from the CWCB construction fund rather than tapping into the general fund.

HB 1013 does not address the costs for implementing the plan that would come from the pilot projects.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Rainwater catchments bill passes out of House ag committee

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From The Denver Post (Anna Gauldin):

A bill that would allow residential rainwater collection sailed through a committee hearing Monday, making headway in Colorado’s decades-old water rights battle.

House Bill 1259 passed the Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee 8-5 and now advances to the full House.

“We’re simply wanting to allow people to collect the rain that falls off of their rooftops … to put back into the earth,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.

The proposal would limit total barrel size to 100 gallons per residence. Proponents say that the average homeowner could collect about 600 gallons of water annually to water their lawns or gardens.

That amount of water could sustain a vegetable garden or a flower bed, according to Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates, who testified for the legislation.

“One of the most important things this bill accomplishes is putting urban and suburban water users in the mind frame of conservation,” said co-sponsor Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge.

Esgar said people already use rain barrels and were shocked to find out it’s illegal. Beckwith said Colorado is the only state to prohibit residential collection of rain.

Colorado’s water rights system — known as “first in time, first in right” — emerged during the mining booms of the 19th century. Using that rhetoric, people argue that collecting rainwater prevents it from reaching rivers, violating the rights of downstream users.

“It’s a violation of the doctrine of prior appropriations,” said Pat Ratliff of the South Metro Water Authority. “It’s not their water (to use). It’s a return flow that somebody downstream has a senior right to.”

From CBS Denver:

Lawmakers are working to change a decades-old law that prohibits Coloradans from collecting rainwater.
It’s currently against the law — in almost all cases — to put a bucket by a downspout and catch the rain because that water is the property of people downstream. But a bill changes water rights, allowing homeowners to store up to 100 gallons of rain at a time.

It’s been illegal to collect rain in Colorado for more than a century. It can be directed by changing gutters or grading, but it can’t be collected.

“Many people I’ve spoken to think I’m joking when I tell them that the collecting of the rain off of your roof is illegal,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.

Esgar and Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, say it’s time the law changed. A recent study found 97 percent of rain doesn’t even make it to a stream because it’s absorbed by vegetation or evaporates.
Esgar and Danielson say homeowners ought to be able to collect and use the water where they need it most, as long as they put it back into the ground.

“Water collected through this bill will not even be enough to water the average blue grass lawn in Colorado even once,” Esgar said.

“Anytime that you manipulate that system — any — it affects somebody,” rancher Jim Yahn said.

Yahn says the study looked at only a small natural area in Douglas County, not municipal runoff. He says even a little water makes a big difference.

“There are people waiting in line for that water, and if they don’t get that little influx from a rainfall event, then they don’t get that water that they are going to put on their crops, that they’re going to use to offset their well pumping,” Yahn said.

Supporters insist the bill will result in more water for everyone by encouraging conservation.

“Perhaps when they see how little water 100 gallons really is, they’ll think twice about how much water they’re using when they turn that faucet on and it comes pouring out to water their lawns,” Danielson said.

Under the bill Coloradans can only use the rain collected outside — on flowers for example.

The state is in the middle of a 10-year study of rain harvesting in both urban and rural areas. Opponents say lawmakers should wait until that’s done.

The bill passed committee Monday and is headed to the full House.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Microbead ban (HB15-1144) passes on unrecorded voice vote #coleg

2015 Colorado legislation: “Flex bill drowns in committee” — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A pared-down flex marketing bill meant to encourage alternative transfers of water swirled away in committee last week.

The Senate agriculture committee voted 5-4 to kill the bill, despite testimony in favor of HB1038, which passed in the state House last month.

The revised bill restricted the flex right to a 10-year trial period in the South Platte River basin to avoid opposition from the Western Slope and Arkansas River basins.

Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, voted against the bill.

In the Arkansas River basin, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District had condemned the bill as another form of buy-anddry, while The Pueblo Chieftain editorialized against the legislation.

Attorney Andy Jones compared the bill to an urban setting where the owners of rent-controlled apartments could keep their valuable capital asset by agreeing to rent out only half to high-end renters.

“This provides the opportunity for the agricultural user to change his water right up to the 50 percent level,” Jones said.

While some who had objected to last year’s flex regulation because it appeared to foster speculation — illegal under Colorado water law — backers of the bill thought those questions had been answered. The new bill required specific end users, kept water in its basin of origin and prevented “stacking” a court decree with a substitute water supply plan.

Todd Doherty, Boulder water resources manager, said the bill would not foster buy-and-dry and was needed in the South Platte.

“Water market prices are heating up for permanent transfers,” Doherty said. “This approach could be helpful.”

But there were indications at the hearing that the bill would not stay in the South Platte. Dick Brown, lobbyist for the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, said he was “disappointed” the bill would not apply in the Arkansas River basin as well and joked that his clients might apply for “de-annexation” if flex marketing proved beneficial.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products) ban moves on the State Senate

Graphic via
Graphic via

From KWGN (David Mitchell):

Some lawmakers want to ban the plastic beads found in some personal care products like face wash, toothpaste and hand sanitizer. They do not dissolve in water and are building up in Colorado’s lakes and rivers through wastewater.

The measure would slowly phase out products containing plastic bits by 2020. Major personal care product manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson back the measure and are already voluntarily removing the beads.

Skincare expert Amber Martinez says not only would the ban help the environment, but also your skin.

“A lot of over-the-counter products aren’t really going to give you a nice exfoliation like you would think they are,” she explained. “They do want to give you the illusion that you are exfoliating because a lot of people feel like when you have that rough texture on your skin they’re doing some benefits.”

Martinez says active ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids are really the most important thing in choosing a skin care product.

This measure has already cleared the Colorado House. It now moves on to the Colorado Senate. Two other states, Illinois and New Jersey have already passed similar bans.​

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Farm to farm leasing bill to be introduced

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow farmers to lease water to other farmers under rotational fallowing programs, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, is being planted in the state Legislature.

The bill does not yet have a number, but will be co-sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and Rep. Ed. Vigil, D-Fort Garland.

“We think it’s going to help farmers in the Arkansas River basin solve their own problems,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The bill would modify HB1248, signed into law in 2013, to add agricultural, environmental, industrial and recreational uses to a state pilot program that allows 10 projects throughout Colorado. Three of those can be located in any one basin.

Pilot projects are overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and limited to fallowing only 30 percent of any given farm at a time for three years out of 10.

The bill allows only agricultural to municipal transfers, however. It passed in response to statewide concerns about a gap in future municipal water supplies.

The Lower Ark district funded a 2011 study that shows the agricultural demand for temporary water supplies — primarily water for augmentation of well- or surface-fed sprinklers — could be as much as 58,000 acre-feet (16 billion gallons) more each year by 2050.

There already is competition for supplemental water from traditional sources such as the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Aurora and Colorado Springs Utilities.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch formed in 2008 as a way to pool the resources of Arkansas Valley canals to keep them from getting picked off by cities.

The Super Ditch is the only applicant under HB1248. It plans to lease up to 500 acre-feet of water to Fountain, Security and Fowler by drying up parts of 1,128 acres on seven farms on the Catlin Canal.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1038 (Flexible Water Markets), “It still looks like there’s still a speculation issue” — Jay Winner

Rocky Ford Ditch
Rocky Ford Ditch

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Legislation purporting to offer more options for farmers appears to be just another way to dry up more farms in the eyes of a district set up to protect Arkansas Valley water.

The bill, House Bill 1038, would create a flexible water market right that would allow farmers to lease half their water to cities, recreation activities or even other farms. While it says it would keep water in farming, the district thinks it might do just the opposite.

“The way it was introduced, we just weren’t that interested,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “But to me, it looks like another form of buy-and-dry. We don’t understand the need for it.”

Winner said the legislation, backed by water interests in the South Platte, would harm the Arkansas River basin by allowing 10 consecutive years of the entire consumptive use from a farm to be moved to other uses. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch plans a pilot program this year that limits leases to just three years in 10.

“It still looks like there’s still a speculation issue,” Winner added. “We’re right back where we were last year on this same issue.”

The legislation passed the state House by a 42-22 vote on Feb. 10 and is now in the Senate.

The measure was substantially modified in the House agriculture committee and now includes a 10-year pilot program which would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board and state engineer to evaluate the need and effectiveness of flex marketing.

The bill limits the number of flex use water rights in any given basin to 10 water court applications and 10 substitute water supply plans for the pilot program’s first 10 years.

It also allows for drying up farmland five years in every 10 in order to move the consumptive use portion of the water for uses other than irrigation of the property served by the water right.

Winner thinks there is a potential to “stack” the court and administrative routes, since nothing in the law prevents it.

The bill still prohibits transfers from one basin to another and includes a provision for fixed points of delivery — an attempt to comply with the state’s anti-speculation doctrine. However, Winner is concerned one point, such as Lake Pueblo, could still open use of the water to multiple users.

The fiscal note by Legislative Council attached to the bill indicates there could be increased water court caseload over time because water rights holders would be able to more easily sell water rights to other users and the number of change-inuse applications would increase.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here

2015 Colorado legislation: Amended SB15-064 (Application Of State Water Law To Federal Agencies) passes out of committee

From The Yuma Pioneer (Marianne Goodland):

Don Brown of Yuma is just one vote away from becoming Colorado’s newest Commissioner of Agriculture.

Brown won unanimous confirmation from the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resource and Energy Committee on February 12. He was joined by his mother, wife, three children and two grandchildren.

Former Commissioner Don Ament of Iliff also stood with Brown during the hearing, as did outgoing Commissioner John Salazar.

With Sonnenberg as its chair, shenanigans in the ag committee were to be expected, and the committee did not disappoint. They played a practical joke on Brown and the governor’s staff by voting 5-4 to turn down the nomination. Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, said she couldn’t vote for a member of the United Methodist Church (Guzman is a United Methodist minister), and other committee members came up silly reasons to reject the nomination. Said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, “I grew up in Yuma. I’m sorry, no.” And Sonnenberg wrapped it up. “I guess I don’t have the control and power I thought I had,” which led the committee to then solicit nominations for ag commissioner from the audience.

After a good laugh by all, the committee voted unanimously to send Brown’s nomination to the full Senate for confirmation, with hearty congratulations and warm welcomes to Brown and his family…

Sonnenberg had a pretty good day on February 12 with his committee. In addition to marshaling Brown’s nomination, he got approval for two bills that have been on his radar for several years.

Senate Bill 15-064 would prohibit the US Forest Service and federal Bureau of Land Management from attempting to supersede Colorado water law by putting conditions on special permits that include water rights.

The issue dates back to late 2011, when the US Forest Service issued a directive to require water rights from those who lease federal lands for ski operations or grazing. The Forest Service claimed they wanted the rights to protect them should a ski area decide to sell them, although that has never happened in Colorado. In 2012, a federal judge ruled against the Forest Service, not on the merits of the case, but because the agency failed to follow its own rules. The Forest Service withdrew the directive.

Last year, the Forest Service issued three directives on water rights, including a new one on the ski area water rights that bears little difference from the 2011 directive. Kristen Moseley, a water rights attorney representing the Colorado Water Congress and several Colorado water authorities, told the ag committee Thursday that the Forest Service directives imply that the Forest Service owns water rights by virtue of owning the land. These water rights have already been adjudicated, Moseley said. SB 64 will protect Colorado water rights, she said.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), also testified in support of SB 64. The CWCB is an agency of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Several environmental groups testified in opposition to SB 64, including the Audubon Society and Western Resource Advocates (WRA). Jen Bolton of the Audubon Society said the bill conflicts with federal law, and attorney Rob Harris of WRA testified that the bill was overly broad and that the proper place for resolving the issue is through a negotiated settlement rather than state law.

The bill passed on an 8-1 vote and goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1167 (South Platte River Mainstem Storage Study)

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

HB15-1167 is up for hearing tomorrow in the House Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources committee. The bill is the brainchild of J. Paul Brown representing District 59 down in southwestern Colorado. It would direct the CWCB to study the feasibility of new mainstem storage on the South Platte River downstream from Greeley. It also directs the CWCB to utilize existing studies of the possibility of pumping water from the Missouri River Basin back to Colorado. I suppose he’s talking about the USACE’s alternative to Aaron Million’s pipeline from the Green River or the Kansas Aqueduct project.

The bill calls out the Narrows Dam Project (650,000 AF) that was authorized by the US Congress but never built for a number of reasons, most of which would be faced by any new mainstem project.

Senator Sonnenberg shows up as the Senate sponsor.

Here’s what Representative Brown had to say on the subject in the Pagosa Daily Post:

My time in the legislature is challenging and exciting. I am working hard on my bills as well as keeping up on my committee bills and the bills that come to the floor. I actually have a little advantage over other legislators in that my apartment is half a block from the Capitol, so all of my time, when I am not sleeping, showering, or attending receptions, is spent reading and preparing for action on bills.

My number one issue is water storage and primarily storage in the South Platte drainage in Colorado. Why on the South Platte? Because that is the one drainage on the eastern side of Colorado that regularly has water that leaves the state that can legally be stored and used in Colorado. When I was in the legislature in 2011 and 2012 I started paying attention to the water in the South Platte Basin that was leaving the state. There were two years in particular where over 1,000,000 acre feet per year were wasted, another where 600,000 acre feet left the state, and even today there is excess water running out of the state that could be used to augment other water needs in Colorado. If we could store that water, it would help to satisfy the demand on the Front Range and relieve the need to send water from the Western Slope to the more populated Eastern side of the Continental Divide.

For the past many years I have been learning all I can about water, water law, water compacts with other states, and everything else related to water that I could possibly learn. I started at a young age when my parents were paid to measure the water at the Colorado/New Mexico state line on the La Plata River South of Hesperus, Colorado. On most early mornings before I caught the bus for school I would measure the amount of water in the river. That information was then relayed to the water authorities in both states where ditches were closed or opened depending on their priority. I have monitored Governor Hickenlooper‚s „water plan‰ and have attended as many Water Roundtable meetings as I could possibly make. I have attended the Colorado Water Congress meetings amongst the most knowledgeable water lawyers and providers in Colorado.

I still have much to learn.

Everywhere I go I have asked folks about storage on the South Platte. The more I have learned, the more it became evident that all of the information needed to make good decisions on where and how to store water was scattered in many different places. I decided that it was necessary to pull all of that information together and that the easiest way to do so is to run a bill. That bill is HB15- 1167. It will be heard in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee upon adjournment on the 18th of February.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: Colorado Corn Growers support 3 more bills #coleg

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From Colorado Corn Growers via the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

The Colorado Corn Growers Association’s Public Policy Committee voted recently to put its support behind three more bills during the 2015 Colorado Legislative Session, bringing the total number of bills the group is supporting to six.

These bills focus on a variety of issues, covering pesticide applicator rules, mineral rights, road regulations, water and renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the group is monitoring a number of other bills, and considering support or opposition for those as well, as the 2015 Colorado Legislative Session moves forward.
The three bills that CCGA’s Public Policy Committee most recently voted to support include:

• Senate Bill 15-119, “Sunset Pesticide Applicator”—The existing Colorado Pesticide Applicator Act expires in September of this year. This bill would renew the Pesticide Applicator Act, and also implement recommendations made by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

• Senate Bill 15-093, “Compensate Owners Min Interests Extraction Regs”—Whenever a local government adopts or implements an ordinance, resolution, rule or regulation concerning mineral extraction that would reduce the fair market value of the owner’s mineral interest by at least 60 percent, this bill would specify that owner’s interest is deemed to have been taken for public use. This bill would then allow the impacted mineral owners to obtain compensation from the local government for the full diminution in the fair market value of the owner’s interest caused by the regulatory impairment.

• Senate Bill 15-023, “Off-highway Vehicle State Highway”—Currently, off-highway vehicles may cross streets, roads or highways if the driver complies with certain snowmobile statutory standards. This bill would import the snowmobile standards into the off-highway vehicle statutes. The bill also clarifies that a driver may cross a state highway if the driver complies with these standards.

Learn more about these bills and others that the Colorado Corn Growers Association is following at

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products) passes second reading in House

Graphic via
Graphic via

From the Associated Press (Kristen Wyatt) via The Denver Post:

Colorado may be the latest state to ban tiny plastic particles that are often included in soaps and cosmetic products.

The so-called “microbeads” turn up in face scrubs, acne treatments and toothpaste. The particles are too fine to be caught in wastewater treatment plants, and the plastic bits can pollute lakes and rivers.

A Colorado bill to ban the microbeads by 2020 has won preliminary approval in the House and faces a final vote before heading to the Senate.

“These tiny plastic beads are washed directly down the drain and into our water systems, where they harm our waterways and the animals that live there,” said Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield and sponsor of the bill.

The microbeads are about the size of fish eggs and can be swallowed by aquatic life, leaving them with plastic bits they can’t digest.

The microbeads ban has the backing of large personal-care product manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson. The companies supporting the ban say they are already replacing plastic microbeads with biodegradable exfoliators.

“Once they heard there was a problem with the water-treatment facilities, they thought, whoa, what can we do differently?” said Cathy Wanstrath, a lobbyist for the Personal Care Products Council, which represents the manufacturers.

Two other states have already banned microbeads. Dozens more states are considering joining Illinois and New Jersey.

“We’re trying as an association to get this introduced and passed in as many states as possible,” Wanstrath told Colorado lawmakers.

The measure faced some skepticism from Republicans, though some voted for it. Those that didn’t said that if makers of the soaps and lotions are already taking out plastic bits, there doesn’t need to be a law banning them.

“Market forces should control this, more than the industry cutting a deal with the environmental people,” said Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton.

California legislators rejected a ban last year. A microbeads ban has been proposed in Congress without coming to a vote.

Question for Rep. Everett: Can you name an instance where market forces mitigated or better yet eliminated a water pollution problem?

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here

2015 Colorado legislation: House approves ‘flex-use’ water bill [HB15-1038] — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Several Western Slope lawmakers didn’t get their way Tuesday on a bill that is designed to prevent so-called buy-and-dry tactics on water rights for farms and ranches.

While supporters of the measure, HB1038, say it gives water rights owners more flexibility in selling a portion of their water for other beneficial uses, opponents said it forgets water rights owners who aren’t parties in those sales.

The bill, which cleared the Colorado House on a bipartisan 42-22 vote, creates a “flex use” change in water decrees, which supporters say is designed to create a different option for water suppliers from buying agricultural water rights and then diverting that water from a farm or ranch.

But opponents said it has the potential to impact other water users, and would force them into water court to resolve issues created by those new flex decrees.

“The way water law works right now is, if you want to change the use then you go to water court and you prove that it’s not going to damage any other water right,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio. “What this bill does is, it does away with that process and bypasses the water courts. It will force legitimate water rights owners to go to water court if they feel like their water rights have been devalued.”

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the bill will end up doing the opposite of what it’s intended, saying that such decrees will increase the value of water and spur more sales for municipal uses, leading more farms and ranches to stop producing and dry up their lands as a result.

At the same time, it will harm farmers and ranchers who want to continue in agriculture but aren’t parties to those flex agreements because it will force them to go to court to protect their water rights.

“They don’t know if they’re going to have enough money to farm the next year, and if they are damaged they certainly don’t have the resources to bring it to water court,” Coram said.

Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, said that’s not going to happen because water owners still have to carve out agreements that keep the water for beneficial uses. At the same time, the bill will help address the growing need for municipal water in growing Front Range communities without drying up nearby farms and ranches, she said.

“We’re helping preserve agriculture and rural Colorado, addressing the state’s water needs and conserving our more precious natural resource,” she said.

The measure heads to the Senate for more debate.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1038 (Flexible Water Markets) moves out of committee

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From Colorado Public Radio (Megan Verlee):

The state House moved forward Tuesday with a bill [HB15-1038] intended to make Colorado’s water markets more flexible.

The measure would make it easier for some farmers and ranchers to transfer part of their water rights to other uses. If they found ways to conserve water in their agricultural operations, they’d be able to sell the excess to cities or other users.

“Currently you have to use your entire water right or you stand a chance of losing it. So there’s no incentive to conserve,” said Democratic Representative Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins.

Arndt said the goal is to find new ways to address the state’s growing need to for water.

The bill would limit the number of flexible water rights available statewide. The House approved it with bipartisan support. Western slope lawmakers, though, are concerned about its potential impact on water markets.

The measure now heads to the state Senate, which rejected a similar proposal last year.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-130 (Assist Conservation Easement Tax Credit Buyers) dies in committee

Saguache Creek
Saguache Creek

From The Denver Post (David Migoya):

A bill that aimed to offer relief to taxpayers who bought into the early days of Colorado’s conservation easement program and were blind-sided years later by hefty penalties was defeated in committee Tuesday.

The bill, SB-130, by Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, met with stern opposition from state revenue officials who said taxpayers who purchased millions of dollars worth of easement tax credits were on their own, and the state shouldn’t have to fix their errors.

“This bill would place the government in the middle of a financial transaction between two private parties, and that is an area we should not occupy,” said John Vecchiarelli, Colorado’s director of taxation at the Department of Revenue. “Those responsible should be held accountable and the people of the state should not have to provide that relief.”

The Senate Finance Committee voted 5-0 to defeat the measure despite acknowledgments of testimony from taxpayers who were forced to pay as much as 10 times the original amount of their income tax bill.

“It’s our obligation to pay taxes so government works, but don’t do it in a way that makes me feel robbed,” said Julius Medgyesy, who runs Front Range Cancer Specialists in Fort Collins. “We’ve done nothing wrong in trusting a government program.”

At issue were millions of dollars in tax credits given to landowners in return for preserving their property from future development. The tax credits could be sold and taxpayers bought them at a discount and used them against their personal tax liability.

The first years of the program were not policed by the state and credits were claimed on donations whose underlying appraisals were grossly inflated — some by as much as 166,000 percent, state officials said.

Credit buyers learned of the abuses and poor appraisals years after they’d already used the credits, only to learn they had to pay the state their original tax debt. Worse, the landowners they’d bought the credits from no longer had the cash to repay the buyers and their land was now virtually worthless, stuck in the conservation easement forever.

“We are left taking bankrupt or broke landowners to court to collect money that’s no longer there,” testified Mark Heiden of Fort Collins. “What’s been fair to the credit buyers? Nothing. I’ve paid 150 percent to the state of what my normal tax liability would have been. The landowners got my money and spent it. The state got the rest.”

Senators said they struggled between an obvious injustice and the state’s liability to cover the taxpayers’ losses.

“This was a troubling afternoon of testimony,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. “We have those who supported (a program) and got short-changed on their investment, and that’s unfortunate and catastrophic. But the challenge is I can’t fit it into the precedent of the state’s obligation to correct it for them.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products) moves out of committee

Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago
Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago

From (Theresa Marchetta, Sandra Barry):

A bill that would ban the production, sale, and promotion of any personal care product containing microbeads moved forward Tuesday at the State Capitol.

State Representative Dianne Primavera (D-Broomfield) and State Senator Nancy Todd (D-Aurora) introduced HB15-1144, which would be implemented over several years to take full effect in 2020, with penalties for violations as high as $10,000.

The House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee, which Primavera chairs, voted Tuesday afternoon to approve the bill.

In May 2014, the CALL7 Investigators were first to expose concerns over microbeads in Colorado water. That investigation confirmed the plastic particles — which are found in some toothpastes, face washes, body washes, shampoos, eyeliners, lip glosses and deodorants — had made their way through state filtration systems and into the South Platte River. The CALL7 Investigators sent water samples from the South Platte to a specialized lab in Marietta, Ga., which found microbeads made of polypropylene, a type of plastic. The toxic particles can be consumed by fish, and ultimately, by humans…

In 2014, Illinois became the first state to ban microbeads. At least five other states have either pending or approved legislation banning or significantly minimizing their use.

The Federal Drug Administration has approved microbead use in personal care products, but some dental professionals say they’re concerned not only about the impact on the environment, but on the consumers who use products containing microbeads…

In September, Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Crest toothpaste, confirmed plans to remove microbeads from most of its products within six months — and from all of its products by March 2016. Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, and Colgate have made similar commitments. Primavera said Johnson & Johnson approached her to propose HB15-1144.

The bill moves next to a vote on the House floor.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here

Wolfe v. Sedalia average annual historical use decision from the Colorado Supreme Court

Plum Creek near Sedalia
Plum Creek near Sedalia

Back at the end of January I was howling with other water wonks at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention. The case, Wolfe v. Sedalia, Historical Beneficial Consumptive Use Calculation — Change of Water Right And Augmentation Plan Decree — Claim And Issue Preclusion – Prolonged Unjustified Period of Nonuse was a topic of discussion by many in the hallways in between sessions.

The decision came down yesterday from the Colorado Supreme Court. Here’s an excerpt:

JUSTICE HOBBS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

This appeal concerns the historical beneficial consumptive use quantification of an 1872 irrigation right in a change of water right and augmentation plan proceeding involving water diverted from West Plum Creek in the South Platte River system, Water Division No. 1. Sedalia Water and Sanitation District (“Sedalia”) is the current owner of a portion of that water right, which it acquired from Owens Brothers Concrete Company (“Owens Concrete”). The State and Division Engineers (“the Engineers”) participated as parties in Owens Concrete’s 1986 augmentation plan case. They also appear as parties in this case.

When the concrete company owned this portion of the originally decreed appropriation, it obtained a change of water right decree quantifying an annual average of 13 acre-feet of water available for use as augmentation plan credit for replacement of out-of-priority tributary groundwater depletions from a well. Having acquired the concrete company’s interest in the 1872 priority, Sedalia claimed a right to the same amount of historical consumptive use water for its well augmentation plan in this case. On competing motions for summary judgment, the water court ruled that the doctrine of issue preclusion prohibited the Engineers from relitigating the quantification question, although the Engineers could raise the issue of abandonment at trial if they wished.

The issue the Engineers present for appeal concerns “a third successive change of the Ball Ditch water right” and whether its “average annual historical use last quantified by the second change decree” should be requantified in this proceeding to take into account “twenty-four years of subsequent nonuse.” In their briefs and at oral argument, the Engineers urge us to adopt a comprehensive rule that every change case triggers requantification of a water right. On the other hand, Sedalia asks us to adopt the polar opposite rule—that once determined in a previous change case, the amount of historical beneficial consumptive use allocated to the original appropriation carries through every subsequent change case and cannot be relitigated.

We adopt no such cosmic rule. Instead, we address the case before us in light of applicable claim and issue preclusion water cases. We affirm the water court’s judgment in part and reverse it in part. We hold that issue preclusion applies to prevent relitigation of the historical beneficial consumptive use quantification made in the 1986 Owens Concrete change of water right and augmentation decree, but this legal doctrine does not prevent a water court inquiry into the 24 years of post-1986 nonuse the Engineers allege. On remand from this decision and in finalizing Sedalia’s decree, the water court should take any evidence and legal argument offered by the parties on the issue of the alleged post-1986 nonuse. If the water court finds there has been prolonged unjustified nonuse of the water right between entry of the prior change decree and the pending decree application, it may conclude that this constitutes a changed circumstance calling for the selection of a revised representative period of time for calculating the average annual consumptive use amount available for Sedalia’s change of water right and augmentation decree.

The legislature may provide even more guidance to the State Engineer’s office with SB15-084, Water Right Partial Historical Consumptive Use.

More water law coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1006 (Invasive Phreatophyte Grant Program) makes it out of committee #coleg


Click here to read the bill.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

A House panel (House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources) unanimously approved a bill Monday to help local communities get rid of invasive species such as tamarisk and Russian olive trees because they drink up precious water.

While it may seem like that’s a good idea, not everyone was enamored with the measure, HB1006, as drafted, because it doesn’t go far enough.

It isn’t good enough just to get rid of the invasive plants, called phreatophytes. Native phreatophytes, such as cottonwoods and aspen, must be used to replace them to guard against erosion and maintain the animal habitat, those opponents said.

“Simply eradicating existing phreatophytes under the term ‘invasive’ implies that we’re going to have additional problems with flooding, with sedimentation, that we’re going to have some of the same problems that led us into the issues we have with tamarisk,” Jennifer Bolton, a lobbyist for the Audubon Society, told the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee.

But other supporters, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the measure is tied to the state’s existing laws dealing with noxious plants.

As a result, the Colorado Department of Agriculture is required to consider the entire health of a watershed, and not merely taking out a few noxious weeds here and there.

Chris Treece, external affairs director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said he’s not worried both of those things won’t occur.

“The clear purpose of this bill is to provide the resources to those who have the expertise, who have the programs set up, and would allow for the exercise of those programs,” Treece told the committee. “All of those programs … prioritize the proper removal, the proper weed control, the proper rehabilitation and restoration of the riparian area.”

Regardless, the committee tacked an amendment onto the bill to ensure that awarded grants include not only removing invasive species, but also encouraging the growth of native ones.

Coram also amended the bill to ensure that the funding for the grants — $5 million a year in each of the next five years — will come from severance tax revenues and not from the state’s general fund.

While some Western Slope lawmakers balked at that idea, given recent protestations against a proposal to use severance tax money to help offset any taxpayer refunds, Coram said these grants are for water projects, and that’s where some of the severance tax revenues are intended to be used.

The bill heads to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.

More invasive species coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress Legislative Breakfast recap

Mountain pine beetles
Mountain pine beetles

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A state lawmaker took a chop at federal policy toward forests in a direct way Thursday at the opening session of the Colorado Water Congress.

“If the U.S. Forest Service were in housing, they would be considered a slumlord,” said state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, explaining that sawmills in Montrose are short of timber while thousands of acres of beetle-killed trees are left standing.

His was one of several wake-up calls delivered at the legislative breakfast sponsored by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Among the other topics: Rainwater harvesting: State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Coram are backing HB1016 that attempts to update regulations for rainwater harvesting, now legal in certain cases in Colorado. “It’s an awareness issue,” Sonnenberg said, saying there is a downstream impact.

Phreatophytes: Sonnenberg and Coram also discussed how tamarisk, Russian olive and cottonwood trees sap water resources along streams. HB1006 would provide $5 million annually for five years for programs to remove these “water thieves,” as the lawmak­ers called them. “It goes beyond saving water. It’s a water quality issue,” Coram said.

Water Conservation: State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and state Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, talked about SB8, which would tie land-use planning more closely to water conservation. “We need to keep in mind that a lot of times, there’s not a marriage of water availability and land-use planning.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Senator Roberts is lining up with others on the West Slope who are beating the conservation drum #coleg

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Ellen Roberts):

Things are off to a fast and busy start at the Colorado legislature. We’ve just finished the last of the ceremonial formalities, which are time consuming, but important for their historical significance and in recognizing the other branches of state government that the legislature works with.

We attended the outdoor inauguration of the governor and were fortunate that it was a warmer day than when the arctic chill was reaching into Denver last month. We also heard the governor’s State of the State address, as well as the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court’s State of the Judiciary address.

I had the honor of serving as president of the senate already, including for the State of the Judiciary address. It was exciting to have the opportunity to serve in that capacity with the speaker of the house and the chief justice, as it’s likely the first time in Colorado that each of those roles was filled
by a woman.

In the Senate, we’ve been running regular legislative business alongside the ceremonial activities. I’ve already had three of my bills in committees and, fortunately, all were passed out and are moving further along in the process.

The first bill comes from my work on the water interim committee and supports access to the best water conservation strategies for all land use planners who want that information. During the summer and fall, I was part of the water committee that held nine meetings all around Colorado. Citizens in every corner of the state were seeking more in terms of water conservation education and efforts by those managing water resources in the state.

This is a topic where I believe the people are ahead of some of those in governmental service. The bill had bipartisan support in the interim committee and it’ll have bipartisan support as it moves through the process because water conservation isn’t a partisan topic. Conservation is a practical and impactful way to maximize the use of our limited water resources, which Coloradans rightfully treasure, no matter where they live in the state.

The bill was amended to remove any link to financial support from the state, which was done at the request of a few stakeholders. There’s no mandate to use the educational strategies made available through the bill, but it’ll take advantage of the significant expertise on this topic in our semi-arid state and make that information accessible to those who play a very significant

While, today, the vast amount of Colorado water is used in agriculture, there’s an indisputable shift as more of that water is sold to municipalities to support their present and future growth. My personal belief is that keeping agricultural land in production and supporting family operations should be a high priority so that we can keep our food sources close.

That said, water rights are a valuable property right and avail- able for sale at the water owner’s discretion. This bill recognizes those dynamics and will help Colorado make the most of our headwaters we’ve been blessed with, but must also deliver downstream to neighboring states.

I’m missing being home in southwestern Colorado, but the session is off to a good start and I’m thankful to be here.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.