2017 #COleg: SB17-117 signed by Gov. Hickenlooper

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Senate Bill 117, titled “Recognize Industrial Hemp Agricultural Product for Agricultural Water Right,” says Colorado water right holders have the right to use it on hemp if the person is registered by the state to grow hemp for commercial, or research purposes.

During an interview with The Journal, Hickenlooper said the hemp water bill will give farmers some reassurance, and he was cautiously optimistic that it could become a good cash crop for the state.

“Hemp is a very versatile product with a lot of uses, and it does not make sense why it’s illegal,” at the federal level, Hickenlooper said. “Having it grown and processed in the state could create a new niche market.”

Coram said he was motivated to introduce the bill after meeting with a farmer in the Arkansas Valley who said he could not use water from a Bureau of Reclamation facility to water his large hemp farm.

“I said this is wrong because hemp has a great future in Colorado,” he said. “The bill passed 99-1.”

Industrial hemp is used to make fuel, textiles, soaps and much more, but because it is a form of cannabis, it is banned by the federal government, even though it does not have the psychoactive properties of it’s genetic cousin, marijuana.

“The facts are that Colorado water rights are owned under Colorado law, and they can be used to grow hemp, which the state legalized,” said Catlin. “The federal government saying they cannot is overreach.”

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The bill was introduced in the state Legislature by Sen. Don Coram, and sponsored by Rep. Marc Catlin. Both are Montrose Republicans.

“Our farmers grow hemp with that water, our ag researchers use that water for hemp, and this bill clarifies it is Colorado water being put to beneficial use,” Coram said.

Hemp farmers face some uncertainty if they irrigate with water from a federal water project because, as a genetic variant of marijuana, hemp is still considered illegal at the federal level under the Controlled Substance Act.

“It’s always been a concern for local hemp farmers, and a lot of them stopped growing because they did not want to risk losing water rights,” said Sharon King, a local hemp advocate. “This support from the state gives them some reassurance.”

Colorado has legalized hemp, and commercial permits have been issued through the Department of Agriculture since 2014.

The plant’s stem, leaves and flowers are used for making textiles, fuels, oils, soaps and medicine. Hemp is strictly regulated to ensure it does not exceed .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the marijuana drug, which has THC levels of between 5 percent and 50 percent.

In Montezuma County, many hemp growers depend on water from McPhee Reservoir, a federal project managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Water Conservancy general manager Mike Preston said customers are allowed to use water to grow hemp, and the district supports Coram’s legislative effort to protect the hemp farmer.

“Those of us that supply water are confident our local farming community will make the most of any opportunity to test industrial hemp as a commercial crop,” Preston wrote to Coram in a March 17 letter. “Hemp being classified by the federal government as a drug is clearly a misclassification of an industrial crop.”

[…]

A 2014 Bureau of Reclamation policy manual stated the federal agency has an obligation to uphold federal law, which prohibits approving use of Reclamation water for activities not allowed under the Controlled Substances Act.

2017 #COleg: Governor signs two water bills, including @CWCB_DNR construction fund

Colorado Capitol building

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren) via the The Ag Journal:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy was honored to host Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signing of HB17-1248 on Wednesday after the regular meeting of the board of directors. The bill concerns the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and in connect with this undertaking, making appropriations. Hickenlooper said there is $25 million of support attached to the bill, making projects of LAVWCD and other water projects possible. He also alluded to HB17-1233, signed in Denver the same day, which allows farmers and ranchers practicing conservancy not to lose their water rights.

Hickenlooper was very complimentary to LAVWCD Manager Jay Winner, whose novel ideas have helped to keep the water on the land in southern Colorado. He said he wished he had a dozen Jay Winners to preserve the water for he state. Winners and John Stulp will be very happy, he said, putting their ideas into practice, made easier with these acts. One look at how Crowley County is struggling, he said, is sufficient to know southeastern Colorado cannot survive with dryland farming.

Also present at the signing was State Senator Larry Crowder, whom Hickenlooper commended for always voting for what he considers right, despite party lines. Hickenlooper also expressed his admiration for Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who has done a lot for the organization of the administration, drawing on her experience in the private domain in a much higher-paying position.

He is proud of the Colorado Water Plan and looks forward to its implementation. Thirty thousand individuals contributed to the formation of the plan. Although it does not yet have full funding, water rights of individuals are protected and the plan will keep the water on the land.

Senator Crowder said he represents 15 counties with average income at or below poverty level and he intends to do everything he can to promote economic opportunities for the area. He will work with people of differing viewpoints to make this possible. Hospitals are stable financially in the Denver area, he said, but not in rural Colorado, and everything possible must be done to maintain them.

2017 #COleg: HB17-1306 (Test Lead In Public Schools’ Drinking Water) is on its way to @GovofCO

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

The passage of House Bill 1306, which enjoyed bipartisan support, will help ensure that children aren’t exposed to dangerous levels of lead, said school and health officials.

“Clean water in our schools is an expectation everyone in Colorado can get behind,” said Brian Turner, president of the Colorado Public Health Association.

HB 1306 is aimed primarily at older elementary schools with the hope that all public schools will be tested and the results analyzed by June 30, 2020. The bill authorizes the state Department of Public Health and Environment to establish a grant program to test the drinking water in public schools that use a public water system.

As much as $300,000 in grants could be awarded each year for three years, and another $140,000 would be spent to implement the program. The measure also requires school districts that test for lead to chip in 10 percent in local matching funds and give the test results to the local public health agency, water supplier, school board and CDPHE.

Schools that discover lead in their drinking water have several routes for securing money to clean up the water, officials said.

Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in those districts 100 schools were found to have lead in their water, according to Conservation Colorado.

2017 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs SB17-036 (Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions)

Groundwater movement via the USGS

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

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Senate Bill 17-036—a piece of legislation that was supported by the Colorado Corn Growers Association and is what some in the industry describe as one of the most significant pieces of water-related legislation in recent years. Colorado Corn Executive Coordinator Ann Cross was on hand in Denver for the signing of the bill.

This legislation will prevent evidence being changed during the appeal of a water right-change case in a designated groundwater basin, thus protecting farmers and ranchers from incurring unnecessary costs when protecting the value of their water right. The bill’s sponsors were Sens. Jeni Arndt, Don Coram and Ray Scott.

Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft said in a statement that “the signing of SB17-036 into law will ensure a fair and equitable appeals process for water right owners within designated groundwater basins, while reducing potential costs and maintaining the integrity of the Groundwater Management Act.

“The appeals process within Colorado’s designated groundwater basins will now be treated equitably, providing fair and equal access to district court appeals, and ensures that the appeals process is treated in a similar manner to all other state appellate processes,” Shawcroft added.

2017 #coleg: NISP-related bill fails in committee

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The bill would have allowed Northern Water to run Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, water through 12 miles of the Poudre River in Fort Collins and recapture it at the Timnath Reservoir inlet for storage east of Fort Collins.

The bill failed 6-5 last week in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, with Democrats and Republicans voting against it…

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said the district will still go through with its plan to run 14,000 acre feet of water through the river in Fort Collins with the goal of maintaining flows of 18 to 25 cubic feet per second. He attributed the lack of consensus on the bill to “uneasiness” in the water community about unintended impacts of the legislation.

“We’re still going to do it,” he said of the so-called “conveyance refinement plan.” “We’re just going to look at Plan B, probably.”

Whether Northern Water needs legal permission to carry out the plan remains a “gray area,” Werner said. But he added Northern Water will pursue the plan regardless of whether formal legislation is passed.

Werner wasn’t sure if Plan B would come in the form of another bill or pursuing the plan without legislation. He said Northern Water was trying to pass a bill to make its case “air-tight.”

2017 #coleg: SB17-036 (Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions) now #Colorado law

Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several bills into law Tuesday, including one that GOP Sens. Ray Scott and Don Coram have been working on for a few years now.

That measure, SB36, is designed to make it harder for land developers to drag farmers and ranchers through years of court proceedings over groundwater rights disputes.

Under current law, such disputes are handled by the Colorado Groundwater Commission, but appeals to district court can include new evidence not seen by the commission.

The bill gives district judges more discretion to decide what new evidence can be heard in those appeals.

Some opposition to the bill fell away when it was amended to include language that allowed new evidence to be included in an appeal if that evidence was wrongly excluded or could not “in good faith” be presented to the commission.

Scott of Grand Junction and Coram of Montrose said they don’t buy opponents’ contention that the definition of “in good faith” is so broad that it opens the door to any evidence being presented, as is the case now.

“It’s held to a higher legal standard,” Coram said.

“The rules of evidence are very tough,” Scott added. “If they can prove evidence was stuffed in a box somewhere in the basement for the last 50 years and was just found or something like that, it’s still a high bar to reach.”

The two lawmakers said the bill fixes a long-standing problem for poorer ranchers and farmers who found themselves spending more time in court battling well-heeled developers over those water rights.

The Colorado Farm Bureau said the bill will help ensure a fairer and more equitable appeals process.

2017 #coleg: HB17-1289 (State Engineer Rules Historical Consumptive Use)

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Durango Herald (Luke Perkins):

House Bill 1289, which would extend a pilot program that streamlines the assessment of consumptive use and could ease the financial impact on water rights owner by simplifying the process, was heard by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee Monday. It was laid over until next week while lawmakers consider the impacts of the program.

Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said the program has proven to be a way to save money on the front end for water rights users in the Arkansas River Valley, where it was first implemented.

But this comes at a cost in the overall amount they can charge for their water rights, as the methods used generally err on the side of caution and underestimate the Historic Consumptive Use by 10-15 percent, Hansen said. “This is in a sense the horseshoes and hand grenades approach.”

In a short term transaction that is not always a drawback beause of the amount saved by not undergoing a full analysis…

Some Republican members of committee didn’t necessarily agree with that and expressed concerns that this would leave farmers losing out on the value of their rights.

They were concerned that it would place additional burden of proof on owners if they believed they didn’t receive a fair share because of the conservative nature of the analysis as opposed to buyers having to prove the engineering analysis was over valuing the rights…

Hansen disagreed, saying the bill doesn’t require the use of the program or say that it must be used by water court when deciding the value of rights.

John Stulp, water policy advisor for Gov. John Hickenlooper, agreed the program isn’t meant to be and end-all answer that would limit water right owners recourse in seeking adequate compensation for their resource…

The aim is to cut down on incidents of “buy and dry,” where a farmer sells his or her water rights to a municipality and loses the resource critical to cultivating the land.

Simplifying the process will make it easier for farmers to lease their water rights over a short term, rather than racking up vast sums of debt from engineering analysis and court costs arguing over the exact consumptive use of their rights.

While it is uncertain if there would be bipartisan support for the bill in the House, it is sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, in the Senate.