Fort Collins: Community issues forum, Saturday, March 25, 2017

Old Town library, Fort Collins. Photo credit Larimer County.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

Fort Collins’ Democratic lawmakers will host a community issues forum Saturday to talk about Colorado water.

Planned topics include how to tackle water conservation and agricultural water use. Kirk Russell, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will join them.

Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, in particular has been working on water issues in the state. That includes a bill to create rules for aquifer recharging and more recently, having bills make it out of committee that aim to promote conservation by not allowing conservation efforts to diminish water rights, to slow “buy and dry” — the act of buying land solely for the water rights — and open up money for water storage and conservation projects around the state.

Rep. Joann Ginal and Sen. John Kefalas, also Fort Collins Democrats, will also be in attendance.

The free event is open to the public. It will run from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Old Town Library, 201 Peterson St.

2017 #coleg HB17-1273: @wradv — Build It Water-Smart From the Start in Colorado

From Western Resource Advocates (Drew Beckwith):

New legislation can help fill the state’s water supply gap and close a loophole that allows new home developments to waste water.

Current Colorado law contains a loophole that allows new home developments to waste water. In a state with already strapped water resources, that’s not OK. But new legislation that Western Resource Advocates is supporting will help ensure that all new development implements common-sense conservation actions and is built water-smart from the start.

Some background to set the stage on why this legislative change is needed: Due to major population growth and climate change, Colorado is facing an impending water supply gap. If we continue with business as usual, our communities will need more water than they currently have. This gap can be best prevented by increasing water conservation, reusing water, and the voluntary and compensated sharing of water supplies between agricultural and urban water users. Fortunately, water conservation is a priority tool in Colorado’s Water Plan, and doing more conservation will lessen potential conflicts between new urban/suburban growth and existing water users, decrease the pressure to transfer water from farms and ranches, and keep more water in rivers for fish, recreation, and tourism.

Unfortunately, water conservation is not being considered consistently statewide by the local governments that determine what new home developments will look like. [HB 17-1273: Real Estate Development Demonstrate Water Conservation], sponsored by Representatives Chris Hansen (D – Denver) and Hugh McKean (R – Loveland), will require new housing tract developers to present how the homes they plan to build will incorporate water conservation measures as part of gaining permit approval to move forward.

Building “water-smart from the start” is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most politically viable ways to reduce future water needs. There are a multitude of affordable conservation actions available for new development, including high-efficiency indoor water fixtures like toilets and shower heads, efficient outdoor irrigation systems, and Colorado-friendly landscaping choices. But since current law does not require new home developments to even list the water-wise actions that will be implemented, these cost-effective options for homeowners are sometimes left out. Local governments need information on what water conservation actions are going to be used in new housing in order to make better-informed decisions about whether the proposed development is right for their communities.

The upfront planning cost for including conservation strategies in new home development is minimal. And importantly, developers using water-smart planning can save money on the cost of water they are required to purchase from the local water provider or obtain from other sources.

Even better news for future homeowners is that this legislation will help save people money. Residents living in water-smart homes will pay less on their water bills because water-smart new growth can use 40% less water annually than comparable development from a decade ago.

A recent poll shows overwhelming support, with 77% of Colorado voters polled saying they prefer using our current water supply more wisely as a means to address the state’s water needs. If you’re one of them, sign up for our e-updates so we can keep you informed on the right time to contact your elected representative to support HB 17-1273!

2017 #coleg: SB17-036 stalls in House Committee

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

SB36, that cleared the Colorado Senate unanimously, got a bit bogged down in the House Judiciary Committee because of lengthy discussions about what it would do.

Under the bill, introduced by GOP Sens. Ray Scott of Grand Junction and Don Coram of Montrose, appeals of groundwater rights decisions by the Colorado Ground Water Commission shouldn’t include new evidence, just like in any normal court appeal.

Scott, and the House sponsors of his bill, Reps. Jenni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, say the current practice that does allow that isn’t fair.

The lawmakers say most disputes pit farmers and ranchers against water developers who are trying to sell water rights for municipal use, something that can be highly profitable.

Those developers often will drag farmers into court, retrying the case at the appellate level using evidence not considered before the commission the first time, supporters of the bill said.

“It is a matter of being out monied,” said Dan Farmer, a member of the commission and a Colorado Springs rancher. “When we win, we don’t win because we’re short $60,000 (in attorneys’ fees). It’s just not possible to continue to operate a farming operation and try to protect your water rights.”

Opponents of the bill say there is nothing wrong with how cases are tried, saying only a few end up being appealed.

Denver water attorney Sheela Stack, who routinely represents municipalities in water disputes, said it isn’t just the farmers and ranchers who see high litigation costs.

“It goes both ways,” she said. “It’s not just a municipality coming into a groundwater district. We are not trying to bleed the farmers dry. All we are doing, what anybody is trying to do is do the maximum utilization of water.”

The commission is the only state agency that has quasi-judicial powers that current law, established about 40 years ago, allows appeals to include new evidence. Disputes are first reviewed by administrative law judges in the State Engineer’s office, an agency under the Colorado Division of Water Resources, and then decided by the commission.

2017 #coleg: SB17-036, “Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions” to die in the House?

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Here’s a guest column from Don Coram that’s running in The Durango Herald:

In my last column, I mentioned that Senate Bill 36, “Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions,” had recently passed the Senate 35-0. This exact bill passed the House last year with 60 votes, only to die in the Senate. Powerful men and big money did not offer any opposition in the House last year, but put a full-court press on Senate leadership to kill the bill.

This year is exactly the opposite. Water investors and municipalities have once again rallied their expensive lobby corps to pressure legislators. What amazes me is that people who voted for the bill last year, at least twice and some cases three times, are now suddenly opposed. Unconfirmed reports have told me that Northern Water in Weld County is the driving force behind the opposition.

As someone from rural Colorado, who understands the issues of rural Colorado, I am amazed that legislators who portrays themselves to be pro agriculture — as men standing up for the little guy, the second or third generation farmer or rancher who is just trying to survive and hopes that the next generation can pay off the mortgage — can be in opposition to this bill.

What has happened is investors buy ground water and then go to the Ground Water Commission and file for a change of use in hopes of exporting the water from the ground water basin and sell it to the municipalities. If the investors lose in the appeal process they claim new evidence. The farmer must hire a lawyer and water engineer to defend his water once again at thousands of dollars. One family has spent around $900,000 on attorneys fees. The fastest way to break a farmer is through litigation.

It is disappointing to me that a legislator can turn 180 degrees from one year to the next. The exact same bill should be treated the same. If you liked the bill last year, you should like it this year. Likewise, if you opposed it last year, I would expect the same this year.

Water is top priority from Coram, Catlin — The Cortez Jounal

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein) via The Pine River Times:

Speaking to an agriculture group this month in Cortez, state legislators Don Coram and Marc Catlin said they’re prepared to help farmer and ranchers from Colorado’s Capitol.

“The basis of this state and of this area is agriculture,” Catlin told members of the Southwest Colorado Livestock Association. “I’m a believer in that. I’ll do everything I can for agriculture.”

The livestock association held its annual meeting Feb. 11 at the Cortez Elks Lodge. Local, state and federal elected officials also spoke at the meeting, including Montezuma County commissioners and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.

Coram, R-Montrose, represents Senate District 6, which covers Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel, Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata, San Juan and Archuleta counties. He took over the seat from Republican Ellen Roberts, of Durango, who resigned in October.

Rep. Catlin, R-Montrose, took over Coram’s seat in House District 58, which covers Montrose, San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties. He has experience as a water manager in Montrose County, he said.

Both Coram and Catlin said water on the Western Slope will be a major focus for their tenures in the legislature.

Coram introduced SB 36, a bill that would change the appeals process for groundwater court cases, in January. It passed the Senate on third reading Feb. 14 and will be referred to the House. The bill would disallow parties from introducing new evidence during an appeal that was not presented in the original case.

Coram said he has talked with some farming and ranching families that have spent lots of money paying water engineers and attorneys to resolve such cases.

The senator said legislators will have to work harder to store more water and keep it in Colorado. He said he will be traveling around the state to try to come up with funding solutions for water storage projects…

Catlin said there is a divide between how the western and eastern Colorado think about water. Agriculture operations on the Western Slope should be prioritized over cities and towns on the other side of the mountains when it comes to water, he said.

Agriculture doesn’t get enough attention from people in the state as other industries, such as tourism, Catlin added.

“Agriculture is the No. 2 industry in the state, and it sure doesn’t get much talk,” he said. “The only time they talk about us is when we have a crop failure and it’s going to affect main street.”

Coram also said he would advocate for hemp development. Currently outlawed at the federal level but legal in Colorado, hemp production is limited.

Coram touted the crop’s potential, saying it could become a viable crop and have a huge impact in Colorado.

2017 #COleg: Colorado Corn backs SB17-036 (Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions)

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

From the Colorado Corn Growers Association (Eric Brown):

During a meeting this month, the Colorado Corn Growers Association’s Public Policy Committee voted to put its support Senate Bill 17-036, a measure titled, “Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions.”

Under current law, the decisions or actions of the ground water commission or the state engineer regarding groundwater are appealed to a district court, and the evidence that the district court may consider is not limited to the evidence presented to the commission or state engineer.

Therefore, unlike appeals from other state agencies’ decisions or actions under the “State Administrative Procedure Act,” a party appealing a decision or action of the commission or state engineer may present new evidence on appeal that was never considered by the commission or state engineer.

This bill would limit the evidence that a district court may consider when reviewing a decision or action of the commission or the state engineer on appeal to the evidence presented to the commission or the state engineer.

While this is the first bill on which the CCGA Public Policy Committee has taken a position, the committee is monitoring a number of others as the 2017 Colorado Legislative Session continues.

Hickenlooper talks water, and beer, at Colorado Water Congress

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaking at the Colorado Water Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaking at the Colorado Water Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.

DENVER – A relaxed and candid Gov. John Hickenlooper told a luncheon crowd at the annual Colorado Water Congress meeting today at the Denver Tech Center that finding money for water projects, education, broadband services, and transportation infrastructure were all high priorities for him this year.

“Certainly what’s going on in Washington is a little disconcerting,” the Democratic governor said early on in his remarks. “You know, I’m an optimist, I think we’re going to be fine. I think we’ll figure this all out.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Hickenlooper released a statement about President Trump’s executive order freezing grants and contracts at the EPA.

“This freeze could potentially impact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s ability to carry out its federally mandated commitment to protect clean air, clean water and safe drinking water,” Hickenlooper said in the statement. “We have sought clarification from the EPA and have asked for assistance from Senators Gardner and Bennet.”

Acknowledging that three-quarters of the people in the room probably voted for Donald Trump, as water buffaloes in Colorado tend to be politically conservative, Hickenlooper quipped, “We’ve changed our Facebook relationship status with Washington, D.C., to ‘It’s complicated.’”

That got a laugh from the crowd.

Hickenlooper then turned to climate change, noting it wasn’t clear yet whether Colorado would see more or less water in the future. And he said whether one believes climate change is caused by human activities or not, Colorado should still be preparing for the worst.

The governor also praised the Colorado Water Plan that was presented to him by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in December 2015, after he called in 2013 for the plan to be prepared in two years, a blink of an eye in “water time.”

“Over the last year we’ve made progress on pretty much every measurable goal in the plan,” Hickenlooper. “We’ve really worked hard to make sure that water can be a way to unite this state. Historically that hasn’t been the case.”

Hickenlooper also cited the work of the regional basin roundtables in creating the water plan.

“My sense is that water should not be a partisan issue,” Hickenlooper said. “It shouldn’t be about one party or the other. We should work hard, just like we did in creating the water plan to come up with a shared, consensus, plan and then we should all work together. If we have disagreements, sit down, work through the disagreements, but keep it the hell out of politics.”

He also talked about the idea of creating “a hub for water data” in Colorado so that people get more information about how water is used. And he said he wanted the state to be a leader in innovative water management.

The governor also made a plug for the annual “projects bill” presented to the state Legislature from the CWCB. This year’s bill includes a $25 million investment in what Hickenlooper called “Colorado water plan activities,” including water supply projects.

The bill also includes a $90 million loan from the CWCB to Northern Water to help finance a new reservoir as part of its Windy Gap project, which would deliver more Colorado River water to the northern Front Range.

The governor said despite the state’s “fiscal thicket” created by two statewide tax-limiting measures, water issues should be given bipartisan support, along with education, transportation, and broadband. And, he noted, that rural counties in Colorado will likely get hurt the most if new revenue sources are not eventually supported by voters.

Gov. Hickenlooper, raising a glass of beer to toast to Colorado while speaking on Jan. 25 at the Colorado Water Congress at the Hyatt Regency hotel.
Gov. Hickenlooper, raising a glass of beer to toast to Colorado while speaking on Jan. 25 at the Colorado Water Congress at the Hyatt Regency hotel.

Water, and beer

Hickenlooper, who has been mentioned as a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, published a memoir last year called “The opposite of woe: my life in beer and politics.” And he managed a way to work beer into his short speech by bringing up new regulations around water reuse.

“The more water reuse we have, the more we’re going to have to put on crops,” he said. “It’s basic math. Once we get regulations in place, the home builders, businesses, and all kinds of water users are going to be able to safely implement gray water and direct potable reuse systems. It’s really going to take pressure off of irrigated agriculture as well as … that pressure of taking water from the West Slope.”

The governor, who founded Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver in 1988, then turned to what he called the “highest and most beneficial use” of water – the making of beer.

“I’d like the opportunity to lead you all in a toast,” Hickenlooper said as CWCB Director James Eklund approached the podium and poured him a glass of beer.

“Where’s our beer?” someone called out from the tables.

“If you want to run through a statewide election and get elected governor, you get your own pint on the lectern too,” Hickenlooper said to much laughter, while taking a sip and apologizing for not having beer for everyone.

“If it was my meeting … ,” he said, to more laughter, before toasting, “let’s raise a glass to the strong state of the headwaters state.”