Here’s an analysis of the legislation from Elaine Nolen writing for the University of Denver Water Law Review. Here’s an excerpt:
House Bill 17-1233 (“HB 1233”), titled Protect Water Historical Consumptive Use Analysis, accomplishes three objectives: (1) to expand application of a preexisting law to water Divisions 1, 2, and 3; (2) to clarify that participation in a government-sponsored program includes water conservation pilot programs; and (3) to limit state agencies that can approve a water conservation program to only those with explicit statutory jurisdiction over water conservation or water rights. Democratic House Representative Jeni Arndt of District 53, located in water Division 1, and Republican Senator Larry Crowder of District 35, located in water Division 2, introduced HB 1233 in the House on March 7, 2017. The House approved the bill on March 24, the Senate approved an amended version on April 17, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed HB 1233 on May 3.
A historical consumptive use analysis is part of a proceeding to change a water right. A water right owner may only change that right up to the amount of water historically consumed for a beneficial use. Prior to HB 1233, Colorado law provided that in Water Divisions 4, 5, and 6, historical consumptive use analyses were not to consider reduction in water usage resulting from participation in a government-sponsored water conservation program. In the initial draft of HB 1233, the sponsors sought to apply this rule to all seven of Colorado’s water divisions. However, at the Senate second reading, the Senate passed Senator Crowder’s proposed amendment to remove water Division 7 of southwestern Colorado from the bill. Senator Crowder explained that feedback from the representative from that water division led him to propose the amendment.
From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Julia Bowman). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
HB 17-1291, 71st Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2017) – (allowing water users to store water in a place of storage not listed on the decree if the historical consumptive use of the water right has been quantified in a previous change).
House Bill 1291 (HB 1291) has also been called the “Another Reservoir on the Ditch” bill. Co-sponsored by House Representatives J. Arndt, J. Becker, and Senator D. Coram, the bill was introduced to the House on March 24, 2017, and signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper on June 5, 2017. Without any lobbyists or other organizations involved in its preparation, the bill was recognized by legislators and the public alike as a “common-sense” piece of legislation. The bill allows water users to store previously quantified water in an alternate place of storage not listed on their decree without going through water court in certain circumstances.
The benefits of HB 1291 are only available to water users who want to store their decreed water in alternate storage on the same ditch or diversion system (including in nontributary aquifers). The water that qualifies under the bill is limited. It must be attributable to a water right that: (i) has gone through a judicially approved change; (ii) has been decreed for storage; and (iii) has a quantified historical consumptive use. Additionally, the water must be diverted at a point of diversion already decreed for that water right—it cannot be imported from another division—and any applicable transit and ditch losses must be assessed against the water right.
Click here to read the article (Megan McCulloch). Here’s an excerpt:
After these changes, what remained of the bill was (what was originally) subsection (a). It provided a clear legislative assurance of the validity and preservation of those previously decreed existing water rights that were for aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial uses. The final bill also protects conditional water rights—rights that have been filed with and decreed by the water court prior to actual use while securing an earlier priority. This bill ensures that owners of conditional water rights for aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial uses will not face objections based on the St. Jude’s ruling when they return to the water court for diligence or perfection.
The final bill was designed to preclude an overly broad application of the St. Jude’s Co. ruling and to protect recognized rights. While the parties involved did not agree on everything—as reflected in the multiple amendments—in the end, HB 1190 was a bipartisan consensus effort to address an area of law that had been left unsettled by the Court’s St. Jude’s ruling.
A yearlong study centered on a decades-long trend of Colorado sending too much water to Nebraska via the South Platte River yielded dozens of potential storage projects.
But high costs, potential environmental impacts, and bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles could doom the road ahead for any of those possibilities, according to a study presented Tuesday night at the South Platte Basin Roundtable meeting in Longmont.
Further, even if several of the identified projects happen, they would barely put a dent in what’s expected to be a Front Range water needs gap of 500,000 acre feet per year.
The $200,000 study, ordered by the Colorado State Legislature and paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, looked at the South Platte from Greeley to the state line and identifyed potential storage solutions along the way.
Putting any of those solutions — with costs estimates ranging from $190 million to $1 billion — to work most likely will take more time, money and study…
Consultants from Stantec Consulting Services and Leonard Rice Engineers completed the study in December and have toured the state making presentations. The Legislature has yet to get a presentation, but here are the key points legislators will hear:
A large amount of water is physically and legally available but only during wet years and during short periods.
Mainstream options have the most benefit but likely are not permittable and have significant social impacts.
Many off-channel options appear to be feasible and could be combined in different concepts.
Even multiple projects won’t make a big dent in the supply gap.
One reason for the lack of impact is how the South Platte works. When farmers divert water from the South Platte to irrigate crops, some of that water soaks underground and slowly moves back to the river. That’s called a return flow, and return flows feed the South Platte to allow it to flow long after snowmelt water is gone for the season.
That’s why the Sterling No. 1 ditch can completely dry out the river with a diversion and then a mile downriver it’s flowing again.
That’s why the best possible place for a reservoir would be near the Colorado-Nebraska border, and the best solution for keeping as much water as possible — a mainstream reservoir — is the solution that likely never will happen.
A mainstream reservoir along the South Platte essentially would be a lake on the South Platte, with the western portion feeding into the lake and the eastern portion running when the lake releases water.
Water experts agree that would be nearly impossible to get approved.
But the consultants did identify storage options away from the river, including old gravel pits.
Still, building ditches or pipes to fill those gravel pits would prove costly.
The consultants also talked about the 2013 flood and high flows in 2015, which ended up sending 1.9 million acre feet of water to Nebraska — exponentially more water than Nebraska is entitled to via the 1923 compact with Colorado.
But managing or diverting water during a flood event like that would take technology water experts said just doesn’t exist. Instead, ditch companies did everything they could to keep the flood water out of their ditches, lest they get damaged by the torrent.
Groundwater storage also was touched on, but concerns were raised about water losses and the co-mingling of other water rights. Once the water flows under another landowner’s property, for example, they would have the right to pump that water to irrigate crops.
The conversation circled back to the reason for the study. Essentially, lawmakers on the Western Slope long have pointed to the excess water the Front Range sends to Nebraska. Rather than divert more water from the Western Slope, the argument goes, Front Range farmers and municipalities need to figure out how to keep what they have.
Mike Schimmin, a water rights attorney on the roundtable, said his fear is the study will reinforce those feelings and that people will ignore the high cost to capture the extra water.
Almost 8 million acre-feet of water has left Colorado in the past 20 years that the state could have kept, according to preliminary data from a legislative-commissioned study expected later this year…
That takes us to what happened to that 8 million acre-feet of water on the South Platte. It went to Nebraska. There’s a compact, like a contract, between Colorado and Nebraska, dating from 1923, that dictates that a certain amount of water from the South Platte goes to Nebraska, which preserves the river’s downstream environment and aquatic wildlife.
The 8 million acre-feet exceeds what Colorado was legally required to send to Nebraska. But the problem for Colorado is that there’s no place to put that water.
Lawmakers and water experts have been jawing about the lost water problem for years. In 2016, Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio sponsored a bill to put some teeth into the conversations, by asking how much water is being lost to Nebraska and where it can be stored.
The final answer won’t be known until the end of this year, but earlier this month, an interim water committee at the state Capitol took a first look at the data and some of the sites where storage might happen.
It’s not an easy conversation. Building new reservoirs takes decades and often has to survive lawsuits and complicated federal and state permitting processes.. Look at the Northern Integrated Supply Project near Fort Collins, which could lead to a new reservoir and expansion of a second. The project is in its 14th year and will likely take another five or six years to get through all the permitting. In the life of a reservoir, that’s short. Compare that to the Animas-La Plata reservoir in southwestern Colorado, where construction was declared finished in 2013. The project began construction in 1968.
While new storage is definitely possible for that South Platte water, other storage ideas are being considered in the study. According to Andy Moore, a senior water resources specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s primary water agency, 147 sites were identified on first blush for water storage.
Those sites fall into three categories: new reservoirs, rehabilitating and/or expanding existing reservoirs, or refilling underground storage. That’s water that would be pumped into aquifers, which are underground rock formations that hold water. Colorado has four major aquifers, with the three largest all along the Eastern Slope. In 2000, the South Platte aquifer, according to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, served about 70 percent of the Front Range population.
The site list has been pared down several times, to eliminate sites too far from the main body of the South Platte or for sites that were too small to be useful. That leaves 16 sites, mostly in northeastern Colorado. Over the next several months, those sites will be evaluated for cost, benefits and other factors.
The first look at possible storage along the South Platte was welcomed by Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River Water Conservancy District, the water agency in charge of the Colorado. “The Western Slope has long thought that as Coloradans we’re in the water world together, but every basin should look to own resources and capabilities first before looking for outside resources,” he said.
Treese wasn’t surprised by the numbers. “This is what Brown and others in the South Platte have been saying – that it’s a problem with a suitable storage location.” He added that the study will identify whether storage is “one silver bullet or a lot of smaller opportunities.”
Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, favors refilling aquifers first and looking at other possibilities next. Arndt sponsored a bill, signed into law this year by the governor, that allows the state engineer to set up rules for the use of water that is pumped into nontributary aquifers. Those are aquifers not connected to surface water, like rivers.
Refilling aquifers, Arndt told Colorado Politics, is environmentally friendly, with less evaporation and less permitting. It is also practical from a political standpoint, she said, meaning that there should be less opposition to refilling aquifers than to building new reservoirs.
Refilling is “appealing, makes sense, it’s cost effective and it’s politically doable,” she said.
Brown was pleased with the study’s first data.
“This is the kind of information needed to make good decisions about what to do on the South Platte,” he said this week. He pointed out that the Arkansas, Rio Grande and Colorado rivers all have instream storage, and the only place without it is the South Platte.
For years, “the low-hanging fruit has been West Slope water,” Brown explained. And while Colorado has always delivered its Colorado River water as it should under the compact, the supply is just not there anymore. “It’s not just a West Slope issue – it’s an issue for the entire state. People who know water are very interested in making sure we don’t waste any and don’t send any more water to Nebraska than what they’re entitled to.”
Concerning the financing of testing for lead in public schools’ drinking water, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation.
The bill directs the department of public health and environment (department) to establish a grant program to test for lead in public schools’ drinking water. The department will give the highest priority to the oldest public elementary schools, then the oldest public schools that are not elementary schools, and then all other public schools. The department may also consider ability to pay in administering the program. The department is directed to use its best efforts to complete all testing and analysis by June 30, 2020. The public school must provide at least 10% local matching funds and give the test results to its local public health agency, its supplier of water, its school board, and the department. The department may use up to $300,000 per year for 3 years for grants beginning on or after July 1, 2017, from the water quality improvement fund if there is money available after fully funding existing programs. The department shall provide 4 annual reports to the general assembly regarding implementation of the grant program, including any legislative proposals that may be warranted.
The bill appropriates $431,803 and 1.3 FTE to the department of public health and environment for the implementation of the act.
House Bill 1306 received bipartisan backing and plenty of support from school and health officials. Lead in drinking water can lead to long-term health problems in children.
The measure 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 contribute 10 percent in local matching funds and give the test results to the local public health agency, water supplier, school board and CDPHE.
Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in those districts 100 schools were found to have some lead in their water, health officials said.
Limited Applicability Of St. Jude’s Co. Water Case
Concerning the limited applicability of the Colorado supreme court’s decision in St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club, LLC, 351 P.3d 442 (Colo. 2015).
In the case of St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club, LLC, 351 P.3d 442 (Colo. 2015) ( St. Jude’s Co. ), the Colorado supreme court held that direct diversions of water from a river to a private ditch for aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial purposes on private property, without impoundment, are not beneficial uses of water under Colorado water law.
The bill provides that the decision in the St. Jude’s Co. case interpreting section 37-92-103 (4) does not apply to previously decreed absolute and conditional water rights or claims pending as of July 15, 2015. The interpretation of section 37-92-103 (4) in St. Jude’s Co. applies only to direct-flow appropriations, without storage, filed after July 15, 2015, for water diverted from a surface stream or tributary groundwater by a private entity for private aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial purposes.
Colorado water law received some needed clarification in the 2017 session of the Colorado Legislature.
The legislature, this session, passed a bill in response to the 2015 Colorado Supreme Court decision in the case of St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club LLC. That decision held that direct diversions of water from a river to a private ditch for “aesthetic, recreational and piscatorial” purposes are not “beneficial uses” under state water law.
“Beneficial use” is a much-used term in state water law and originally encompassed primarily to agricultural and municipal uses. That definition has been evolving throughout the years — through both court decisions and legislation — to protect recreational uses, too, and the new legislation makes that clearer…
The bill was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Democrat K.C. Becker and co-sponsored in the Senate by Republican Jerry Sonnenberg. In a statement after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill, Becker said the law “provides the needed certainty for water rights holders in Colorado.”
Eagle River Watershed Council Executive Director Holly Loff agreed. In an email, Loff wrote that the group is celebrating the bill’s passage.
“It protects the tools that local governments have at their disposal to protect flows — both recreational and environmental — which were threatened by the broad language in the (Supreme Court) case. Recreational and piscatorial uses are most definitely beneficial and we are happy to see those protected.”
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.”
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.
FromThe 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.
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.
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.
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.”
FromThe 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.
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.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel editorial board:
We’re all familiar with the anticipated water supply gap that gave rise to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order calling for the formulation of a state water plan.
That plan has been completed and the Colorado Water Conservation Board has sketched out an implementation measures with cost-effective ways to make the most of every drop.
The Legislature can do its part by passing a bipartisan bill that would embed urban water conservation into land-use decisions — something the staff at the Colorado River District has advised the Sentinel’s editorial board as a key to reducing pressure to divert Western Slope water to the thirsty Front Range.
HB1273 is sponsored by Reps. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, and Hugh McKean R-Loveland, and Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Matt Jones, D-Louisville.
The bill essentially requires that all new development be built “water-smart” from the start. It closes a loophole that allows new home developments to be less water-wise than they’re capable of.
This idea fits squarely within existing attitudes among Westerners about water conservation. A recent Conservation in the West Poll conducted by Colorado College as part of its State of the Rockies Project shows 77 percent of Colorado voters surveyed favor using water supply more wisely by encouraging conservation, reducing use and recycling. In contrast only 15 percent favor diverting water from rivers in less populated areas of the state to communities where more people live.
Colorado’s population is predicted to double by 2050, which means communities throughout the state will need more water than they currently have. As Western Resource Advocates points out, building new homes water-smart from the start is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most politically viable ways to reduce water needs — yet current law does not require new developments to even list the water-wise actions that are planned to reduce use.
The bill changes current law to require new developments to describe the water-conservation and demand-management actions that will be implemented, and makes a review of those actions an explicit part of the permit approval process. It prohibits local governments from approving permit applications unless applicants demonstrate that appropriate water conservation and demand management measures have been included in the water supply plan.
Common-sense strategies available to new home developers include low-water toilets and showerheads, efficient irrigation and xeriscaping. Local governments would decide which strategies for new development work best in their communities.
The bill would help fill the state’s water-supply gap, which will stifle economic development if not properly addressed. It will keep more water in Western Slope rivers for recreation and tourism.
Throughout the West, nine in 10 voters are willing to reduce the amount of water their households use. This bill helps meet that enlightened view.
The bill has passed the House and awaits a committee assignment in the Senate. We urge senators to support it and help the state continue to make strides toward eliminating the supply gap.
The Southwestern Water Conservation District hosted a conference titled “Solving the Water Funding Puzzle” at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango to confront the budget crisis.
Colorado’s overriding challenge lies in how water management is funded, said Bill Levine, budget director for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Much of the state’s revenue stream for water-supply management is tied to federal energy, including severance taxes from the oil and gas industry, which exposes Colorado to the ebb and flow of the volatile oil and gas industry.
“When energy values drop, so does the revenue stream, so it is by nature volatile,” Levine said. “Revenue that is not tied to the energy industry is needed.”
Because of a weak energy market and a costly court ruling, the state’s revenues from severance taxes dropped from $271 million in fiscal year 2015 to $67 million in fiscal year 2016.
And in 2016, the state lost a lawsuit brought by British Petroleum over severance taxes. The state is refunding energy companies – $113 million so far – after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the companies qualify for a deduction the Department of Revenue had been denying them.
State and local agencies have paid a price.
The drop in revenues from federal minerals caused program budgets for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to drop from $14 million in 2015 to $8 million in 2016.
The cuts wiped out funding for boat inspection programs needed to stop invasive quagga and zebra mussels, which has limited boating at McPhee Reservoir and Totten Lake in Montezuma County.
Grant programs of the Department of Local Affairs also were cut, because they too depend on severance tax revenues.
Severance tax revenues have funded the Southwest Basin Roundtable grant program that supports water projects in southwest Colorado. Funding will suffer, and there will be less grant money, said roundtable chair Mike Preston.
In La Plata County, the basin fund helped to finance an inlet from Lake Nighthorse as part of a plan to provide municipal water for Fort Lewis Mesa, which includes the communities of Breen and Kline.
It’s been tapped to support a project improving water supply at Lake Durango, which serves Durango West communities. And the grants have supported an Animas River community forum, which is establishing emergency response protocols to protect water users in the event of a toxic spill such as the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster.
Finding funding solutions
Several potential sources of revenue for water-related infrastructure and programs were presented at the packed conference.
Emily Brumit, of the Colorado Water Congress, gave an update on legislative proposals and a ballot initiative that would support water-related budgets, including the struggling boat-inspection programs.
For example, Senate Bill 259 proposes to replace lost severance tax revenues with $10 million from the general fund to support forest restoration, species conservation and boat inspection programs. House Bill 1321, introduced this week, would create a revenue stream through a sticker fee to fund boat inspection programs.
And Initiative 20 focuses on oil and gas severance taxes. Its primary goal is to increase the severance tax rate, eliminate the severance tax credit that is based on property taxes, eliminate the stripper well exemption and require that a portion of severance tax revenue be paid for specific purposes…
Legislators are considering asking voters to approve a container tax on beverages to raise $100 million to $200 million per year for water-related needs. A vote could end-run the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, exempting it from TABOR revenue caps.
Other ideas presented at the conference included a new water fee paid by residential consumers, new water tap fees and new tourism fees…
Government specialist Christine Arbogast said the idea of private-public partnerships is popular for new money. But she does not believe they are a viable local solution locally.
“The expected rate of return of 5-8 percent from private investors is too much for the tax base of smaller communities,” she said.
La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake urged the crowd to take a long-term vision on solving the budget crisis, like previous generations did.
“We have good water rights, but don’t have a way to move it around well,” he said. “The pioneers built dams, ditches and levees. Now we are tasked with looking ahead to provide water infrastructure in our area. We need more public involvement so we get all the help we need to overcome this monumental task.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Sens. Ray Scott and Don Coram wanted to simply accept a change to their groundwater appeals bill Wednesday, but the rest of the Senate wouldn’t let them.
The two Republicans from Grand Junction and Montrose, respectively, told the Senate that a change the House made to their measure, SB36, was a minor one.
But Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and others in the Colorado Senate said it weakened it too much.
The bill was designed to prevent moneyed interests, such as developers, from retrying groundwater rights cases that have been determined by the Colorado Groundwater Commission.
Under current law, appeals from that commission to district courts can include evidence not presented to the commission, essentially retrying the cases.
The House altered it to allow that to happen only if the district judge determines that evidence was wrongly excluded or new evidence was discovered.
“What this (bill) now does is, it takes and allows any evidence that may not have been discovered,” Sonnenberg said. “(But) no discovery can fall under that category and can be used in an appeal, essentially creating a scenario where (water) speculators can then lawyer up, engineer up, as we were trying to address in this bill.”
On a 24-10 vote, the Senate rejected Coram’s and Scott’s request to accept the change, forcing them to send the bill to a special conference committee made up of three senators and three legislators from the House to work out that issue.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A Colorado Supreme Court ruling last year eliminated severance tax revenues for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s aquatic nuisance species program, forcing the end of inspections at some sites, CPW says.
As a result, CPW has agreed to close Harvey Gap Reservoir northwest of Silt to watercraft normally requiring such an inspection, due to the agency’s inability to conduct inspections there for species such as invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Hand-launched vessels exempt from the inspections still will be allowed there, including rafts, kayaks, belly boats, float and inner tubes, canoes, windsurfer boards, paddle boards and sailboards.
Hand-launched boats with electric motors will be allowed there, but gas- or diesel-powered engines will be prohibited because they are more at risk of hosting invasive species. The boat ramp will remain closed and all boats must be carried from parking lots or roads.
Meanwhile, the Cortez Journal reports that Totten and Narraguinnep reservoirs in southwest Colorado will be closed to all boating because of concerns among authorities responsible for those sites about possible infestation due to a lack of inspections.
The funding situation also helped prompt CPW this year to pass new regulations subjecting all watercraft, including those exempt from inspection requirements, to a “clean, drain and dry” requirement between each launch. The agency also requires boat operators to pull water drain plugs and remove plants from boats and other equipment upon leaving the water and before leaving the parking area…
CPW says it has coordinated a successful mandatory statewide inspection and decontamination program since 2008, preventing an infestation in the state. The agency says that’s of not just statewide but national importance, because the other primary way mussels can spread is by downstream travel.
The agency says oil and gas severance tax revenues are a primary source of money for the aquatic nuisance species program, but those revenues were eliminated by last year’s court ruling.
In that ruling, the state’s high court overturned the Colorado Court of Appeals and sided with BP America Production Co., finding that a company’s cost of capital is a proper severance tax deduction when claiming deduction costs associated with natural gas transportation and processing.
The decision affected not only BP but other energy producers that have been able to seek refunds on tax payments, reportedly resulting in an impact of tens of millions of dollars to the state. It also means they’re able to pay less in taxes going forward.
CPW’s efforts to shore up its aquatic nuisance species program may be in for some help soon. On Thursday the state Senate unanimously gave final approval to Senate Bill 259, which among other actions would provide $2.45 million to the agency’s aquatic nuisance species fund on the parks and outdoor recreation side, and another $1.2 million to the program’s fund on the wildlife side.
The measure still awaits action in the House, where state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, is its main sponsor.
Earlier this year, CPW also suggested to lawmakers that an aquatic nuisance species fee be assessed on boats, at an amount of $15 for nonmotorized boats, $25 for motorized boats for Colorado residents, and $50 for out-of-state motorized boats.
Meanwhile, CPW said in its release that it “has allocated internal funds and worked with a broad partnership group to raise funds for the 2017 boating season and find sustainable funding solutions.”
It says it has sought help from partners including municipal water providers, irrigation and water districts, federal and state agencies and counties that would share the risk if infestation occurred.
Those partners have provided nearly $1 million in assistance so far.
However, the existing funding shortfall means inspections may be reduced at some stations, and a few lower-risk waters that previously had inspections won’t have stations in operation this year unless the state and its partners are able to find new funding.
Harvey Gap Reservoir is owned by Farmers Irrigation Co. and the Silt Water Conservancy District operates and maintains the reservoir and associated irrigation water delivery infrastructure. CPW leases the reservoir surface and manages its fishery as well as area trails and day-use areas.
CPW restricted boat use at the reservoir at the request of the water district…
Local CPW spokesman Mike Porras said the funding situation remains fluid. He said in northeast Colorado some bodies of water were able to keep inspection stations after local water districts agreed to fund them for the short term. Porras recommends that before trying to go boating at any specific location, people call that location or check the agency’s website, http://www.cpw.state.co.us, to see what restrictions may apply.
Here’s a report about Vallecito Reservoir from Carole McWilliams writing in The Pine River Times. Here’s an excerpt:
Boating access at Vallecito and other Colorado lakes might be threatened by state budget issues.
Jim Schank from the Vallecito Sporting and Conservation Association told the Times, “There’s no money for zebra mussel inspections on lakes in the area.”
The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife has been in charge of inspections to prevent introduction of invasive zebra and quagga mussels into clean lakes. People bring boats that have been in infested water, such as Lake Powell, and the mussels can reproduce prolifically and clog pumps, pipes, and other structures.
The Sporting and Conservation Association took over operation of the Vallecito marina two summers ago after the previous private operator pulled out and no other private operator wanted to take it over…
Park and Wildlife “will match what we raise,” Schank said. “Right now it would be Friday to Sunday to have the boat ramp open. There are a lot of people here that rely on that.”
He urged people to contact state legislators about this.
Durango Parks and Wildlife Office spokesman Joe Lewandowski told the Times his department isn’t definite what sort of match DPW might provide…
DPW is working with irrigation, water, and recreation districts around the state to find a solution, Lewandowski said. “Vallecito isn’t the only lake affected. It’s lakes all over the state. … It’s a pretty major problem throughout the state. We’re as concerned about it as anybody else, to make sure recreation stays open.”
Pine River Irrigation District Superintendent Ken Beck told the Times that there have been a series of meetings with the Sporting and Conservation Association, DPW and other entities. “We’re trying to generate a fundraising campaign and let folks know that the money we received from CPW has dried up… It took 21 reservoirs out of funding for boat inspections.”
He continued, “Last year we had around $48,000 to fund recreation” at Vallecito. PRID budgets dam operation and maintenance functions separate from recreation. Beck noted that Vallecito is an irrigation project. In the past, PRID shareholders have made it clear they don’t want their assessments used to subsidize recreation.
The goal is to get $48,000 for this year if local fundraising can bring in $24,000, and hope DPW can match it, Beck said.
He is sending solicitation letters to individuals and entities that could be affected by a lack of boating access.
“We’ll continue to meet,” Beck said. “We’ll fund it and have the lake open. If we don’t receive anything, there will be significant impacts.”
“We have a clean reservoir now,” he said, but noted there have been boats at Vallecito that tested positive for the mussels. “We were able to decontaminate them before they went in the water. … It’s a lot easier to prevent infestation than to remediate. That could get really expensive.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
House Bill 1151, introduced by Reps. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, and Chris Hansen, D-Denver, removes electric bicycles from the motor vehicle definition as long as they don’t go too fast.
Under the bill, the bicycles are considered electrical only when the rider is pedaling and its motor ceases when the bike reaches speeds of 20 to 28 mph depending on which of three classes the bicycles fall under.
The measure cleared the House 52-13 in late February. When the Senate took up the bill earlier this month, it made one change, which Hansen and Willett made fun of when the House gave its final approval on Monday…
The measure bars anyone under the age of 16 from riding a class 3 electric bike except as a passenger, and then they must wear a helmet…
The House gave final approval to a bill Monday that would prevent parties that appeal to district court water rights decisions made by the Colorado Ground Water Commission from introducing new evidence in the court.
The measure, SB36, tries to address an issue that its sponsors — Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Don Coram, R-Montrose — said was an unfair one. Currently, parties that appeal such water decisions by the commission could present new evidence not heard by the commission.
The two lawmakers said that was unfair to ranchers and farmers who couldn’t afford to retry whole cases.
Scott and Coram tried to get the bill through last year’s Legislature, but failed because of heavy lobbying, much of which came from former Gov. Bill Owens, who at the time was working with a land and water development company.
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.
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!
FromThe 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.
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.
FromThe 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.
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.
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.
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.”
“My priorities are, obviously, water storage, agriculture, and education,” Sonnenberg said during a lengthy interview Monday with the Journal-Advocate.
On water, Sonnenberg already has declared that any bill coming across his committee’s desk that doesn’t include storage will be DOA.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for conserving water, but we have to have someplace to store all of that water we’re conserving,” he said. “But for some reason, water storage has become a partisan issue. People seem to think that conservatives, ag, Republicans — are all against conservation and we’re not. Agriculture has led the charge on water conservation.”
He recounted the evolution of irrigation from flood to center pivot to drop-head sprinklers to drip irrigation.
“But water storage has to be a major part of every conversation we have about water,” he said.
Although he’s one of the few actual agricultural producers in the Legislature, Sonnenberg won’t spend much time advancing bills about growing food and fiber in Colorado. What he will do, however, is advocate for ways to make farming more profitable. After all, farm profitability is critical, Sonnenberg said, if America is going to entice young people to take over the responsibility of feeding the world. The senator said that, at 58, he’s still considered a “young farmer,” and that something needs to be done to lower the median age of farmers in the United States. That median age now is 59.
“But kids can’t come back to the farm if they can’t survive,” he said, and then proceeded to tick off the capital investments needed in equipment, land, and infrastructure. It was a bleak picture.
“What I can do is be an advocate,” he said. “My role as chair (of the Ag Committee) and as (President) Pro Tem (of the Senate) is to be an advocate to my federal partners. I have a good relationship with those people.”
Sonnenberg has some ideas about what his “federal partners” can do to help make farming more profitable, especially for younger farmers.
“What the government can do, without just outright giveaways, is help farmers manage the risk. They can do that by contributing a percentage of the premiums for crop insurance,” he said. “My biggest fear every year is hail, but hail insurance costs me $18 to $20 an acre,” he said. “You put that on top of all the other inputs — seed, fertilizer, fuel, pesticides — it’s just not profitable at anything less than $4 or $5 a bushel for wheat.”
The first-term senator also will be keeping an eye on the conservation easement debacle, which he said he thinks will cost the state more than it will ever recover from tax credits that have been retroactively disallowed. He knows Rep. Becker will again introduce a bill aimed at giving landowners relief while they haggle with the state over paying back those tax credits, and is ready to do what he can to promote it in the Senate.
He also intends to advocate on behalf of rural communities having to rebuild their sewer and water systems because of higher standards being imposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“What they’re doing to those small communities is a travesty,” he said. “You have a town with only, maybe, 100 (water) taps and they’re being held to a water quality standard that can’t be met economically. Is it cost effective to make sure every community has distilled water to drink? I don’t think so.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Southwest Colorado got two new lawmakers over the weekend — one new lawmaker and a familiar one.
That happened when the central committee for Senate District 6 chose Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, to replace Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, who resigned her seat at the end of last year.
In his place, the central committee for his seat in House District 58 chose Marc Catlin to replace him.
Catlin, a graduate of Mesa State College, is the water rights development coordinator for Montrose County who also sits on the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
Catlin also is a former manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, and hosts a weekly talk show on 580 AM radio, where he mainly focuses on water issues on the Western Slope.
Coram, who was first elected to the Colorado Legislature in 2011, was just re-elected to a third term in the Colorado House in November.
He’s already been assigned to the Senate agriculture and judiciary committees.
Both men will be sworn into office alongside their colleagues when the 2017 session of the Legislature convenes on Wednesday.
Here’s a guest column from Crisanta Duran that’s running in The Pueblo Chieftain:
In the American West, nothing is more vital or sacred than water.
Colorado has a rich and complicated history with the resource, one that is colored by some successes, but also many conflicts and challenges. But because of the work of thousands of Coloradans on our state’s first-ever comprehensive water plan, our water future could be very bright indeed. That bright future, however, will require a lot more hard work.
A little more than one year ago, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the completion of Colorado’s water plan, developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board after two years of meetings across the state, input from the state’s eight basin roundtables, and the considered comments of more than 30,000 Coloradans from across the spectrum, including Colorado’s ranchers and farmers. It is a landmark policy document that will drive decisions about Colorado’s water for decades into the future.
The plan itself is ambitious, but implementing its component parts, though challenging, will be critical to our state’s future. Smart growth of our state requires tackling looming threats to our water supply, and the plan sets out a clear guide path to do just that.
There is both a conservation and economic imperative for implementing the Colorado Water Plan. We absolutely must have healthy rivers to power Colorado’s thriving recreation and tourism economies while also defending our agricultural community’s needs. In 2014, 71.3 million visitors came to Colorado and spent $18.6 billion, much of it on activities in Colorado’s great outdoors. We must ensure our rivers remain healthy so that future generations can continue to enjoy all the benefits our waterways provide.
The Colorado Water Plan set unprecedented statewide water conservation targets in cities and towns, prioritizing conservation as never before.
The conservation goal for towns and cities equates to nearly 1 percent per year water use reduction by 2050, which, while ambitious, is absolutely achievable
If met, the conservation goals and flexibility envisioned for users enshrined in the Colorado Water Plan will help both towns and cities meet their needs and keep our farms and ranches a key part of the Colorado landscape and economy.
For example, the CWP provides more flexibility for ranchers and farmers to share water with towns and cities, and to keep water in streams without jeopardizing future access to their water rights.
The plan also creates frameworks for much more comprehensive evaluations of new water projects to avoid costly diversions, helps keep Western Slope rivers flowing, and provides for comprehensive management plans for Colorado’s rivers. In short, if it continues to be implemented, the plan will preserve our water supply for ranchers and farmers, help to foster our outdoor recreation economy, and protect our quality of life now and into the future.
Creating a sustainable water future for Colorado is not only vital economics — it is vital to our local communities and our history as a state, including Latina and Latino communities whose long history in Colorado is intrinsically linked to Colorado’s waterways.
For centuries, Colorado’s rivers and streams have been integral to Colorado’s rich culture and way of life. Our rivers provide us with a collective sense of “querencia,” a place in which we know exactly who we are, the place from which we speak our deepest beliefs.
Protecting the Colorado and other rivers is not just smart water management for our state; it builds upon our tradition of responsible use and conservation for the benefit of future generations. Colorado’s rapid growth only compounds the need for urgent and continued action.
Crisanta Duran is speaker-designate of the Colorado House of Representatives. Lucia Guzman is minority leader of the Colorado Senate. Both are Denver Democrats.
Here’s a guest column from Bart Miller that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Water is the lifeblood of Colorado, and yet demands for water to support population growth, agriculture, and businesses are increasing while available water supplies are not.
Climate change is also having a growing impact in an already water-scarce region, and Colorado’s population is predicted to double by 2050. Not surprisingly, water scarcity was found to be one of the top concerns of state residents in the latest State of the Rockies Poll Project while 77 percent of Coloradoans support more conservation and water reuse as opposed to only 15 percent who support diverting water from rivers and streams. The good news is that we’ve had a sound first year implementing the state’s new water plan and now we need our state Legislature to help.
One year ago, Colorado’s water plan established goals for ensuring enough water for vibrant cities, viable agriculture, and healthy rivers that sustain wildlife, recreation and local economies. For West Slope communities like Grand Junction, the plan contains a number of provisions to safeguard West Slope interests every bit as much as those of the Front Range.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board recently approved a new budget of $25 million annually over the next few years for implementation. This budget includes funding for water conservation to help reach our state goal of saving 400,000 acre-feet of water, which would reduce water use by approximately 1 percent per year. The budget advances cost-effective measures to help communities make the most of every drop, like fixing leaky infrastructure and increasing water reuse technologies. Also included: $5 million annually for stream management and watershed restoration plans — essential for both healthy ecosystems and our thriving recreational economy.
The plan’s criteria “checklist” for evaluating what water projects receive public funds also started to gain steam by being embedded in the grant process for local river basin roundtables. The common-sense checklist evaluates whether projects have community support, prevent environmental degradation, are feasible, and meet real water needs. Ensuring local community support is essential for protecting West Slope resources.
We’ve run a good first lap, but there are miles to go to meet new water demands and protect Colorado’s rivers. In the coming year, we need development of alternative agricultural water agreements that support agriculture rather than “buy and dry” scenarios where cities buy up water rights that never return to agricultural producers. We need urban water conservation embedded into land use decisions so new development is water-smart from the start, reducing pressure to divert water from the West Slope to the Front Range. We need funds so local stakeholders can assess river health and create local stream management plans.
Most immediately, we need the Legislature to approve the $25 million plan budget developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The plan’s proposals have the support of the vast majority of Coloradans. Ultimately, the water plan’s long-term success requires collaboration among diverse stakeholders to ensure we help all local economies that rely upon Colorado’s rivers. Please join us in asking our state representatives to help by putting the water plan and our communities first.
Bart Miller leads Western Resource Advocates’ program protecting healthy rivers; improving water efficiency; and drawing the connection between water, energy, and climate change.
More than 70 percent of Latino voters are deeply concerned about the environment and how it affects their families. That’s according to a new Latino Decisions poll, which found over 90 percent of Latino Coloradans want the President-elect and new Congress to fight climate change.
Dominick Moreno, incoming Colorado Senator for Adams County, said he isn’t surprised by the poll results.
“The Latino community, I think, in Colorado really cares about the environment, cares about climate change and doing something about that, and is generally, I think, more environmentally sensitive to these issues,” he said.
He added that the survey confirms Latinos are an increasingly important voting bloc and are willing to take their convictions into the voting booth. In Colorado, 96 percent of Latinos surveyed said they support candidates who work to protect public health by limiting air pollution.
Nationally, Latino Republicans were less enthusiastic than Democrats about the need for action on climate change, but more than 60 percent agreed it’s an important issue. Over 90 percent want more clean-energy development.
Senior analyst of Latino Decisions, Edward Vargas, said these voters care about the environment because Latino communities are disproportionately affected.
“We tend to reside and live near environmental dump sites, factories; Latinos are also more likely to be working in the fields,” he explained. “So, I think this is just a reflection of where we live and where we work is impacted by the environment.”
Moreno said he’s confident the Latino community will keep a watchful eye on the Trump administration and Congress in case they try to reverse progress on climate change or let energy producers off the hook.
“You’re going to see them really, I think, rise up and say that we’re not going to accept the status quo, that we’re not going to accept halting the work that we’ve already done to make sure that, no matter where you live, that you have access to clean air and clean water, and outdoor recreation,” Moreno added.
“We are more connected than we’d like to admit” — Travis Smith (from the film “The Great Divide“)
The Colorado Water Congress folks have released the Wednesday workshop schedule for the Annual Convention. Here’s the email from Doug Kemper:
Colorado water community:
Wednesday Workshops Program
I am pleased to announce the program for the Wednesday Workshops on January 25 at the 2017 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center is now posted on CWC’s website. To view, click HERE. There are 25 opportunities for connecting with your colleagues as you learn about the latest happenings in Colorado water.
Annual Convention Program
The main program for the Convention is being built and should be ready next week. Our theme for the Annual Convention is Connectivity. We will go live with the new Colorado Water Congress Strategic Plan and link members with the future direction of our organization.
Flowing from the 2015 member survey, we learned that our outlook must be toward helping members feel connected to the Colorado Water Congress and engaged with our work to protect the interests of Colorado’s water community. And that is our goal!
The top thing that we will work on in 2017 is our communications. We will launch a new Communications Standing Committee at the Convention. Expressing your thoughts as to what you would like to see occur in this dynamic age of communications will be very helpful.
Annual Convention Registration
To receive the standard 10% early registration discount, register by December 31, 2016. Register for the Convention here – 2017 AC Registration
A Colorado Water Conservation Board proposal, sent to state lawmakers last week, recommends the stream-saving action to meet state environmental and economic goals. It remains unclear who would enforce the community watershed plans.
But there’s little doubt streams statewide are strained by thirsts of a growing population expected to double by 2060, according to state officials. And a Denver Post look at the latest water quality data found that 12,975 miles of streams across Colorado (14 percent of all stream miles) are classified as “impaired” with pollutants exceeding limits set by state regulators.
Creating local watershed plans to save streams is essential, said James Eklund, the CWCB director and architect of the year-old Colorado Water Plan. Eklund pointed to low-snow winters and drought in California’s Sierra Nevada, where 2015 snowpack at 5 percent of average forced a declaration of a state of emergency requiring 25 cuts in urban water use.
“When our Colorado mountain snowpack drops below 60 percent of average, we get nervous. If it happens in the Sierras, it can happen in the Rockies,” he said. “We need to protect certain streams before a crisis. We have got to get on this quickly.”
No single agency oversees waterway health. State natural resources officials monitor flow levels in streams and rivers. They run a program aimed at ensuring sufficient “in-stream flow” so that, even during drought, streams don’t die.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sets standards on maximum levels of pollutants that people and companies are allowed to discharge into waterways. In 2015, only 51.6 percent total stream and river miles in Colorado met quality standards, and 30.1 percent of lake surface acres met standards, according to a CDPHE planning document.
“If stream flows are low, there is less dilution in the stream to handle the addition of pollutants through permitted discharges,” CDPHE water quality director Pat Pfaltzgraff said in responses sent by agency spokesman Mark Salley.
Yet CDPHE officials do not make recommendations to natural resources officials about water flows necessary to improve stream health.
The health department has made separate “watershed plans.” CDPHE officials “are considering broadening the division’s watershed plans to include ecosystem health that might be more consistent with stream management plans.”
Pfaltzgraff declined to discuss stream health…
CWCB chairman Russ George supported the push to create local watershed plans, to include detailed maps covering every stream.
“Every stream and tributary needs to be inventoried. … It should have been done a long time ago,” George said in an interview last week.
“We have kind of hit the population and demand place where we have to do it. We didn’t have to do it for the first part of history because the population was small and there wasn’t the impact of all the issues we are getting into now,” he said.
The CWCB voted unanimously last month to ask lawmakers to approve $5 million a year for up to five years to launch local stream planning.
The plans are to be developed within the eight river basin “roundtable” forums that Colorado has relied on for addressing water challenges. These groups draw in residents with interests in stream health who helped hash out the Colorado Water Plan, which was finalized last year and calls for statewide cuts in per person water use by about 1 percent a year.
Conditions along Colorado streams vary, said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. “There are plenty of streams that have problems.”
While state natural resources officials run the program aimed at keeping at least some water in heavily tapped streams, survival in a competitive environment is complex. Leaving water in streams for environmental purposes often depends on timing, when the mountain snowpack that serves as a time-release water tower for the West melts, the amount of snowpack, and needs of cities, pastures and farms.
Collaborative local forums to find flexibility to revive streams “is a great approach.” However, state officials eventually may have to play a central role converting plans into action, Miller said.
“The state should help both in funding the planning but also in implementing the plans,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do. This matters because this is about ‘the Colorado brand.’ Everyone depends on healthy rivers.”
The roundtable forums in communities draw in diverse stakeholders from cattlemen to anglers.
Irrigators and other water users west of Aspen already have created a “stream management plan,” for the Crystal River, seen as a model local effort. Their planning included an assessment of watershed health that found significant degradation above the confluence with the Roaring Fork River. They set a goal of reducing the estimated 433 cubic feet per second of water diverted from the river by adding 10 to 25 cfs during dry times. They’re developing “nondiversion agreements” that would pay irrigators to reduce water use when possible without hurting agriculture, combined with improving ditches and installation of sprinkler systems designed to apply water to crops more efficiently.
Enforcement of plans hasn’t been decided. “We’d like to see more enforcement” of measures to improve stream health, Rocky Mountain Sierra Club director Jim Alexee said. “We definitely think there’s room to do more. We also want to be respectful of the governor’s watershed process.”
Colorado has no history of relying on a central agency to enforce water and land use, CWCB chairman George pointed out.
“When you have a system designed to have everybody at the table, what you’re doing is recognizing there is a finite resource that is shared by everybody. And impacts are shared by everybody statewide. In order to keep from having some force dominate in ways that would not account for all statewide impacts, you need to diffuse the conversation into all areas. That is what roundtables do,” he said.
“When you do that, you’re going to get a better statewide result over time. … It is a process that is designed to get as many interests into the decision-making as you can. … It gets harder, of course, as the supply-demand makes pinches. For the rest of our lives, it is going to be that way.”
Contacted at his home over the holiday weekend…[Jerry Sonnenberg] said the issues the legislature will be grappling with are becoming more acute as time goes on. And none are more contentious than those facing the committee the popular Sterling farmer will again be chairing. Commonly called the Ag Committee, the panel is actually the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy committee — three areas that can come into conflict when it comes to lawmaking.
The biggest challenge Sonnenberg sees for that committee in the coming session is getting meaningful legislation out of the Colorado Water Plan. Only one bill, the South Platte storage survey, which Sonnenberg sponsored in the Senate, came out of this year’s session. He believes there will be much more legislation on that issue next year but it will be more contentious.
“It appears that people only want to implement the conservation part of the (CWP) and not the storage,” Sonnenberg said. “I see the Colorado Water Conservation Board as largely ignoring the whole storage issue.”
But storage has to be on the table in any bill that reaches the Sonnenberg-led ag committee.
“You can’t get stuff through my committee until we have a conversation about (water storage,)” he said…
Sonnenberg is again on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and it’s the one that may actually be dearest to his heart because it’s where he can apply his conservative philosophy of government thrift. That’s not necessarily less spending, but spending where it does the most good, he explained.
“I’m going to question, where is this money coming from?” he said. “Is this money coming out of education or is it coming out of transportation? Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul? I think those are very important things to watch out for.”
The first regular session of the 71st Colorado General Assembly will convene on Jan. 11, 2017.
I’m at the conference getting ready for the first session: Leading the way with direct potable reuse in Colorado. Panel with moderator Doug Kemper (Colorado Water Congress), Myron Nealey (Denver Water), John Rehring (Carollo Engineers).
CWC has an iPhone app up at the app store. Search for CWC and scroll down to CWC Summer Conference.
Nice bike ride up the Yampa River from my campsite west of town. The Sheraton Steamboat Springs lets you check your bike and park it in a room out of the elements.
If Colorado hopes to reach its goal of conserving at least 130 billion gallons of water a year by 2050, some of the state’s water utilities will have to step up their evaluation and repairs on aging or corroded water lines.
Colorado water experts anticipate that by 2050, the state will need at least one million acre-feet of water more than it will have, an estimate that many believe is conservative. (An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, or the amount of water it would take to cover Mile High Stadium from end zone to end zone with one foot of water.)
That means every sector of water use — recreational, agricultural, industrial, municipal and environmental — can anticipate shortages. Much of the shortfall is tied to Colorado’s population boom. The state’s population is projected to nearly double from about 5.3 million to at least 8.7 million people, perhaps reaching as high as 10.3 million, by 2050.
On Tuesday, a state legislative interim committee met to discuss, among other things, how to save more water by stopping “water loss.”
Water providers lose 25 billion gallons of water a year through leaking water lines and hundreds of water main breaks, according to estimates in the Colorado Water Plan.
For water providers and utilities, that loss comes at the cost of extracting water and treating it, only to lose some of it before it reaches the user. In Colorado, water experts put the cost of that loss at about $50 million a year. In addition to actual water loss, there are also costs associated with incorrectly-operating water meters or other discrepancies.
Bottom line: Those financial losses mean utilities have less to spend on maintaining their systems. And the bottom, bottom line? Guess who helps make up the difference?
Utilities pass on the costs of water loss to consumers, says Teresa Conley of Conservation Colorado. Utilities have fixed costs and revenue that fluctuates based on how much water is used throughout the year. Water loss impacts water providers’ bottom line, she said, and that means consumers end up paying for water that gets lost in the system.
Fix these problems and that could save about 77,000 acre-feet of water a year — or about 20 percent of the state’s conservation goal. The focus on repairing leaking pipes comes at a time when national and local attention is being paid to lead in water supplies, largely due to corroded water lines in Flint, Michigan but found in Colorado, as well.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, part of the state’s Department of Natural Resources,and author of the state’s water plan, would like to see a uniform way of measuring water loss. It has developed a tool for utilities that would track water loss statewide. But the utilities aren’t all that enthusiastic about using it, pointing out that their own efforts are producing the desired results.
John Thornhill, chief engineer at Greeley Water and Sewer, told the committee this week that pipes installed in the 1950s were the biggest problem for Greeley because the linings in them were susceptible to corrosion. The utility recently finished replacing those corroded pipes, which were part of a network of 640 miles of water lines.
Offering a well-worn pun in the industry, he said: “We’re getting the lead out.”
With uncertainty surrounding state funding for water projects, officials in the San Luis Valley hosted state lawmakers Tuesday with an eye toward reminding them why the region was a good investment.
Local water officials emphasized the initiative water users have undertaken to solve their own problems and the collaboration they’ve displayed in implementing water projects with multiple partners and benefits.
“We used to have an attitude that’s adversarial,” said Nathan Coombs. “That’s dissolving away.”
His remarks were directed at the Water Resources Review Committee, which held a two-hour hearing and earlier in the day toured a string of projects in the south end of the valley.
Coombs is the manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District and he also heads up the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable.
Since lawmakers created the roundtables in each of the state’s major river basins in 2006, none have secured as much funding as the $12.8 million the Rio Grande did for its 29 projects.
But the revenue stream used by the state to fund roundtable projects faces some uncertainty.
The Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting projects the severance tax on oil and natural gas producers, a portion of which goes toward water projects, will decline by 77.6 percent, from $218 million to $63 million, this year.
The decline is due to slumping oil and natural gas prices and also to a state Supreme Court ruling in the spring on tax deductions for producers of oil and natural gas.
Travis Smith represents the Rio Grande basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which administers and gives final approval to projects from the roundtables.
He told lawmakers the board was working on a way to redress the funding decline and could vote on a proposal when it meets later this month.
Lawmakers would likely not see the proposed fund juggling until they consider the water projects bill in next spring’s session.
“It will require your support,” Smith said.
Regardless of that potential funding fix, local officials used the hearing to bring home why the Rio Grande basin was a good place to park state funds.
Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, pointed to the creation of Subdistrict No. 1 and planning for five others to come on line.
Inspired by the forced shutdown of groundwater wells along the South Platte and Arkansas rivers, groundwater users in the valley devised the subdistrict as a voluntary mechanism in which groundwater users taxed themselves to restore the aquifer.
“Subdistrict No. 1 is unique in that it’s a community solution to a community problem,” he said.
Since its creation in 2012, the subdistrict, which takes in the most densely irrigated area in the valley, has reduced groundwater pumping by a third among its roughly 3,000 wells.
Lawmakers also heard how the valley’s projects place an emphasis on having multiple benefits for multiple user groups.
One of the four examples included the Rio Grande Cooperative Project, which funded the rehabilitation of two reservoirs and invested in software to research the timing of their water releases.
Partners included Trout Unlimited, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.