The #ColoradoRiver Water Conservation District may move to put a mill levy increase on the November 2020 ballot #COriver #aridification #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Thomas Phippen):

River district Director Andy Mueller presented the commission with the possibility of asking taxpayers to double the existing mill levy for Garfield and 14 other counties. Currently, the River district levies about a quarter mill on properties, which has been enough since about 1992.

Under the 2019 assessment rate, the river district’s current quarter-mill levy comes out to $1.79 on a $100,000 home. If increased, the half-mill would cost the same home $3.58 in property taxes.

But with cost increases, decreasing revenues from oil and gas development, and several crises looming over the Western Slope’s water, the current tax is simply not enough, Mueller said…

Mueller said the river district has cut costs in recent years, but sustaining current operations requires an increase.

And the district wants to support important projects that are currently unfunded, like identifying and developing small high-mountain reservoirs.

Those reservoirs could play a role in keeping streams flowing, and supplementing water for agriculture and municipalities “during times of severe hot, dry summers that we’re having more and more of,” Mueller said.

“We can’t do it with the current revenue stream,” he added, which is why he again asked the district’s board to look into placing the tax increase on the November 2020 ballot.

The Garfield County commissioners expressed support for the mill levy ballot language…

If the river district’s board approves the ballot language, and voters approve the property tax in November, it would bring in an additional $4.9 million to the district.

Mueller suggests using most of that for the special water projects. One example is the Windy Gap bypass, which would reconstruct a channel around the reservoir to preserve fish habitats and river flows.

The river district’s mission is “to make sure we have water for all of our industries and economic activity, everything from recreation to agriculture,” Mueller said, but that’s impossible without sufficient funding.

2019 #COleg SB19-181: New well integrity rules make #Colorado a leader in [oil and gas] well safety for workers and neighbors — Environmental Defense Fund #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Adam Peltz):

The state of Colorado is poised to adopt some of the nation’s most sophisticated and protective regulations designed to prevent its 60,000 oil and gas wells from leaking or exploding.

Colorado has a history of leading on oil and gas regulatory issues to reduce risks to families, workers and the environment, including the nation’s first regulations to address climate-damaging methane emissions from the industry in 2014. In the wake of the 2017 Firestone tragedy and the passage of a major oil and gas reform bill (SB 181) in 2019, the state has undertaken a whole slate of rule modernizations. Well integrity, for which rules have not been updated since 2008, is up next.

Ensuring that wells do not leak or explode is a top priority for any oil and gas agency. For the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission updating well integrity rules will not only reduce risks for oil and gas workers in the state, but will also help protect the 500,000 Coloradans who live within a mile of an oil or gas well in the state. Since 2016, COGCC records show around 40 well integrity incidents, including significant blowouts in Hudson and Berthoud in 2017. And that figure is likely an underreporting given how difficult it can be to determine whether a leak is occurring deep underground.

Leaks from oil and gas wells can contaminate aquifers or release methane into the atmosphere. In the most serious cases, methane can migrate into homes and pose explosion risks. Oil and gas well blowouts are dramatic fluid releases that can endanger workers, residents and the environment. They occur most often during drilling, but are possible during any phase of a well’s multidecade lifespan. Major blowouts in recent years have rocked Ohio, Oklahoma, the Gulf of Mexico and California’s Aliso Canyon.

Importantly, history shows us that smarter and better rules really work. A year after Texas adopted new well integrity regulations, including many similar policy recommendations from EDF, blowouts in Texas fell by 40% and injuries from blowouts fell 50%.

Over the last year, a stakeholder coalition that included EDF and operators representing more than 90% of the production in Colorado has been working to develop a joint set of proposed rule revisions, based on a peer review by the State Oil and Gas Regulatory Exchange, that protect workers, the environment and residents, and take into account the needs of the state’s energy businesses.

The COGCC’s proposed rule, which will be voted on in late February, reflects all of the coalition’s recommendations, and EDF strongly supports its passage (Colorado environmental groups are also broadly supportive of the rulemaking, and EDF supports the tweaks they seek to the definition of protected water). It addresses essentially all of the potential regulatory gaps flagged by the peer review, reduces specific risks related to Colorado’s oil and gas wells identified in the technical literature, and adheres closely to EDF’s Model Regulatory Framework on well integrity. In other words, it would bring Colorado to the head of the class on well integrity regulation nationwide.

Some highlights include:

  • Regular monitoring of every well in the state for leakage risks.
  • Improved criteria for cement placement, quality and testing.
  • New safety controls during hydraulic fracturing.
  • More comprehensive efforts to prevent frac hits.
  • Better plugging protocols.
  • New emergency response planning requirements.
  • Overall, there are dozens of new improvements, and many of them clearly demonstrate national leadership. EDF is excited that Colorado is getting ready to adopt such a strong rule developed in a collaborative, science and risk-based manner. Other states may find much to replicate in both process and substance, and this rulemaking establishes strong momentum in Colorado’s stead for the next rounds of rule upgrades required under SB 181.

    Colorado Bets on New Funding for Water Plan — @AudubonRockies

    Common Mergansers. Photo: Lynn Cleveland/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

    The four-year-old Colorado Water Plan—the Centennial State’s proactive response to drought, flood, unpredictable water supplies, climate change, and a booming population that is likely to rise from 5.7 million today to nearly 9 million Coloradans in the next 30 years—is now guaranteed some of the annual $100 million needed to implement the plan. This month, Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition DD to legalize sports betting (and a 10% tax on these casino revenues) which will result in an estimated $12 million to $29 million annually, the majority of which will go toward the Water Plan.

    While we likely won’t see $29 million for the first several years, DD revenues bring Colorado’s first dedicated funding source to Water Plan implementation. The sports-betting tax money will flow into a new fund overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Revenues from DD are a drop in the bucket that renew every year, and represent a much-needed down payment toward the full $100 million per year for the Water Plan.

    Revenues from DD could be used for a variety of Water Plan purposes including: stream and watershed management improvements, urban water conservation and efficiency, improved irrigation infrastructure for farms and ranches, and storage projects. At this point, it is not clear how the state will spend these dollars given the various priorities and the considerable funding gap. The language in DD was vague and will need refinement, and transparency. Stakeholders will likely explore options with the legislature to guide how DD funds are spent on Water Plan implementation.

    Audubon will engage to advocate for spending that supports healthy rivers for the birds and people that depend on them—as we support a fully funded Water Plan. But even with the revenues DD will provide, additional dollars, heightened public awareness, and action will be critical to ensure healthy rivers—and the sustainable water future they enable for Colorado’s birds, economies, communities, recreation, agricultural heritage, and quality of life.

    Audubon is proud to have supplied nearly 20 percent of the nearly 30,000 public comments that informed Colorado’s inaugural Water Plan, and Audubon will be there every step of the way through Water Plan implementation. Colorado cannot thrive unless its rivers do too.

    Everything we love about Colorado is connected to water. We need your help in raising awareness about water and healthy rivers throughout Colorado. Spread the word. Join us as Audubon works across the state for a water-secure future for people and the environment.

    Colorado Ag Celebrates Proposition DD — AgInfo.net

    Longs Peak

    From AgInfo.net (Maura Bennett):

    Download the report

    The Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattlemens’ Association and most agriculture organizations are celebrating the measure approved by voters to allow sports betting in the state. But it’s not a cure-all for what ails us.
    The Farm Bureau’s Shawn Martini says it was a given they would support Proposition DD, as it is a way to guarantee future funding for the state’s Water Plan. The Water Plan – a blueprint for ensuring stable water supplies in the years and decades to come.

    Martini: “And thus far it has not been funded anywhere close to what it needs. That initial figure of about 100 million dollars a year we need to fully fund the state’s water plan. While this doesn’t get us up to a 100 million a year, it at least provides us a dedicated revenue stream of maybe even up to 30 million a year to help continue to implement and build the projects that are a key part of the state’s water plan.”

    Martini says they are waiting to see how much the state legislature will add to the Water Plan funding on a yearly basis. But with the passage of Prop. DD there is now a dedicated stream of funding that will allow the state to begin to chip away at the backlog of projects that need to be done to fulfill the state’s future water supply.

    DD will legalize sports betting in Colorado and create a 10 percent tax on casinos’ house winnings that would largely benefit the Water Plan. Colorado’s 33 casinos will be able to offer in-person and online wagering on professional, collegiate, motor and Olympic sports beginning in May 2020.

    It was a squeaker, but Colorado voters say yes to sports betting, cash for state’s water plan — @WaterEdCO

    Urban areas and ski counties say yes to sports-betting, water initiative. Source: Colorado Secretary of State. Nov. 6, 2019 via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado voters narrowly approved a new sports-betting tax whose proceeds will help fund water projects across the state, including conservation programs, stream restoration, and new reservoirs.

    The vote is a major victory for the bi-partisan coalition that backed the measure and represents the first voter-approved effort to fund the four-year-old Colorado Water Plan.

    The nail-biter margins, 1.5 percent at press time, provide a cautionary tale on how much support exists for water funding and how much more will be needed in the future, backers said.

    “I was surprised. It was super close,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the bill that referred Proposition DD, as it was known, to voters. “But it’s a reminder to everyone that Colorado is a fiscally conservative state.”

    Proposition DD legalizes sports betting and imposes a 10 percent tax on casino revenue derived from this new form of gambling. A statewide map of the vote count showed voters on the Front Range and in ski counties, such as Eagle, Summit and Ouray, had the most enthusiasm for the measure, while rural counties on the West Slope and Eastern Plains rejected it.

    Garnett said he was proud of the consensus on water demonstrated by the win, and the power of the bi-partisan coalition of politicians, environmentalists, water utilities, and agriculture groups that came together to back the campaign.

    “Any legislator will say, ‘You’re electing me to go in to help solve problems and bring people together,’ and I’m proud of how we did that here,” he said.

    The vote sends an important signal to lawmakers and others, according to political pollster Floyd Ciruli.

    “There is no better conversation to have than a ballot issue. You get everyone’s attention. This vote shows people do believe water is important and that this is a good way to [fund] it,” Ciruli said.

    Early on, Prop DD was barely showing up on voters’ radar, with early polls indicating little support. But a digital and TV ad campaign launched last month helped turn the tide, Ciruli said.

    Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, opposed the measure and said he remains concerned that there isn’t enough transparency in how the money will be managed and that it is improper to use a so-called “sin tax” to pay for something as fundamental as water resources.

    “Water is such an important issue we should pay for it out of the general fund or out of severance taxes,” Sonnenberg said, adding that he will continue to fight in the Legislature to ensure the money is used for the water plan.

    Estimated to total between $12 million to $29 million annually, the sports-betting tax money will flow into a new fund overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It could be used for a variety of purposes, including water-saving programs for cities and farms, habitat restoration programs, storage projects, land use planning, and environmental water supplies for water-short streams.

    Since 2015, the CWCB has financed the water plan using income derived from severance taxes, the state’s general fund, and other sources. Those amounts have varied widely, with the state setting aside $30 million this year, up from $5 million in 2015, according to the CWCB.

    Backers characterize DD as a valuable down payment on the water plan. Assuming the tax is able to eventually generate $29 million a year, that’s still less than one-third of the $100 million a year the state has previously estimated it will take to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages.

    This year, another group emerged whose intent is to raise additional money for the water plan. For The Love of Colorado, backed by the Walton Family Foundation (also a funder of Fresh Water News) and the Gates Family Foundation, is preparing to run a large public awareness campaign about the critical nature of the state’s water challenges and the need for funding.

    The group’s executive director, Tim Wohlgenant, said the close vote demonstrates how much more work is needed.

    “It’s great that voters did this. But I need to emphasize it’s literally only a drop in the bucket. And even though it passed, it barely passed. We have more work to do.”

    David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said he hopes Prop DD will stimulate environmental and water conservation programs, much like Great Outdoors Colorado has. GOCO is the 1992 ballot initiative that has helped preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of historical ranches and open space across Colorado, protecting them from development. It is funded with state lottery proceeds.

    “We’re pleased that Colorado voters are making a decision to invest in our resources, using the water plan as a road map for that,” Nickum said.

    “Hopefully it will lead to a proliferation of projects, much like GOCO did,” he said.

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

    Colorado Conservation, Sportsmen Groups Celebrate Passage of Proposition DD for Colorado’s Water — Western Resource Advocates #COWaterPlan

    From Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):

    DD secures an important down payment for Colorado’s Water Plan, but full funding is still needed

    Credit: Cattleman’s Ditches Pipeline Project II Montrose County, Colorado EIS via USBR.

    A coalition of environmental and sportsmen groups today hailed passage of Colorado Proposition DD to help conserve and protect the state’s rivers and streams and drinking water. The coalition – which includes Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, and the Colorado Water Trust issued the following joint statement:

    “Passage of Proposition DD is a big win for Colorado and the quality of life we enjoy here. Taxing the revenue from legalized sports betting will create a dedicated down payment to help ensure that Colorado has healthy rivers and enough water for all. Still, it’s important to remember that this is just the first step toward addressing the growing gap between the water we have and the water we need.

    “Four years ago, Coloradans came together to create Colorado’s Water Plan to protect all the things we love about our Colorado way of life – from healthy flowing rivers, to farming and ranching, and even beer. Our rivers contribute over $9 billion annually to the state’s economy, yet Colorado has not lined up adequate funding for the plan, despite overwhelming bipartisan support from across the state.

    “Proposition DD will help generate a much-needed revenue stream to improve wildlife habitat, protect our agricultural heritage and the open spaces that come with it, and strengthen our economy. But the plan estimates the total need to be $100 million a year for the next 30 years, and we must keep working to ensure Colorado fully funds our water future.”

    Proposition DD places a 10 percent tax on casinos’ profits from sports wagers, up to $29 million annually, and the majority of the revenue raised will go to implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. The annual funding is expected to be between $10 million and $15 million annually in the first few years.

    Blue Mesa Reservoir

    From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

    It was a squeaker, but sports betting will be legal in Colorado beginning in May 2020.

    Voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure 51% to 49% to legalize and tax betting on certain professional and collegiate games at casinos and online, according to results from the Colorado secretary of state. The vote was too close to call until mid-afternoon Wednesday. The Associated Press called the race at 2:33 p.m.

    Revenue from a 10% tax on the net proceeds companies make on sports betting will help pay for some of the state’s critical water needs. It is, in other words, a narrowly focused tax targeted for a widespread need.

    The vote was far from the slam dunk many expected. While the success of its sister ballot measure, Prop CC, was always uncertain, Colorado voters have historically been more receptive to so-called sin taxes.

    But the measure had critics on both sides of the political spectrum. For conservatives, the question about raising taxes may have been a non-starter. And for liberals, a regressive tax paid by gamblers, some of whom may struggle with addiction to gambling, perhaps was too problematic to support.

    “This has always been a white-knuckles job,” said Josh Penry, a former Republican state Senator and political strategist who worked on the Prop DD campaign. “There is real skepticism. It’s not a traditional right-vs-left issue.”

    More than 90% of that new tax revenue, estimated at an average of $16 million per year, and as much as $29 million, would help pay for managing the state’s dwindling water supplies. That tax revenue alone is not enough to meet the state’s water needs, but in the minds of most of its supporters, it represents the best shot yet to pay for the general projects outlined by the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

    “The Colorado Water Plan will have a permanent, dedicated funding source,” said Becky Mitchell, the director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in a statement. “Sports betting tax revenue for the Water Plan will support critical environmental, agriculture, and storage projects as well as promote outdoor recreation opportunities across the state.”

    Coming up with the money to help better manage Colorado’s water supplies is seen as critical to maintaining the state agriculture and recreation industries and preserving healthy river ecosystems threatened by slow flows and warming waters. The estimated cost of implementing the water plan is $100 million a year.

    Lawmakers have struggled to find that money. They pulled together nearly $30 million in one-time money for water projects and planning last session, a historic yet insufficient amount. Prop DD, which was referred to the ballot by state lawmakers, was seen as the best shot at getting at least some funding and getting it fast.

    “This is not the best way to fund such an important need, but we have to take the opportunities that come to us,” said Scott Wasserman, the president of the Bell Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank.

    Opponents had concerns about paying for the Colorado Water Plan because it calls for possibly damming rivers to build reservoirs. The margins of victory in Boulder and Larimer counties were tight, areas where projects to expand or build reservoirs are planned. The Water Plan also calls for lining irrigation ditches, upgrading flood gates and paying farmers to use less water.

    The measure struggled despite a $2.4 million campaign to promote it. FanDuel Group, a New York City-based sports betting company, spent $1 million backing the measure, according to campaign finance records with the secretary of state. Other top donors include DraftKings, a Boston-based sports betting company, Twin River Casino Hotel from Rhode Island and the Colorado Gaming Association.

    A coalition of environmental groups backed DD, including American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, Colorado Water Trust, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Trout Unlimited, and Western Resource Advocates. The Colorado Farm Bureau also supported the measure.

    Colorado already allows limited stakes gambling — under $100 — in the towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. Some supporters saw Prop DD as a way to regulate underground sports betting.

    “Black markets aren’t conservative and they aren’t good for Colorado. Bringing sports betting into the daylight, regulating it, and leveraging it for the benefit of our water future is a common-sense approach,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Littleton, in a statement.

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From the Environmental Defense Fund (Brian Jackson):

    Water in Colorado — one of the state’s most important natural resources — scored a major win today when voters approved Proposition DD. Prop. DD will provide up to $29 million a year for water projects from revenue raised by legalizing and taxing sports betting.

    This funding will support critical projects to implement Colorado’s Water Plan and keep Colorado the state we know and love, with healthy rivers, clean drinking water, productive agriculture and abundant recreation.

    EDF and EDF Action were key advocates for Prop. DD. We are thrilled voters approved the measure because it shows Coloradans across the political spectrum care deeply about building a more resilient future for our state.

    Closing the water funding gap

    Colorado’s Water Plan identified a funding gap of $100 million a year for 30 years to conserve and protect key elements of the state’s water system, including the environment, in the face of climate change and a growing population. Prop. DD will provide an impactful down payment to fill this funding gap.

    Achieving voter approval of tax measures is always challenging, especially in Colorado, but EDF, EDF Action and our partners in the state worked hard to earn broad support for Prop. DD. Every major newspaper in Colorado endorsed it, and there was strong bipartisan support among state leaders and lawmakers who referred the measure to the ballot.

    Uncommon partners rally around common-sense water solutions

    The list of Prop. DD supporters was long and diverse, including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Colorado Farm Bureau, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates, among many others. Working side by side with some of these unlikely allies paves the way for more collaboration to deploy the funding to Colorado’s highest water priorities and best projects.

    The success of Prop. DD clearly demonstrates to our state lawmakers that water is a priority issue for Coloradans, and we hope policymakers will continue to focus on ensuring our water system meets our state’s needs for decades to come.

    We can’t wait to roll up our sleeves to help effectively implement Prop. DD and usher in this important new era for water funding and resilience in Colorado.

    Prop DD seen as ‘priming the pump’ for water plan — The Montrose Press

    From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    Although it went down in Montrose County, statewide, voters lifted Prop DD to victory; 712,405 yes, to 692,377 no, according to unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State.

    The revenue from taxing sports betting, estimated at about $30 million, is to be used to implement the Colorado Water Plan — a drop in the bucket, so to speak, of the billions implementation is expected to cost over the next few decades.

    The Colorado River District, which supported Prop DD, viewed it as help with a “downpayment” for plan implementation. The water plan is a longer range strategy to balance water supply against growing needs; its provisions include more infrastructure for water storage, as well as conservation methods.

    State Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, who represents House District 58, and who also represents Montrose County on the river district, left the county courthouse Tuesday night assuming DD was going down in defeat; after an initially favorable showing, the “no” votes began to dominate. But, by early Wednesday, the final unofficial results showed a win.

    “We kind of raised the profile of water, but it had to come on gambling. I think people voted against gambling, rather than against water,” Catlin said.

    “Now it’s up to the state of Colorado, and me — all of us in the state that have anything to do with this. Now is the time for a good project to be picked up in rural Colorado.”

    Although to Catlin, urban areas seemed to support DD more than did voters in rural areas, a need for such projects is on the Western Slope and other non-metro areas, he said, and it’s time for the state to “square up” by offering feasible projects that will assure water plan success.

    “It certainly is not going to fix all issues Colorado has with water, but it does prime the pump. That doesn’t mean the Legislature can now ignore it. Now is the time we really take it on in the state,” Catlin said.

    He acknowledged the money DD is supposed to raise will not come close to fully funding the water plan.

    #COleg: As water prices soar, Colorado lawmakers consider rules to stop profiteering — @WaterEdCO

    District 5 State Sen. Kerry Donovan, left, speaks on a panel with other lawmakers at the Colorado Water Congress legislative session in Steamboat Springs in August. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Buy low, sell high? Not so fast.

    As demand and prices for Colorado water rise, state lawmakers are concerned that Wall Street investment firms and even local finance groups may seek to circumvent state laws designed to prevent water profiteering.

    Last month, the Colorado Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee initially approved a bill authorizing a study to determine whether the state’s anti-speculation laws, already considered among the strongest in the West, need to be further strengthened.

    “The reason I drafted it is because I’m hearing stories from the West Slope and the San Luis Valley of outside groups coming in and buying water rights. While we’re not entirely sure if this is speculation, some of these companies are more like financial and hedge fund institutions instead of agricultural interests. That seems to have the color of water speculation,” said Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who represents several West Slope counties and who is chair of the interim committee. (Editor’s note: Sen. Donovan sits on the board of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News.)

    Under Colorado law, water is considered a public resource, but the legal right to take it and use it toward some beneficial purpose must be approved in water court. Once obtained, water rights are considered a private property right, one that can be bought and sold as long as water courts approve the transaction.

    Water has always been a scarce resource in Colorado and in the 1800s, as miners and farmers were moving in, the courts developed a system so that no one could hoard water and profit from its sale. To combat the problem, they required that water rights be granted only to those who could put them to beneficial use, whether in farm fields or mines, or in people’s homes and businesses.

    The anti-speculation laws have been challenged and upheld many times in water court, leading several water experts to question the need to amend them.

    Dave Taussig, a Denver water attorney, said he was surprised to see lawmakers move in this direction.

    “This is one of the few areas of Colorado [water] law that is pretty well defined and established,” Taussig said. “I don’t see the need for this.”

    For many transactions, as long as the water is being put to use, the deal is not considered speculative.

    On the West Slope for instance, New York City-based Water Asset Management has purchased ranches with valuable, senior water rights. Right now, the company continues to operate the farms and the water is still being used as it had been before the purchase, so it is not considered speculative. That’s because, under existing law, there is nothing to prevent someone from buying water rights with an eye toward a future sale, where the interim use is just a placeholder.

    Water Asset Management could not be reached for comment. But its website spells out a clear investment strategy that includes acquiring Western farm water and holding onto it until it appreciates in value, at which point it could be leased or sold for a profit.

    Closer to home, Denver-based Renewable Water Resources has assembled an investment group which intends to purchase farm water in the San Luis Valley and pipe it to the Front Range.

    Sean Tonner, a principal in RWR, said the proposal isn’t a buy-low, sell-high proposition because his company is offering $2,500 to $2,800 an acre-foot for the farm water, which normally sells locally for much less, around $65 to $200 an acre-foot, according to San Luis Valley water officials.

    Tonner declined to provide a sales price, but Front Range developers routinely pay $20,000 an acre-foot and more for water.

    RWR has not yet identified an end-user for the project, but has committed to do so before it seeks approval from state water court.

    “Colorado has great anti-speculation laws. If there is a way to make them stronger, I’m all for it,” Tonner said. “But I would disagree with the assertion that what we’re doing is buy-low, sell-high.”

    Still lawmakers are concerned. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is also on the interim water committee and said the state needs to be vigilant about how its agricultural water rights are being bought and sold.

    “Yes we do have strong anti-speculation laws,” Coram said, “but hedge funds also have very good attorneys. There are ways to work around [the laws].”

    According to the initial bill draft, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources would form a work group next year to examine what the state can do to ensure its market-based water management system isn’t manipulated by moneyed interests. The bill directs the group to report back to lawmakers in August of 2021.

    The committee will vote Oct. 24 on whether the bill should advance further. If approved, it will be introduced during the regular session that opens Jan. 8, 2020.

    Donovan is hopeful the process will uncover new tools, even beyond the anti-speculation laws, to help the state prevent profiteering.

    “Water speculation is something we need to ensure we have a firm grip on as a state. I expect there will be a lot of conversations in upcoming years about how we make sure that water isn’t exploited and doesn’t become a way for people to make a quick dollar,” Donovan said.

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

    Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting recap

    Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Julesberg Advocate:

    At the beginning of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting last week, the Board welcomed 2 new Board members. Rod Lenz, RRWCD Board President, swore in Brooke Campbell, from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing the East Cheyenne Ground Water Management District and Jim Hadachek, also from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing Cheyenne County on the RRWCD Board.

    On August 2, 2019, House Bill 19-1029 went into effect. The bill modified the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) to include the southern portion of Kit Carson County and an area in the northern portion of Cheyenne County. All counties and groundwater management districts in the RRWCD are represented on the Board of Directors

    The change in the boundary brought approximately 332 wells and the associated irrigated acreage into the RRWCD. The annual diversions from these wells has always been included in the groundwater model which tracks the use of water within each state, from which the depletions to the river are calculated, but because they were not been included in the RRWCD boundary, they have not paid the Water Use Fee as have the well owners that are located in the current RRWCD boundary.

    For 2019, the RRWCD Board voted to charge a pro-rated rate of $6.00 per irrigated acre to the wells in this area instead of the $14.50 that is assessed on irrigated acres in the RRWCD. All irrigated acres will have the same assessment in 2020.

    Effective immediately, the Board approved allowing all acres in the RRWCD be eligible for the EQIP program, which is administered through the NRCS. Anyone interested in more information on the EQIP program should contact your local NRCS office.

    Former Senator Greg Brophy gave a presentation on House Bill 19-1327, which is now Proposition DD, to put sports betting on the ballot. The goal of this legislation is to provide a stable funding source to implement the Colorado Water Plan.

    The RRWCD approved conservation grant applications from Marks Butte, Frenchman, Sandhills and Central Yuma Groundwater Management Districts (Big 4 GWMDS). The Big 4 GWMDs requested that the grant funds be forwarded to the Colorado Master Irrigator program.

    The Board also approved the conservation grant application by W-Y GWMD, requesting funds that will assist in covering costs for implementing conservation efforts in their district.

    The RRWCD endorsed an agreement for well owners in the northern portion of the district who have augmentation plans to the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District or to Sedgwick Water District.

    Well owners located in the South Fork Focus Zone who enter into a new CREP contract are now eligible for an additional one-time payment of $200 per irrigated acre retired. The two million dollars of funding for the supplemental contract is provided by the State of Colorado.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Deb Daniel, RRWCD General Manager (970)332-3552.

    @COWaterCongress Annual Summer Conference recap #cwcsc2019

    The headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Steamboat Pilot (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

    Water leaders from across the state converged on Steamboat Springs this week as part of the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference.

    The Colorado Water Congress is a group of people who work and live in water, explained Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger…

    In a legislative update, attendees heard about three proposals that could change water management in the state. Reps. Dylan Roberts, Jeni Arndt and Donald Valdez and Sens. Kerry Donovan, Jerry Sonnenberg and Don Coram sat on the panel.

    “As somebody who represents Routt County and other Western Slope counties, we know what a dry year looks like,” Roberts said. “We just had one last year, and we’re fortunate to have a wet year this year, but we have to continuously plan for those dry years and look at any legislation that helps us to preserve and conserve as much water as possible, prevent forest fires and protect agriculture, because they’re the ones that really lose out when we have dry years.”

    Changes to a program that increases river flow in dry years

    The instream flow program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to designate water rights to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream.

    In the Yampa River, this program has been used to release reservoir water to boost flows through Steamboat in dry summers.

    Under the current law, the program allows people who hold water rights to temporarily loan reservoir water to the state to boost flows in a stream three times over the course of a 10-year period. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has already used loaned water for an instream flow in the Upper Yampa River three times in 2012, 2013 and 2017.

    Though reservoir water has been released in other years, including last summer, it was under a different legal mechanism.

    Roberts, a Democrat who represents Routt and Eagle counties, introduced a bill that would allow for more instream flow releases.

    “Once the 10-year period is done, you’re done forever, and you can never do it again,” Roberts explained. “So while city of Steamboat and the Yampa River has taken advantage of that program, they’ve started their 10-year clock. Once we hit 10 years in 2022, they won’t be able to use it again, so if we have a really low water year on the Yampa in 2023 or 2024, we won’t be able to use the instream flow to keep the Yampa running through town.”

    The bill, as currently proposed, would allow these loans for five of every 10 years and allow it to be renewed twice once those 10-year periods end.

    This would improve stream habitat, Roberts said, as well as limit economic impacts due to river closures placed during low flows that impact tubing outfitters, fishing shops and the businesses that benefit from recreation in the area.

    Monger, who sits on the board of the Upper Yampa Conservancy District, said the program has “been a great thing.” The district operates Stagecoach Reservoir.

    “(The district’s) actually been fortunate enough to have some available wet water that we can send down through to the city of Steamboat Springs, and it helps with water quality as well as water temperature,” he said. “It’s been a great thing, and the upper Yampa sells a little bit of water for its revenue sources to be able to take care of the water, so that’s a good thing.”

    It would also expand the program by allowing more water to be released to create more habitat for aquatic species, whereas currently, these releases are smaller releases designated only to preserve the existing natural environment…

    Ballot measure to legalize sports betting with tax revenue funding water projects

    Earlier this year, the legislature passed a measure that will ask voters to legalize sports betting with tax revenue from the practice funding the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.

    If approved by voters, Colorado would allow some casinos to offer a sports book, essentially a room with a betting board and “every game known to man” on television screens, as Donovan put it. Casinos could also contract with online sports betting companies, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, to operate web-based sports betting. People could bet on college, professional and Olympic games.

    While sports betting has taken place in the state, it’s currently illegal.

    “This is a chance to legalize an action that we know is happening on the ground and to provide regulation protection under that act if people choose to bet on sports betting,” Donovan said.

    A 10% tax on each wager would be paid by casinos, with the bulk of the revenue funding the Colorado Water Plan. Some revenue would be directed to administrative costs, a hold harmless fund and a gambling crisis hotline.

    The Colorado Water Plan outlines a number of actions such as conserving more water used by cities and industry, storing more water, establishing plans to protect critical watersheds and increasing public awareness of water issues. The Yampa-White-Green River Basin Roundtable would implement the plan locally.

    Earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis requested $30 million to fund the plan and statewide drought planning. The legislature granted $8.3 million to fund the water plan and $1.7 million for drought planning…

    Using new technology to trade water rights in real-time

    Another law, passed earlier this year, establishes an advisory group to study possible uses of blockchain technology within agriculture.

    Blockchain is a way to track transactions, and it uses the same record-keeping technology as bitcoin. Each transaction within the network, whether the blockchain network is trading water or money, is recorded in a block and includes data about transactions under a unique signature, sort of like a username. Each transaction is verified by the network of computers in the blockchain.

    Evan Thomas, director of the Mortensen Center in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, presented on possible applications of blockchain in the world of water rights. Blockchain could create a system to trade water by using sensors that track how much water is used or conserved to create “water credits.”

    “(Those water credits are) entered into the blockchain,” Thomas said. “Somebody requests a transaction. They say ‘I need to buy more water this month, so I want to buy somebody else’s water credits.’ You enter in that transactionm, and they buy and sell points. The sensor identifies water use and water consumption, (and) turns that into a blockchain node.”

    Thomas said this is a worthwhile tool to study in its applications for water rights, but that it is one part of a “suite of tools” that should be examined to update how water is traded.

    2019 @COWaterCongress Annual Summer Conference #cwcsc2019

    Click here to view the Twitter fest around hash tag #cwcsc2019. I had a great time reading everyone’s Tweets. It is interesting to see what each person takes away from a session and what they feel is important to point out.

    Pictured: Jackie Brown, Nancy Smith, Kevin McBride, Mickey O’Hara, Kelly Romero-Heaney, Mike Camblin, Jojo La, Hunter Causey. (Not in order.)

    Here’s the link to Attorney General Phil Weiser’s remarks to the conference.

    The legislature’s Interim Water Resources Committee met after the conference. Here’s a report from Marianne Goodland that’s running in The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Legislature’s interim water resources review committee, a bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers, began its summer work by relaunching efforts to change the state’s instream flow program.

    During the 2019 session, the committee sponsored two bills that would have made some fairly big changes to the state’s instream flow (program, though neither bill made it out of Senate committee…

    Instream flow is the water that flows through a stream, river or creek. Programs that manage instream flows do so to protect fish habitats and for recreational purposes.

    Colorado’s instream flow program, according to Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Linda Bassi, is intended to “preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.”

    As the years have gone on, the board has also received permission to improve instream flows within the program.

    Bassi explained to the interim water committee at Wednesday’s session, held during the Colorado Water Congress summer conference in Steamboat Springs, that the program was established in 1973 to allow state control over Colorado water and under Colorado’s water rights and prior appropriation system.

    The original legislation was also intended to block ballot measures (one was already in the works) that would have allowed for private instream flow programs.

    Over the years, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has acquired water rights, often donated, to protect streams, now to the tune of 756 stream miles, Bassi explained, and for 1,700 stream segments around the state.

    Some of those water rights are new ones, others are existing and donated, although that doesn’t happen very often, she added.

    One of the program’s provisions allows for for temporary water “loans” for three years out of a 10-year period; they can be used on any segment of a stream decreed as part of the instream flow program.

    It’s a one-and-done situation; once the three years are up, that water cannot be diverted into the stream by the water provider, nor can the contract be renewed.

    Bassi told lawmakers only eight temporary leases have been developed since 2012.

    Adams County is eyeing increased oil and gas facility setback limits #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

    From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

    County to consider 1,000-foot standard for all new oil and gas wells

    Adams County could become the first community in Colorado to require a larger separation between new wells and occupied buildings than the state mandates, as leaders at both the state and local level wrestle with how to implement a historic oil and gas reform law passed this year.

    The Denver Post got an early look at a draft of the county’s oil and gas regulations, which the commissioners will likely vote on at the end of the month. They call for a 1,000-foot buffer between wells and homes, schools and day care centers — doubling the distance the state presently requires.

    The issue of well setbacks became the topic de jour during the 2018 election, when voters were asked to increase the distance between new wells and homes and schools to 2,500 feet statewide. The ballot issue, Proposition 112, was soundly defeated.

    But after the passage of Senate Bill 181 in April, which ended state preemption over energy extraction matters and tasked state regulators with putting health and safety ahead of industry expansion, local governments now have the opportunity to increase setbacks on their own.

    Adams County in March put a six-month moratorium on any new drilling so that it could rewrite its rules for the industry. There are hundreds of pending permits for wells in the county…

    It’s likely communities that have taken an even firmer stance against oil and gas activity in the past, such as Boulder and Larimer counties, may put in place even larger setbacks than what Adams County is proposing…

    Just two years ago, when the state did have total authority over setbacks, Thornton was successfully sued by oil and gas industry groups when the city attempted to enlarge setbacks by 250 feet over the state’s minimum.

    The judge, in casting aside Thornton’s rules, found that municipalities “cannot authorize what state law forbids or forbid what state law allows.” That has all changed in the wake of SB 181 becoming law.

    The state is just embarking on what is expected to be a months-long process to write rules to implement the new oil and gas law. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held two days of public hearings last week, which were marked with repeated disruptions from fracking opponents in the audience.

    Meanwhile, communities continue crafting or revamping their own rules.

    “A fundamental obligation of local governments is to mitigate incompatible land uses,” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said. “Large-scale oil and gas facilities are often intense industrial uses, which can be incompatible with residential neighborhoods.”

    But O’Dorisio said the 1,000-foot buffer being considered is not a “hardline” threshold, as there is language in the proposed rules that would allow oil and gas operators to apply on a case-by-case basis for a waiver to drill closer.

    Matt Samelson, an attorney with Western Environmental Law Partners, said Adams County’s proposed setback shouldn’t come as a shock to many of the energy companies that operate in the congested and mineral-rich north suburban corridor.

    Many communities, like Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield, have already gotten drillers to agree to setbacks greater than 500 feet as part of voluntary operator agreements that the municipalities have hammered out with the industry over the past few years.

    #2019 #Colorado legislative session wrap-up #COleg

    The 2015 Colorado Water Plan, on a shelf, at the CU law library. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    Coram carried or supported 40 bills in the Colorado Senate this past legislative session and is crafting more for the upcoming session that are aimed at teacher retention, providing funding for entrepreneurs and protecting the lifeblood of the Western Slope, water.

    Coram said he is working on creating more stable funding for the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, a statewide roadmap to conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2050, by which time Colorado’s population is expected to swell by millions.

    “There really isn’t any sustainable funding right now,” Coram said. “We’re looking at several options. There’s nothing off the table. We can’t rely on severance tax and that’s where we’re at right now.”

    Severance taxes come from natural resource extraction, such as oil and gas. The extraction industry is entering a slowdown, with 6,000 permits waiting in the wings, plus there have been layoffs, Coram said. Less extraction means less severance tax, and it could also increase fuel prices for critical sectors such as agriculture, he said.

    Additionally, millions in severance tax has been shunted to the state’s general fund over the years, Coram also said…

    Helping the West End repurpose Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s power plant for possible biomass power generation remains on his agenda, too.

    Recharge pond

    From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Callie Jones):

    Sonnenberg, who just finished his 13th legislative session, served on the State, Veterans and Military Affairs and the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees during the session, the Capital Development Committee year round and out of session is a member of the Legislative Interim Committee on School Finance, Water Resources Review Committee and the Prison Population Management Interim Study Committee.

    The Capital Development Committee is responsible for reviewing funding requests for capital projects from all state agencies, and making prioritized recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee. Sonnenberg called it one of the most fun, nicest committees, noting it is truly a bipartisan committee.

    Two weeks ago, the committee toured Colorado’s western slope, visiting some of the state’s assets including a veterans home and fish hatchery in Rifle, the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Fort Lewis College in Durango and Buena Vista Correctional Center…

    Last week, the Water Resources Review Committee, charged with studying the conservation, use development, and financing of water resources of Colorado for the general welfare of its inhabitants, visited Sterling and northeast Colorado to tour the Lower South Platte Basin. Water Education Colorado put together the tour.

    “We looked at ag, we looked at recharge, we looked at dairies and how they reuse water, those type of things, we looked at the new 70 Ranch Reservoir (located near Kersey),” Sonnenberg said.

    In regards to the 70 Ranch Reservoir, the senator explained he is a little bit worried about how the reservoir works because it was built by someone who is “trying to get ag water and then sell it to the city, that’s going to be his venue to be able to do exchanges.”

    “But, from my perspective anytime you build storage it’s a good thing,” Sonnenberg said. “This year worries me, that we don’t have enough storage; we have a lot of water, Nebraska’s going to get water from us, quite frankly they don’t need it this year. That becomes a challenge at the federal level how we handle agriculture in those areas through which it was flooded, there are people that will not plant an acre this year in the Midwest, because of the silt and the water still sitting in fields.”

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1279 (Protect Public Health Firegfighter Safety Regulation #PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) and HB19-1264 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Modifications)

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

    At an Arvada fire station, Polis signed into law House Bill 1279, which bans certain kinds of foam used in firefighting training. Such foam contains so-called “forever chemicals” that have contaminated drinking water in El Paso County and elsewhere…

    The foam contaminated Fountain’s water supply, and it has since installed filters to deal with problem…

    HB 1279 bans Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and have been found in the nearby Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain.

    The foam was sprayed on the ground and used in a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.

    The Air Force since has replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    In Salida, Polis signed House Bill 1264, which is intended to resolve some of the long-standing problems with the state’s conservation easement program.

    Landowners say the Colorado Department of Revenue revoked tax credits awarded to those who entered into conservation easements with land trusts, with more than 800 credits revoked from the 4,000 granted in the program’s first 15 years.

    HB 1264 is intended to make the program more transparent, with a warning to landowners that easements are in perpetuity. The bill also requires the Division of Conservation Easements, within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, to set up a committee to determine how to repay those tax credits.

    The committee is to hold its first hearing June 25, an addition to the bill made by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

    Legislative leaders in both parties are to appoint the committee members, and lawmakers say they intend to include representatives for those who have been denied tax credits as well as other program critics.

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Colorado Governor Jared Polis chose the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida as the ideal location to sign an unprecedented nine bills into law on Monday morning, June 3. The location underscored both the importance of these bills to Colorado’s rural and recreation economies, as well as highlighting Colorado’s growing preference for collaboration to get things done…

    SB19-221 – CO Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project

    This bill sponsored by Donovan and Roberts, is focused on the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and assigns an appropriation to protect those projects…

    SB19-186 – Expand Agricultural Chemical Management Program Protect Surface Water

    Another bill sponsored by Donovan, Catlin, Coram and including Rep. Jeni Arndt, seeks to protect Colorado surface water from contamination by the expansion of agriculture chemical management plans.

    Polis administration’s: roadmap to 100% #renewableenergy by 2040 and bold #climate action #ActOnClimate

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the vision section:

    Governor Polis ran on a bold platform of achieving 100% Renewable Energy by 2040. This goal is motivated by the moral imperative to fight climate change and curb pollution of our air and water, as well as the opportunity to drive innovation and harness the consumer savings and economic bene- fits of leading the transition to a clean energy economy. This is our roadmap to achieve this goal.

    This transition is already underway and shows no signs of slowing down. The two fastest-growing professions in the United States are solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians. Fourteen Colorado towns and counties have already taken the initiative and adopted the goal of getting 100% of their electricity from clean renewable energy: Denver, Pueblo, Boulder, Fort Collins, Summit County, Frisco, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Breckenridge, Longmont, Lafayette, Nederland to Golden. These diverse communities know that protecting Colorado’s way of life means doing our part to combat climate change, and that swiftly adopting renewable energy in our electricity sector and then extending the impact of that clean electricity across the economy will protect the health of our communities, create good paying jobs, strengthen our economy and keep rates low for customers.

    The Polis Administration has taken a number of significant steps that make a down payment on our commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2040. By partnering with the Legislature, we’ve empowered the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to facilitate a rapid transition to renewable energy across the state that includes working with our largest utility to invest in renewable energy and meet a goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution 80% by 2030. We’re building a regulatory framework that will enable the PUC to work with our second largest utility to transition from coal-fired power to cheaper, cleaner sources of renewable energy. We are also making it easier for individual Coloradans to participate by expanding access to energy efficiency and community solar gardens. Additionally, the Legislature passed House Bill 1261, which sets economy-wide targets for reducing greenhouse gas pollution, with goals of 26% reduction by 2025 below 2005 levels, 50% reduction by 2030 and 90% reduction by 2050, and delegates authority to the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules to make progress towards those goals.

    One of the most important parts of our transition to cleaner energy is electrifying transportation in Colorado. In order to meet the Governor’s goal of 940,000 zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030, state agencies have taken a number of steps, including allocating approximately $14 million to transit agencies across the state to deploy cleaner buses. The agencies are also expeditiously estab- lishing public-private partnerships to build 33 fast charging stations along major highways in the state. Working with the Legislature, we’ve also made it easier for utilities, with oversight from the PUC, to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure.

    While we’ve already taken important strides towards our renewable energy vision, there’s much work to do. The policies adopted this legislative session provide the foundation for much higher levels of renewable energy integration, but additional strategies will be needed to get to 100% by 2040. It’s going to take the perspective, expertise, and commitment from diverse voices across the state to forge a renewable energy future that works for all of Colorado. Together, we can do our part to fight climate change, improve air quality and the health of our communities, diversify and strengthen our economy across the state, and ensure the good-paying jobs of the quickly growing green energy economy are created here in Colorado.

    #Colorado #Conservation, Sportsmen Groups Laud Passage of Bill to Help Fund #COWaterPlan — @wradv #COleg

    The Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend, upstream of Glenwood Springs. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

    From Western Resource Advocates (Jamie Trafficanda):

    Today, conservation and sportsmen groups across Colorado lauded the bipartisan passage of a bill that would raise funds to protect and conserve the state’s water from the tax proceeds on some forms of new sports betting. A portion of the revenue generated would go to a Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund governed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and help support some of the water conservation, agricultural projects, river health, “smart” storage, and demand management needs for the state. The sports-betting measure must be approved by the voters this fall.

    “Colorado leaders are making a safe bet to ensure a more resilient future for our thriving communities, agriculture, businesses, recreation and wildlife,” said Brian Jackson, Senior Manager, Western Water, at Environmental Defense Fund. “We are hopeful voters will recognize the urgent need to protect our most precious resource, water, and that this measure will be a slam dunk at the ballot box this fall.”

    “As Colorado’s population continues to grow and climate change stresses our water supplies, Colorado’s Water Plan lays out a roadmap to secure our water future. But to make that plan a reality, we need to establish a dedicated funding source,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “If approved by the voters, this measure would provide an important down payment and have an immediate impact on Colorado communities.”

    “Passing this bill represents key progress toward protecting our rivers and clean drinking water today and into the future,” said Drew Peternell, Director of the Colorado Water Program at Trout Unlimited. “But the challenges our water supply faces are long term. We’ll need additional, long-term sources of funding to make sure we have enough water to sustain Colorado’s economy, especially in rural agriculturally-based areas.”

    “This bill is an important step to a secure water future,” said Matt Rice, Colorado Basin Director at American Rivers “Now this effort will go to referendum to be considered by Colorado’s voters. If it’s passed, the revenue generated will support our rivers, secure clean, safe, reliable drinking water for our communities, and preserve our agricultural heritage.”

    “The Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that implementing Colorado’s Water Plan and safeguarding our water will require at least $100 million annually for the next 30 years,” said Melinda Kassen, Senior Counsel at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership “If voters approve this bill through the referendum process, the revenue generated would be an important down payment that gets the ball rolling for multiple uses, including river protection and restoration. That said, the revenue from this bill won’t get us all the way there. As we use these funds to demonstrate value for fish and wildlife resources, we can build the case for the benefits to Colorado of taking the next step to find additional funds for this important work.”

    2019 #COleg: HB19-1327 (Authorize And Tax Sports Betting Refer Under Taxpayers’ Bill Of Rights) is a “good bet” — @EnvDefenseFund

    Burned forests shed soot and burned debris that darken the snow surface and accerlerate snowmelt for years following fire. Photo credit: Nathan Chellman/DRI

    From the Environmental Defense Fund (Brian Jackson):

    The Colorado Legislature approved a bill [May 3, 2019] for a measure to legalize sports betting and dedicate a 10% tax on net profits to protect and conserve our state’s water. The measure will go to voters for approval this fall.

    The bill enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support, clearing the House in a 58-6 vote and the Senate in a 27-8 vote. Environmental Defense Fund was a key member of a large, diverse coalition of supporters of the bill, including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Denver Water, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

    Colorado is one of several states considering a sports betting tax since a Supreme Court decision last year gave states such authority.

    “Colorado leaders are making a safe bet to ensure a more resilient future for our thriving communities, agriculture, businesses, recreation and wildlife. We are hopeful voters will recognize the urgent need to protect our most precious resource, water, and that this measure will be a slam dunk at the ballot box this fall.”

    From the Environmental Defense Fund (Brian Jackson):

    Here’s a pop quiz: What are two finite resources in the West?

    If you answered money and water, you win. This is especially true when it comes to money for water in the state of Colorado, where hurdles for raising new funds are particularly high.

    It’s a rare opportunity when new money bubbles up for water projects in the Centennial State. But that is exactly what is happening as a result of a bill approved this week with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature.

    The bill, HB 1327, proposes to raise new money to protect and conserve water in Colorado by legalizing sports betting and imposing a 10% tax on its revenue. But legislative approval isn’t the final play. State legislators are handing off the measure to voters for a final decision at the ballot box this fall.

    Down payment on much larger need

    The measure could raise roughly $10 million to $20 million a year – a down payment on the $100 million that Colorado’s Water Plan is estimated to need annually for the next 30 years to secure the state’s water into the future. Colorado’s population is projected to double by 2050. But at current usage rates, the state’s water supply will not keep up unless Colorado establishes a dedicated public funding source to protect it.

    Since the water plan was developed in 2015, Environmental Defense Fund and partners have been looking for creative ways to fund and implement it. Nearly a year ago, a Supreme Court ruling authorized states to legalize sports betting. Since then, 40 states and the District of Columbia have proposed or enacted laws to legalize, study or regulate sports betting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Deep bench

    EDF has been a key player on a large, diverse team of supporters of the Colorado measure, including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Denver Water, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

    Revenue would go to a Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund governed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to support a variety of water projects, including conservation, river health, storage, water education and outreach.

    Funds from the measure would make an immediate impact across the state. For instance, in Durango, $500,000 would fund the first phase of restoration of the watershed damaged in the 416 fire, which burned 54,000 acres of mostly Forest Service lands last year. Steamboat Springs could begin a $4 million floodplain restoration. Both projects would protect vulnerable water supplies.

    2019 #COleg: Colorado oil and gas director issues final objective criteria for [SB19-181] — #Colorado Department of Natural Resources

    Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

    From the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):

    Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Director Jeff Robbins released Final Objective Criteria today to ensure pending oil and gas permits and applications are in compliance with Colorado’s new oil and gas law, SB 19-181.

    “The finalization of the criteria is an important first step in implementing the new law and incorporating it’s public health, safety, welfare, environmental, and wildlife considerations,” said Director Jeff Robbins. “We appreciate the 340 public comments we received and believe the objective criteria satisfies the Colorado Legislature’s intent.”

    The Final Objective Criteria (Criteria) released include provisions that the Director of the COGCC may conduct additional analysis and review on proposed oil and gas locations, which are within 1,500 feet of a residence, are within a municipality, 1,500 feet of a municipality or platted subdivision, areas identified as “sensitive wildlife habitat” by the Colorado Department of Wildlife, or in a floodplain or water supply areas, among others.

    Guidance was also issued today to outline the process an applicant can expect from the COGCC to ensure a permit complies with the new law’s requirements.

    The criteria was informed by a wide variety of comments received by the Commission from the public, local governments, the industry and other interested parties.

    While the Director and staff determined that the draft criteria captured most public and stakeholder comments and upheld the intent of SB 19-181, the Director added Objective Criteria No. 16, which involves additional Director Review on specific wells when an operator is subject to individual or blanket financial assurance requirements in addition to a few other small edits.

    The criteria will remain in place for the COGCC until final rules outlined in SB 19-181 are adopted.

    Final Objective Criteria: here
    Final Objective Criteria Guidance: here
    Objective Criteria Public Comments: here

    Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

    From The Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:

    Environmentalists and community activists asked Colorado regulators on Wednesday to stop issuing new oil and gas drilling permits until they rewrite the rules under a new law that makes public safety and the environment the state’s top priorities.

    Just a month after the law took effect, some activists told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission it should be further along in revising the regulations…

    The session was one of the oil and gas commission’s early steps toward implementing the new law, which mandated a major change in the agency’s focus from encouraging production to protecting the public, the environment and wildlife.

    The law reflects increasing fears about public safety as the booming Wattenberg oil and gas field overlaps with fast-growing communities north and east of Denver. In addition to the emphasis on safety, it gives local governments new powers over the location of drilling and changes the makeup of the commission to add expertise on safety and the environment.

    Commission Director Jeff Robbins called Wednesday’s meeting to hear public comment on the first set of changes, which deal mostly with administrative procedures, not drilling. The commission is expected to take up more substantive rules later this year.

    Activists called for faster and more sweeping action, saying that oil and gas drilling pollutes the air and water, worsens climate change and puts residents at risk from fires and explosions…

    The commission’s first formal hearing since the law was passed is Monday, but it was not yet clear whether members would start the rulemaking process.

    2019 #COleg: SB19-181 rule-making #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):

    Environmental and community organizations want the state to halt approval of oil and gas drilling permits until all new rules are written in the wake of more stringent regulations passed by the legislature in this year’s session.

    Approving all the rules is expected to take at least a year, given the complexity of the new law. A new Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will need to be seated; new regulations to protect public health, safety and the environment will be developed; and new bond and fee rates to ensure cleanup of well sites will be set.

    When the bill was moving through the legislature, the sponsors repeatedly disputed opponents’ arguments that Senate Bill 19-181 would lead to a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling.

    But for several at a hearing Wednesday on the first set of rules being considered, the right thing to do is to halt approval of all permits until new regulations putting health and safety first are adopted…

    Environmental and community activists who think no oil and gas permits should be approved until the new regulations take effect said so in letters sent Monday to Gov. Jared Polis, the COGCC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…

    Jeff Robbins, executive director of the oil and gas commission, said Tuesday that his staff is moving forward as directed by the legislation. The staff is expected to release final criteria this week that will be used to consider permit applications while the new regulations are being developed.

    The legislation directed the staff to draft criteria to provide additional review of permit applications to make sure new development meets the law’s objective of protecting public health and safety, the environment and wildlife, Robbins said.

    The new law also clarifies that cities and counties can use their planning and land-use authority to regulate oil and gas in their borders. The guidelines, which the staff took public comments on, also address that change.

    The COGCC staff has paused approval of new permits to write those guidelines and appoint an interim commission.

    “Some permits may be approved and some may not given the heightened scrutiny and changes in progress. That course of action is consistent with SB 181,” Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayaette, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in an email.

    Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a main sponsor of the bill, said the COGCC staff is following the process intended by the legislation.

    “I have full faith in the director and the commission and the individuals there to ensure that they’re moving in a way that honors the spirit of the bill,” Fenberg said. “If they don’t, we will step in if we need to, not to punish anyone but to make sure our intentions are clear.”

    […]

    The criteria the staff will use to determine if applications need more scrutiny include whether proposed wells are within certain distances from schools, homes or parks; are in a municipality; or if local governments want more input.

    There are about 6,500 permit applications waiting in the queue. From January until the bill came law, the COGCC approved permits for 88 well locations and more than 800 associated wells.

    The proposed change the COGCC took public comments on Wednesday deals with allowing administrative law judges to consider disputes and some administrative issues now handled by the commission. Robbins said the change is intended to give the commission more time to consider rules and policies.

    Colorado has led the way on regulations designed to limit emissions of methane. Photo/Allen Best

    2019 #COleg: #Colorado Is Entering A New Environmental Era…Maybe — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    More than a dozen new energy and environment bills are headed to Gov. Jared Polis for a signature. They cover an array of issues from the oversight of electrical generating companies to how companies have to factor climate change into their decision making to the nitty gritty of how oil and gas drilling is governed in the state.

    “Given the priority we saw voters make of energy and the environment this past fall they were a really an important part of this past legislative session,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, an environmental nonprofit.

    While momentous, the actual impacts of some policies are yet to be determined. At least two — the oil rule and greenhouse gas reduction goals — will see many details decided in rulemaking by state agencies.

    Agencies will release basic ideas on their plans for new regulations. Then they’ll release a draft rule for the public to weigh in on. Some environmental groups plan to put pressure on the state to hold evening sessions, so the public has a better chance to share their concerns.

    The oil and gas law, for example, will require at least a half-dozen rules to be written or rewritten. That means it could take years — not months — to completely spell out details of measures that could have the biggest impact on curbing climate change…

    Here’s a list of the key energy and environment bills:

    Just Transition From Coal-based Electrical Energy Economy. Creates first-of-its-kind Just Transition office, and makes grants available to coal transition workers.

    Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services. Allows electric utilities to apply to the Public Utilities Commission to build electric vehicle charging stations.

    Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations. 29-page bill makes health and safety a priority for regulators and launches more than a half dozen rulemakings on things like flowlines, adopting additional methane controls.

    Collect Long-Term Climate Change Data. Directs state health officials to collect greenhouse gas emission data annually, and make data available to local governments.

    Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act. Allows community solar gardens to expand from 2 to 5 megawatts.

    Modify Innovative Motor Vehicle Income Tax Credits. Current law phases out EV tax credits at the end of 2021, new law extends tax credits through 2025.

    Electric Vehicle Grant Fund. Allows for more flexibility in how EV Grant Fund administered by the Colorado Energy Office is used.

    New Appliance Energy and Water Efficiency Standards. Appliances and plumbing fixtures sold in Colorado will have to meet new energy efficiency and water efficiency standards.

    Building Energy Codes. Local governments required to adopt one of three international energy conservation codes when they update building codes.

    Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution. Directs Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050.

    Housing Authority Properties. Allows public housing authorities to participate in state PACE program, a way to finance clean energy projects.

    Front Range Waste Diversion Program. Creates Front Range landfill fee that goes to help communities meet waste diversion goals.

    Sunset Public Utilities Commission. 81-page bill gives new charter for state electric utility regulators, including a move in 2020 to calculate the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions in certain utility proceedings.

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

    2019 #COleg session recap

    Colorado abandoned mines

    Here’s a report from Barbara McLachlan that’s running in the The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    HB19-1113 – Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts

    We all remember the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, so I led a bill to help prevent water pollution from future hardrock mining operations in Colorado. This is good for our environment and precious water, while keeping a thriving mining industry moving forward. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay when a mine files for bankruptcy.

    HB19-1006 – Wildfire Mitigation Wildland-Urban Interface Areas

    Wildfire season is fast approaching. This bill won bipartisan approval in the Legislature and adds funding to the already existing Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program to address the needs of mitigation in the Wildland-Urban Interface Areas. The funding will help homeowners prepare their property for fire suppression. The Colorado Forest Service says these areas are the most likely to burn during the next fire season; helping them now will help all of Colorado later.

    2019 #COleg: It’s a wrap: Colorado lawmakers approve #drought work, #COWaterPlan funding, and more — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado lawmakers wrapped up the 2019 session last week, approving five water bills this year which address the Colorado River drought, funding for the state’s water plan, Republican River compact issues, severance taxes and hard-rock mining.

    It put off for now another bill that would have expanded the state’s nationally recognized instream flow program, which allows water for fish and aquatic habitat to be left in streams.

    Colorado River Drought and Water Plan Funding

    Faced with a 19-year drought that has seen storage in the Colorado River’s two largest reservoirs—Powell and Mead—drop below half full, the legislature took a first step in reducing water use to ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact. Although it did not adopt new policy, it appropriated $1.7 million as part of Senate Bill 212 for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to explore a demand management program that would incentivize voluntary cutbacks of Colorado River use, where saved water could be stored in Lake Powell as a hedge against future shortfalls. It also set aside $8.3 million to fund the Colorado Water Plan. The combined $10 million lawmakers approved is far less than the $30 million Governor Jared Polis had requested, but the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) pared that figure due to competing demands from other big ticket items. Senator Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), the bill’s chief sponsor and a JBC member, noted that the remaining $20 million in Polis’ original request “was really meant to be a contingency plan against demand management in the future and so it could probably wait until next year to be appropriated.” That is if revenue forecasts allow.

    Still Rankin said the funding is an important step forward for the water plan. “This is the first time we’ve started to put general fund money against the water plan.”

    Republican River Compact

    The General Assembly also opted to approve a measure that redraws the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District to include more wells that reduce the flow of the Republican River in violation of a compact with Kansas and Nebraska. The legislature created the district in 2004. Its original boundary was drawn at the topographic boundary of the Republican River and did not accurately reflect the impact of groundwater pumping outside the district on the river’s flows.

    House Bill 1029 incorporates the groundwater boundary agreed to by Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado in a Supreme Court settlement and allows the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district. Those fees help to pay for a pipeline that transports conserved groundwater to the river to ensure compact compliance.

    The district borrowed $62 million to buy water rights and build the pipeline, and has assessed farmers $14.50 per acre annually to repay the loan. Absent the legislation, wells that do not have water augmentation, or replacement, plans to mitigate their surface water depletions could face curtailment under new rules issued by the state engineer; now they are automatically part of the district’s approved augmentation plan.

    Severance Taxes

    The General Assembly passed another bill that changes the timing of severance tax allocations that support several water programs to allow for better planning and budgeting. Currently the tax revenue is transferred three times a year to the CWCB based on revenue forecasts; if the actual tax collections are less than forecasted (which has often been the case), funds have to be taken back. Senate Bill 16 bases allocations on the amount collected in the previous fiscal year and consolidates three payments into one for distribution the following year. Because tax collections in 2018 exceeded forecasts, there’s enough revenue available to avoid any funding gap moving forward.

    Water Quality Impacts of Hard-Rock Mining

    The General Assembly passed a bill to protect water quality from the impacts of hard-rock mining. House Bill 1113 requires reclamation plans for new or amended hard-rock mining permits to demonstrate a “reasonably foreseeable end date” for water quality treatment to ensure compliance with water quality standards. It also eliminates the option of “self-bonding”—an audited financial statement demonstrating that the mine operator has sufficient assets to meet reclamation responsibilities—and requires a bond or other financial assurance to guarantee adequate funds to protect water quality, including treatment and monitoring costs.

    Representative Dylan Roberts, (D-Eagle), the bill’s prime sponsor, emphasized that it applies only to hard-rock mining—not to coal or gravel mining—and “aligns statute with what’s already happening in current practice by the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…so that we can avoid creating more chronically polluting mines.” The bill was similar to one that passed the House but failed in the Senate last year.

    Instream Flows

    The Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee set aside a bill that would have expanded an existing program to protect streamflows for environmental purposes, but with a commitment to study the issue further this summer. Under current law, a water right holder can loan water to the CWCB to boost instream flows in stream reaches where the CWCB holds an instream flow water right. The loan may be exercised for no more than three years in a single 10-year period. House Bill 1218, which had passed the House earlier in the session, would have increased the number of years the loan could be exercised from three to five, and permitted a loan applicant to reapply to the state engineer for two additional 10-year periods.

    Opposition to the bill centered on concerns that expanding the number of years would reduce irrigation return flows to other farmland dependent on them for crop production and risk damaging soils. Senator Kerry Donovan (D-Vail), the bill’s sponsor and a rancher, asked the committee to postpone it with an understanding that the Interim Water Resources Review Committee would study it further this summer. She noted that with “some of the concerns that have been raised, as well as the level of attention that this issue deserves, we need to get this right, and I’m not sure we have consensus on a way forward today.”

    Wastewater continued to stream out of the Gold King Mine on Tuesday [August 11, 2015] near Silverton, several days after a rush of 3 million gallons of it flooded Cement Creek and the Animas River. At the top of the photo is the mine’s opening, where an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup team was working with heavy machinery Aug. 5 and hit an earthen wall that had millions of gallons of water built up behind it

    2019 #COleg legislative session wraps up

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Julia Rentsch):

  • HB 19-1329, Wholesale Sales Agricultural Fertilizer Tax Exempt
  • This bill came about due to the Colorado Department of Revenue’s decision to impose sales taxes on the wholesale sale of fertilizer to greenhouses and nurseries. Since fertilizer is used to grow plants that would later be sold themselves, McKean thought to exempt wholesale sales.

    “It didn’t make sense to tax an input that is part of a product on which sales taxes would be collected at point of sale,” McKean wrote. “…The margins for many, if not most, of our farmers are too tight to push this kind of additional cost on them.”

    HB 19-1329 passed the House May 1 and the Senate May 3. As of Thursday, it had not yet been sent to the governor’s desk.

    From Dylan Roberts via Steamboat Today:

    Last Friday, the gavels fell in the Colorado House and Senate to close the 120th and final day of the 2019 legislative session. It will take a few months for the dust to settle but I believe that when we look back on this past session, it will be seen as one of the most productive and transformative sessions for Colorado in recent memory.

    I am very proud of the work that my colleagues and I were able to accomplish and am confident that the counties that I represent, Eagle and Routt, will be better off in the coming years because of that work.

    Over the last four months, I made sure to prioritize the most pressing issues for Eagle and Routt counties: health care, transportation, housing, education and environmental protection. I was the lead sponsor of 35 bills; 30 of them passed and have been signed into law or are sitting on the Gov. Jered Polis’ desk awaiting his signature and every single one of those bills had bipartisan sponsorship or received bipartisan votes…

    Acting to protect our state’s natural beauty and the outdoor economy and agriculture on which our community relies was also an urgent task. We passed historic climate change legislation that will make Colorado a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions along with several other bills to protect our environment. I also was excited to see the Governor sign my bill to protect Colorado’s water from mining spills and a bill to increase funding for Colorado’s water plan

    2019 #COleg: “Climate change is not an abstract global concept in my district” — Kerry Donovan #ActOnClimate

    From The Vail Daily (David O. Williams):

    The Colorado House reconciled a Senate version of the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, or House Bill 1261, and it now heads to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis for his anticipated signature. Sponsored by Speaker of the House KC Becker, D-Boulder, the bill was co-sponsored by Vail Valley lawmakers Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.

    The bill codifies into law a 2017 executive order by former Gov. John Hickenlooper seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 and then builds on those targets. According to its summary, “Colorado shall have statewide goals to reduce 2025 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26%, 2030 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50%, and 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% of the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that existed in 2005.”

    In a separate but related bill, Senate Bill 236 directs the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which oversees investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy, to consider the cost of carbon pollution when considering future power projects.

    It also requires the PUC to start evaluating and approving the energy plans of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which supplies most of the state’s rural electric co-ops (although not Holy Cross Energy, which mostly gets its power from Xcel). That utility is on track to deliver 100-percent carbon-free power by 2050…

    Taken together, the two bills will mandate the state achieves its ambitious new carbon emissions goals — a top priority for Polis, who ran on a platform of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

    HB 1261 narrowly passed the Senate Wednesday on an 18-16 party-line vote (with one senator excused). Donovan, whose sprawling Senate District 5 includes both ski areas and coal mines on the state’s Western Slope, provided a key vote in favor of the bill.

    “Climate change is not an abstract global concept in my district. Hunters know animal patterns are adjusting. Skiers know the snowpack is shrinking. Ranchers know weather is shifting. River rats know rivers are changing,” Donovan told the Vail Daily…

    HB 1261 had the backing of the ski industry and numerous outdoor gear manufacturing companies in Colorado and nationwide. Snowsports Industries America (SIA) and more than a dozen gear companies, including industry giants like Head and local shops like Minturn’s Weston Backcountry, sent a letter to the Senate urging passage of the bill as the session waned.

    Protect Our Winters, an advocacy group made up of snow sports athletes, lobbied for the bill. But with a backlog of legislation and Republicans mandating the painstaking reading on the floor of every word of every bill, it appeared as if the climate bills might be stalled.

    San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    2019 #COleg: State Senate passes HB19-1261 (Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution: Concerning the reduction of greenhouse gas pollution, and, in connection therewith, establishing statewide greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals and making an appropriation)

    Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summit, August 21, 2017.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Joey Bunch):

    With a cursory stop in the Colorado House, the state Climate Action Plan should be on its way to the governor’s desk to become official policy.

    The state Senate passed House Bill 19-1261 with an 18-16 party-line vote Wednesday, sending the bill back to the lower chamber to approve the upper chamber’s amendments.

    Senators early Tuesday morning tweaked the language in the bill to address disproportionately impacted communities, as well as to grant more credit for technology that reduces emissions, and to instruct regulators to consider how new rules impact electricity reliability.

    Republicans continued to warn that the goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would cost the state’s economy and residents at levels that aren’t known…

    The bill says the state should create policies that reduce emissions by at least 26% by 2025, at least 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, based on 2005 levels.

    The state Air Quality Control Commission would be tasked with creating unspecified rules to help the state meet those goals…

    With just two days left in the session, the bill will be a high priority when it returns to the House, where it was introduced by House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, on March 21…

    “Our state is on the front lines of climate change and Coloradans agree we must act,” Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, said in a statement Wednesday.

    “Thank you to our state senators who prioritized climate action today and voted to pass HB 19-1261, the Climate Action Plan.”

    From Westword (Chase Woodruff):

    House Bill 1261, which would set a series of statewide targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades, passed the Senate on a party-line vote on Wednesday, May 1. Hours later, the House, which had given its initial approval to the bill last month, re-passed the bill with Senate amendments, sending it to Governor Jared Polis to be signed into law.

    “Make no mistake: This is a big deal,” Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement on the bill’s passage. “The Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution ensures that we are doing our part to reduce carbon pollution and leave a livable, healthy Colorado to our kids and grandkids.”

    HB 1261 would commit the state to achieving a 26 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2025 — formalizing a goal set by former governor John Hickenlooper in a 2017 executive order — as well as a 50 percent cut by 2030 and a 90 percent cut by 2050. That’s roughly in line with the global decarbonization timeline suggested by top U.N. climate scientists in a major report last year.

    Some environmental activists, however, argue that Colorado should set even more ambitious goals. Many theoretical models for rapid global decarbonization require the U.S. and Europe to achieve net-zero emissions much faster than developing Asian and African countries — and in general, the more aggressive the timeline, the better the odds of staying below dangerous warming thresholds.

    In a statement on HB 1261’s passage, the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate, which includes more than two dozen environmental and social-justice groups, applauded the “historic progress” made by the bill but urged Democratic lawmakers to do more when they return to the Capitol next year.

    “The CCLC calls on the legislature to improve upon the goals established by HB19-1261 in 2020 so that they are more in line with what the science is telling us we must do,” the statement read. “Our state must adjust its goals in accordance with the best available science to establish Colorado as a true climate leader, for the sake of ourselves and future generations.”

    Lawmakers on Wednesday also gave final approval to Senate Bill 77, bipartisan legislation that incentivizes electric utilities to build charging ports and other infrastructure for electric vehicles. After electricity generation, transportation is Colorado’s second-largest source of carbon emissions, and the widespread adoption of zero-emission EVs is a crucial strategy for achieving the necessary cuts. Officials have committed to putting nearly one million EVs on Colorado roads by 2030, or roughly 15 percent of all light-duty vehicles in the state.

    “[SB 77] is really important, because in order to hit Colorado’s electric-vehicle goals, we’re going to need to build thousands of charging stations in lots of different places,” says Travis Madsen, director of the transportation program at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. “And our electric utility companies are well-positioned to do a lot of that work. It’s an essential step in getting rid of the pollution from our vehicle system.”

    As the clock runs down on the legislature’s 120-day regular session, a backlog of roughly 200 bills remains on the official legislative calendar, and Republicans are doing everything they can to slow down floor work. While Democrats prioritized HB 1261 and SB 77 for passage, many other significant pieces of legislation are at risk of not being passed, including several related to climate policy…

    Also awaiting Senate action is House Bill 1159, which would extend state tax credits for electric-vehicle purchases. House Bill 1313, which would codify and provide incentives for Xcel Energy’s plan to achieve an 80 percent carbon emissions cut from electricity generation by 2030, advanced out of a Senate committee on Wednesday night and will need to clear another committee and two votes of the full Senate before midnight Friday.

    Advocates for climate action are hopeful that the remaining bills will get in under the wire and confident that the legislature’s work this session will mark a turning point for Colorado’s efforts to cut emissions…

    In last year’s landmark report, U.N. scientists told the world’s policymakers that achieving a 45 percent emissions cut by 2030 would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Once Polis signs HB 1261 into law, Colorado will be formally committed to making such changes. A long rule-making and implementation process will follow, and only time will tell how effective the new law really is. But the stakes, as activists noted following the bill’s passage on Wednesday, couldn’t be higher.

    “The risk that climate change will destroy all we hold dear is readily apparent now,” Gina Hardin, president of climate activist group 350 Colorado, said in the CCLC’s statement. “The Midwest may take centuries to recover from the massive loss of topsoil from the unprecedented flooding in what has been the world’s breadbasket. The damage has already cost $3 billion and is rising. Recovery from the infrastructure and economic destruction will take years. Mozambique has just been slammed by an unprecedented two cyclones within 6 weeks. The horror stories go on and on.”

    Governor Polis signs long bill (budget)

    Colorado Capitol building

    Here’s the From Governor Polis’ office:

    Governor Jared Polis today signed SB 19-207, FY 2019-20 Long Bill, into law. He was joined by sponsors and Joint Budget Committee members Senator Dominick Moreno and Representative Daneya Esgar. The budget funds top priority items including free full-day kindergarten, saving people money on health care, and investments for water and transportation.

    SB19-207 establishes an operating budget of $31.9 billion total funds of which $11.8 billion is General Fund.

    “This budget lays a strong foundation for a bold vision for our state, creating opportunity for all,” Governor Polis said. “A product of collaboration and teamwork with Colorado’s leaders in the General Assembly, this budget ensures that our state’s economic success can be realized by every child, adult, and business in our communities. My top priority in this first year as Colorado’s 43rd Governor was to provide access to free, full-day kindergarten to every Colorado family. I am proud to say that this budget makes that vision a rapid reality, with funding now available for the school year that starts this fall.”

    To read the FY 2019-20 Budget letter transmittal click here.

    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has signed into law a $30.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

    Colorado Politics reports Polis signed the document on Thursday, his 100th day in office.

    The budget includes $175 million to offer free full-day kindergarten throughout the state, a top Polis priority.

    Tuition at Colorado’s public colleges and universities won’t rise in the 2019-2020 school year. Transportation needs get an extra $300 million. And state employees will receive a 3% pay hike.

    2019 #COleg: HB19-1261 (Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution) passed in the Colorado General Assembly

    Click here to read the bill.

    2019 #COleg: The $30.5 billion state budget bill is done, and transportation gets a boost — The #Colorado Sun

    Research education for students

    From The Colorado Sun (John Frank):

    Colorado lawmakers gave final approval Friday to a $30.5 billion state budgetpackage that includes $300 million for road projects, $175 million for full-day kindergarten and a 3% pay hike for all state employees.

    The agreement on the spending plan that starts July 1 came after the budget writers found an extra $70 million for transportation as part of a deal with Republican lawmakers who threatened to obstruct the debate.

    The additional dollars will come from a variety of sources, including $40 million out of two reserve accounts. The state’s push for full-day kindergarten took a $10 million cut because fewer students are expected to participate. And the remaining $20 million came from unspent dollars and minor accounting tweaks.

    The original budget package allocated $230 million for roads. The new $300 million total — which will require additional legislation this session — would get split between the state and local governments for highway construction, mass transit projects and road maintenance. The total need for transportation in Colorado is estimated near $9 billion.

    State Rep. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat and budget writer, said the budget package boosts spending in key areas, such as education and road building. “We are making historic investments across the areas we care about,” he told lawmakers…

    The House approved the final budget bill by a 41-22 vote with only one Republican in support, state Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain. The Senate later voted 25-7 on the bill with a handful of Republican lawmakers in favor.

    The budget bill now goes to Gov. Jared Polis for consideration. The governor has line-item veto authority to strike items in the budget bill.

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1113 (Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts)

    On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
    Eric Baker

    From Governor Polis’ office via The Colorado Springs Business Journal:

    Governor Jared Polis this week signed a bill to help prevent water pollution from future hardrock mining operations in Colorado.

    Rep. Dylan Roberts, whose district was impacted by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill near Silverton, co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Barbara McLachlan.

    “This is good for our environment, and keeps a thriving mining industry moving forward,” McLachlan said in an Apr. 5 news release issued by Colorado House Democrats. “We can’t go back in time but we can ensure we have a brighter, safer future and one that protects our precious water.”

    HB19-1113 will ensure that when new mining permits are issued, sufficient and secure bonds are in place to ensure cleanup and better protect public health and the environment. The new law will end self-bonding for hardrock mines in Colorado and will explicitly include water quality protection in the calculation for the amount of bonding required. It will also require mining license applicants to set an end date for the cleanup of their operation, so that they can no longer just to do water treatment into perpetuity.

    “Mining is a part of our history and always has been. For a long time, it has shaped our economy, our water rights system, and our communities,” Robert said in the release. “However, water is our state’s most precious resource and must be protected. This new law will modernize our hard-rock mining laws to protect clean water and ensure that taxpayers are never left on the hook for a private company’s spills.”

    Mining operations have polluted more than 1,600 miles of Colorado rivers and streams, according to the release, and Colorado is one of just seven that allow “self-bonding,” which allows mines to operate with insufficient recoverable assets, leaving taxpayers vulnerable to potential cleanup costs.

    Numerous small business owners, rafting outfitters, farmers, local elected officials and others from across western and southern Colorado testified at a House hearing in support of the bill. It passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan support.

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1200 (Reclaimed Domestic Wastewater Point Of Compliance)

    Graywater system schematic.

    Click here to go to the Colorado Legislature website to read the bill:

    Concerning the point of compliance related to the treatment process involved in treating reclaimed domestic wastewater for indoor nonpotable uses within a building where the general public can access plumbing fixtures that are used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater.

    SESSION: 2019 Regular Session
    SUBJECTS: Natural Resources & Environment Water

    BILL SUMMARY
    In 2018, the general assembly authorized the use of reclaimed domestic wastewater for irrigation of food crops and industrial hemp and for toilet flushing if, at the point of compliance in the water treatment process, the reclaimed domestic wastewater met certain water quality standards.

    The bill authorizes the water quality control commission (commission) to adopt rules requiring a point of compliance for disinfection residual related to the treatment process for reclaimed domestic wastewater used for toilet flushing within a building where the general public can access the plumbing fixtures used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater. If the commission adopts the rules, the rules must establish a point of compliance for disinfection residual at a single location between where reclaimed domestic wastewater is delivered to the occupied premises and before the water is distributed for use in the occupied premises.

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1113 (Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts)

    Click here to read the bill.

    2019 #COleg: Budget bill (SB19-207: FY 2019-20 Long Bill) amendment allocates $106 million to roads

    Colorado River Road. Once you get on it, it’s hard to get off. Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Senators from both sides of the aisle agreed to an amendment to the state’s $30.5 billion annual state spending plan that would divert more money to roads and bridges. Such amendments to the budget bill, particularly one this large, are rare.

    That happened during debate over, SB19-207, the state’s annual budget. Initially, the bill called for spending only $30 million in general fund money on transportation, funding that was on top of $200 million already allocated to transportation projects.

    But in a deal between Republicans and Democrats reached earlier in the day, transportation projects now may see additional money.

    “What this amendment will do is make a slightly less increase (to all departments) and find a way to take this $106 million and put it into transportation,” said House Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “I’m grateful to those who have been involved in the conversation.”

    […]

    The bill still requires a final Senate vote, which is to come today.

    It then will head to the House for more debate. Whether that money will stay in the final version of the bill remains to be seen.

    From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

    Colorado’s Senate has approved a draft $30.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

    The Senate voted 29-6 on Thursday to send the legislation to the House Appropriations Committee.

    At Republicans’ insistence, senators agreed on Wednesday to divert $106 million to transportation needs from other programs. That brings to $336 million the proposed budget’s total transportation funding.

    Colorado’s backlog for new transportation projects and repairs is an estimated $9 billion.

    The budget document includes funding for full-day kindergarten for school districts and families that want it. Colorado now guarantees half-day funding.

    2019 #COleg: Democrats in #Colorado Legislature make a move on #climatechange — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Emissions trading is one example of a market-based solution to an environmental problem. Image credit: Arnold Paul/Gralo via Wikipedia.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Joey Bunch):

    On Thursday, House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, introduced a bill to authorize a state plan to curb carbon and “ensure that Colorado leads on climate action.”

    Meanwhile, the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee approved a bill backed by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, to better collect and track data on emissions.

    “People in my district depend on clean land, water and air for their personal enjoyment and livelihood, but climate change is putting that at risk,” Donovan said in a statement. “This bill is an important step towards protecting our environment while ensuring that the businesses powering our local economies can continue to operate in the years ahead.”

    The Air Quality Control Commission would collect greenhouse gas emissions data statewide for a forecast that would come with recommendations to make reductions.

    The commission would have until July 1, 2020, to get the system in place.

    Senate Bill 19-096 is sponsored in the House by Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver.

    House Bill 19-1261, sponsored in the upper chamber by Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, is aimed at creating jobs and spurring innovation while cutting air pollution, the sponsors said in a news release Thursday.

    Lawmakers could put goals to reduce carbon pollution into state law, and use new rules to get industry to reduce carbon emissions, as well.

    “Climate change is real,” Becker said in a statement. “It’s happening. And we have a moral and economic imperative to act now.

    “As a mother, a defender of clean air and water, and legislator, I am committed to ensuring our state is making responsible investments in our future and working to preserve our unique quality of life. I cannot think of a more important challenge for our state to tackle than climate change.”

    The Democrats listed impacts of climate change on Colorado: poor air quality, wildfires, drought, diminished snowpack and shallow rivers, all drains on the state’s tourism-dependent economy.

    2019 #COleg: SB19-096 (Collect Long-term Climate Change Data) #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The Four Corners methane hotspot is yet another environmental climate and public health disaster served to our community by industry. But now that we’ve identified the sources we can begin to hold those responsible accountable for cleaning up after themselves. The BLM methane rule and EPA methane rule are more clearly essential than ever. Photo credit: San Juan Citizens Alliance

    From The Cortez Journal (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Effort worries coal counties on Western Slope; seen as duplicate by some

    Lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill Thursday that orders the state to expand its tracking and possibly regulations of greenhouse gas emissions through 2050, an effort to buck the Trump administration’s disinterest in tackling climate change.

    Colorado has been tracking greenhouse gas emissions by sector since 2008, but Senate Bill 096 greatly expands an existing effort by the Air Quality Control Commission. Under the bill, the commission would collect data and propose rules to address emissions by July 2020. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be required to collect annual greenhouse gas data by sector and publish it; the department would also be required to forecast emissions through 2050.

    The bill’s opponents say it would generate more regulations that could push coal-fired power plants closer to extinction, killing jobs and further raising electricity costs on the Western Slope…

    …Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would help Colorado reach its 2025 goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least a quarter. It would also ensure that greenhouse gas emission data would not depend on the federal government, which under President Donald Trump has abandoned its commitment to the Paris climate change accords.

    The bill passed the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2; it now heads to the Appropriations Committee…

    Southwest Colorado greenhouse gas emissions attracted global attention in 2014, when NASA scientists discovered a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the Four Corners caused in part by natural gas production. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

    Even as Colorado grapples with methane emissions from oil and gas operations and a power mix still mostly reliant on coal, Sen. Ray Scott, a Mesa County Republican, questioned why SB 096 would have the state spend nearly $2 million to duplicate data already being tracked by the federal agencies and local universities.

    2019 #COleg: SB19-184 (Authority Colorado Water Institute Study Blockchain Technology) would authorize research of block chain applicability to markets, water banking, water rights, and administration

    A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

    From CoinDesk.com (Yogita Khatri):

    Lawmakers in Colorado want the U.S. state to study the potential of blockchain technology in water rights management.

    Republican senator Jack Tate, along with representatives Jeni James Arndt (Democratic) and Marc Catlin (Republican), filed [SB19-184 (Authority Colorado Water Institute Study Blockchain Technology)] on Tuesday, proposing that the Colorado Water Institute should be granted authority to study how blockchain technology can help improve its operations.

    The institute, an affiliate of Colorado State University, should study various use cases of blockchain tech, including water rights database management, the establishment of water “banks” or markets, and general administration, according to the bill.

    The study would be carried out only after the institute has received enough money, and would be allowed to solicit and accept donations from private or public institutions for the purpose. The findings should later be reported to the general assembly, the lawmakers said.

    The Colorado Water Institute has the mission to “connect all of Colorado’s higher education expertise to the research and education needs of Colorado water managers and users.”

    2019 #COleg: #Colorado Senate Transportation and Energy Committee passes [SB19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations] 4-3 after 12 hours of testimony #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

    From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

    The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee passed [SB19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations] on a 4-3, party-line vote after 12 hours of testimony from the public, government officials and industry officials…

    The Colorado Senate Transportation and Energy Committee convened the first hearing for Senate Bill 19-181, dubbed Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations.

    The bill would make a variety of changes to oil and gas law in Colorado, including the following:

  • It would change the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from one of fostering oil and gas development to one of regulating the industry. It also changes the makeup of the COGCC board.
  • It would provide explicit local control on oil and gas development, opening the door for local government-instituted bans or moratoriums, which have previously been tied up in court battles because the industry has been considered one of state interest.
  • It would change the way forced or statutory pooling works, requiring a higher threshold of obtained mineral rights before companies can force pool other mineral rights owners in an area.
  • Testimony during the committee hearing ran the gamut, including state officials, industry officials, business interests and residents, and it was expected to go well into the night…

    Talking about the rallies beforehand — both pro-181 and anti-181 groups — as well as the overflow rooms necessary for all of the attendees, [Carl] Erickson said the scene was wild…

    Dan Gibbs, executive director of department of natural resources; and Jeff Robbins, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; both came out in support of the legislation.

    So, too, did Erin Martinez, who survived a home explosion in Firestone that killed her brother and her husband.

    “With proper regulations and inspections and pressure testing, this entire tragedy could have been avoided,” Martinez said in closing.

    The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee opened the hearing with testimony from Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, the measure’s co-sponsor, according to reporting from The Denver Post.

    As he told The Tribune on Sunday, he said during the hearing that the Tuesday hearing was the first of several — with six total to come.

    “At the forefront, objective of this bill is to ensure that we are protecting the health and safety and welfare of Coloradans, the environment, wildlife, when it comes to extraction of oil and gas across the state,” said Fenberg, D-Boulder, according to The Post.

    2019 #COleg (SB19-181): Ten Things You Should Know About #Colorado’s Oil and Gas Industry — @ConservationColorado #KeepItInTheGround

    Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

    From Conservation Colorado (Audrey Wheeler):

    Here in Colorado, the oil and gas industry has had too much influence for too long while our communities and environment suffer.

    Over the last decade, communities across the state have found themselves with no power to stand up to the industry when drilling comes to their neighborhoods. The very agency that is supposed to regulate the industry also has a dual mission to “foster” industry growth. And hundreds of oil and other toxic spills related to drilling occur in Colorado every year.

    At the same time, the oil and gas industry has cut corners when it comes to Coloradans’ health and safety. They’ve built industrial operations in residential neighborhoods, ignoring community complaints even during the most egregious examples, such as in Battlement Mesa, with a pad 350 feet from homes. Companies have spent tens of millions on public campaigns and elections. As a result, nearly every commonsense policy to keep the industry in check has failed.

    But with new leadership in the governor’s office and the state legislature, we have the chance to make a change.

    A bill announced [February 28, 2019] by Governor Polis, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, and House Speaker KC Becker would protect public health and safety, give more power to local governments, and enact new protections for our environment. We’re overdue for reforms like this to our state laws.
    Here are 10 reasons why these reforms are urgent for Colorado:

    Oil and gas operations pose a threat to our health and safety.

    1. Our state has had at least 116 fires and explosions at oil and gas operations from 2006 to 2015.

    2. After the deadly explosion in Firestone that killed two people, former employees of Anadarko accused the company of sacrificing safety to boost profits. In court documents, they claimed company culture was cavalier with regard to public safety and oversight.

    3. Coloradans who live close to oil and gas operations face health risks including cancer, birth defects, and asthma.

    Colorado’s current oil and gas regulations are too weak to protect our communities, workers, and environment.

    4. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has a nearly uninterrupted, 68-year history of failing to deny permits for oil and gas companies to drill—regardless of the risks that wells pose to health, safety, and the environment.

    5. Fifty-one oil and gas workers were killed on the job in Colorado between 2003 and 2014. Several more have been killed since then.

    The industry has blocked commonsense reforms time and time again.

    6. Oil and gas companies have a successful history of defeating regulations: only four of twenty-five bills that would have protected health and safety were passed by the state legislature since 2013.

    7. In 2018 alone, the oil and gas industry opposed six bills aimed at increasing protections for communities and the environment, including those to put oil and gas rigs further away from school playgrounds, improve accident reporting, and facilitate mapping of underground pipelines that run near homes—a direct response to the tragedy in Firestone.

    And they spend millions to influence the public and legislators at every step of the political process.

    8. Oil and gas companies invest heavily in defeating citizen efforts to improve our state laws or implementing those that help their bottom line. In 2018, they spent $37.3 million to defeat Proposition 112, a ballot initiative for larger setbacks for oil and gas development, and advance Amendment 74, an effort to guarantee company profits in the state constitution.

    9. The industry donates big money to elections, both traceable and dark money. In the 2018 election cycle, oil and gas interests gave close to $1 million to just one electoral committee, the Senate Majority Fund (known as the “campaign arm for Republican senators” in Colorado).

    10. Oil and gas interests paid at least $200,000 on lobbying to sway decision-makers at the Capitol in 2018.

    This story isn’t about one irresponsible company, but about a well-funded campaign to maximize profits over public safety and stop at nothing to get there. It’s past time we adopted common-sense rules that make the industry a better actor in Colorado — and we need to seize that chance.

    ACT NOW: Tell your legislators to protect our neighborhoods and put health and safety first! >>

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1015 (Recreation Of The Colorado Water Institute) into law

    Click here to visit the Colorado Water Institute website:

    The Colorado Water Institute (CWI), an affiliate of Colorado State University, exists for the express purpose of focusing the water expertise of higher education on the evolving water concerns and problems being faced by Colorado citizens.

    2019 #COleg: Bill to reshape Colorado oil and gas regulations is coming soon, say Democrats — #Colorado Politics

    Karley Robinson with newborn son Quill on their back proch in Windsor, CO. A multi-well oil and gas site sits less than 100 feet from their back door, with holding tanks and combustor towers that burn off excess gases. Quill was born 4 weeks premature. Pictured here at 6 weeks old.

    From Colorado Politics (Conrad Swansen):

    State House and Senate Democrats say they plan to introduce a sweeping bill in coming weeks to redefine the mission of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry, placing a higher priority on public health and safety.

    In addition, the measure is likely to seek to give local governments more control over incoming oil and gas permits rather than maintaining that oversight at the state level

    “Local development and zoning are the bread and butter issues of local city councils and county commissions,” said Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette. “Only oil and gas is exempt from that currently. They should have the same power [over that industry].”

    Democrats have been talking about such legislation since the 2019 session opened, but their plans have been firming up lately.

    The move most likely will be contained in just one bill rather than many, said House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. A concerted effort is more likely to succeed, she said.

    “That’s better than throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks,” Becker said.

    Working alongside Becker on the measure is Senate Majority Leader Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, who said the state hasn’t passed any substantial legislation on oil and gas regulation in six years and spoke optimistically of the incoming bill.

    “It’s actually probably the most meaningful reform that Colorado will have ever seen in oil and gas,” Fenberg said.

    The legislation could be introduced into the House as early as March, Fenberg said. He and Becker anticipate opposition from the oil and gas industry.

    2019 #COleg: HB19-1082 (Water Rights Easements) would further codify ingress and egress for ditch easements

    San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Reps. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Don Valdez, D-La Jara, won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Wednesday for HB19-1082 (Water Rights Easements) that makes it clear that those who own easements for water rights, such as irrigation ditches, also have the right to go onto private property to maintain them.

    The two lawmakers said that as the state has become more urbanized, and people move into previously rural areas, they are blocking so-called ditch riders from doing their jobs, which is to ensure that whatever water supplies they are overseeing get where they’re supposed to go, whether it be an agricultural operation or for municipal use.

    “What we’re trying to do is make it so that the easement holder for a ditch or a pipe or any water transference infrastructure can get onto the easement, improve the easement, can put in a pipe, can do the kind of things that we do in agriculture even though some of these ditches are now flowing through suburban newly developed areas,” Catlin said.

    “We’ve had some pushback (from) landowners who say, ‘No, I do not want that easement improved on my land.’ That goes against the easement right holder’s rights, too,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is make this much easier for everybody, and we don’t have to have lawsuits in order to find out that you have the right to improve and to repair and maintain the easements across another piece of land.”

    Catlin said that oftentimes disputes end up in court, causing both sides to expend money they shouldn’t.

    Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, said that people who purchase property in formerly rural areas don’t realize that a waterway that may run through it is more than just a landscaping feature.

    “Some people when they buy a private property, they simply don’t understand that what they think is a river in their backyard, is a ditch,” Arndt said. “People have a right to maintain that ditch. In fact, if they didn’t we’d be in real trouble.”

    Other lawmakers, however, said they feared the bill gives away too much power to water rights owners over landowners.

    Republican Reps. Perry Buck of Windsor and Kimmi Lewis of Kim said private property rights should be observed, at least those of surface landowners. “I’m hoping that both, property owners and ditch owners, can come to an agreement before we give all the rights to a ditch owner and an easement,” Buck said.

    “I am worried that this is a little too far,” Lewis added. “I am concerned that we are creating a water right out of an easement right. These people don’t have that right to tromp over private land to redo theirs.”

    Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention Day 2 #cwcac2019

    A boater, Steve Skinner, makes his way toward Skull Rapid in Westwater Canyon. Future potential releases of water from Blue Mesa Reservoir down the Gunnison River and into the Colorado River could alter flows in Westwater, and boost water levels in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

    I’m heading to Westminster for day 2. You can follow along at @CoyoteGulch or the Twitter hash tag #cwcac2019.

    #Workshop day at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention #cwcac2019

    Westminster

    I’m heading to Westminster for the workshop day. You can follow along at @CoyoteGulch or the Twitter hash tag #cwcac2019.

    The January, 2019 Western Rivers Newsletter is hot off the presses from @AudubonRockies

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click here to read the January, 2019 Western Rivers Newsletter (Abby Burk). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado’s legislative session is off to a caffeinated start. The session began on January 4 and runs through May 3, 2019. Governor Polis—along with his new administration and new Democratic leadership in both the State House and Senate—are setting the scene for a busy legislative session.

    There are two main dynamics charting the work of Colorado’s lawmakers in water: the ongoing 19-year Colorado River Basin drought and funding for Colorado’s Water Plan.

    Due to plummeting water levels in the Colorado River’s two main reservoirs (Lake Powell and Lake Mead) the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted in November, 2018, to support a Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Colorado joined neighboring Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico in support of the DCP in December. Now, all eyes are on the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada, and Arizona as they also evaluate support for a DCP by the looming January 31, 2019, deadline imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. If the DCP and the necessary water sharing practices are to be successful, Colorado and other states will need improved water policies and funding to protect rivers and compact water deliveries.

    In light of climate change, drought planning, and population growth, birds and people need the objectives and actions for increased water security contained in Colorado’s Water Plan more than ever. However, funding for Plan implementation has fallen short. The Water Plan calls for funding needs of $100 million annually from 2020-2050. That’s roughly $3 billion to sustainably fund increased water conservation and efficiency for cities and towns, methods to keep agriculture thriving, and stream and watershed health improvements.

    With the DCP and drought top of mind, there has been some positive movement for Water Plan funding. Governor Polis’s budget contains the $30 million investment initially proposed by Governor Hickenlooper to fund the Colorado Water Plan and help mitigate drought, particularly for relief in rural communities. Also, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has proposed $20 million for Water Plan implementation in the 2019 “Projects Bill” that will be submitted later in the session for legislature approval. That’s $9 million more than in 2018.

    Water legislation in 2019 is already off and running with much more to come. As we make decisions about water, there is a lot at stake for birds, other wildlife, agriculture, and communities. Audubon is at pace with and fully engaged on conservation and water legislation every step of the way. We will be calling on you to engage in action alerts and education events in 2019. Register for Getting Green Laws, an event that will include legislation training on the evening of February 19th in Denver and a rivers action day at the State Capitol on February 20th.

    For Colorado’s rivers and streams, we thank you for your engagement.

    Early-session Colorado water legislation that Audubon is engaged with:

    HB19-1082 Water Rights Easements – Concerning the rights of a water rights easement holder

    HB19-1050 Encourage Use Of Xeriscape In Common Areas – Concerning the promotion of water-efficient landscaping on property subject to management by local supervisory entities

    HB19-1015 Recreation Of The Colorado Water Institute – Concerning the recreation of the Colorado water institute

    HB19-1113 Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts – Concerning the protection of water quality from adverse impacts caused by mineral mining

    SJM19-001 Memorial For Arkansas Valley Conduit – Memorializing the United States Congress to fulfill the commitment of the federal government to provide funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit project. From the Water Resources Review Committee

    SJM19-002 Corps Of Engineers To Dredge Lower Arkansas River – Concerning memorializing the United States Congress to enact legislation directing the United States Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction and cooperation with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, to dredge a portion of the Arkansas River

    Republican River Rules filed in water court — The Yuma Pioneer

    Republican River Basin. By Kansas Department of Agriculture – Kansas Department of Agriculture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7123610

    From The Yuma Pioneer:

    The Office of the State Engineer has filed the proposed Republican River Compact Water Use Rules with Water Court Division 1 in Greeley.

    The filing was made last Friday, January 11.

    The process for developing the rules included several public meetings with a special advisory committee. It was comprised of volunteers representing users and interests throughout the Republican River Basin. The meetings took place within the basin, and the last one was last August.

    As drafted, the rules allow the state to administer surface water and groundwater wells for compliance with the 1942 Republican River Compact.

    It includes the state engineer’s ability to curtail wells, which means issuing a cease and desist.

    However, Deb Daniel, the general manager for the Republican River Water Conservation District, noted that wells that are within the Republican River Domain and have an augmentation plan are protected from curtailment.

    That means all wells located with the Republican River Water Conservation District are protected, due to the district’s augmentation efforts such as the compact compliance pipeline, purchasing surface water rights, and providing financial incentives for well owners to voluntarily retire their wells, such as through CREP and EQIP conservation programs.

    However, the Republican River Domain boundary is different than the RRWCD boundary, so there are some wells that currently are not protected from the potential curtailment. There is legislation currently before the Colorado State Legislature that will expand the RRWCD’s boundary to including all of the Republican River Domain.

    Division 1 Water Court will have to rule on the proposed rules before they go into effect.

    Well owners can make filings for or against the proposed rules with the water court. The case number is 2019CW 3002.

    One can learn more about the rules at the Colorado Division of Water Resources website, http://water.state.co.us.

    [Governor] Polis on Water — Floyd Ciruli

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From Ciruli and Associates (Floyd Ciruli):

    Newly inaugurated Governor Jared Polis had a low-key and positive start on water. His natural resource transition included Hickenlooper’s in-house water expert, John Stulp. Water policy in his State of the State address was only one paragraph, but it succinctly supported the State Water Plan and advocated getting it funded. He linked Colorado’s water to its agricultural needs, which is one of the key principles of the plan. That is, preserving agriculture in Colorado requires intelligent and prudent water management.

    State of the State on Water

    “The lifeblood of our agriculture industry is water – which is why we must commit to a bipartisan and sustainable funding source for the Colorado Water Plan. Governor Hickenlooper, along with the leadership of John Stulp, did extraordinary work bringing together a coalition of Coloradans from all corners of our state to create the Water Plan. Now we’re going to do our part by implementing it.” State of the State address, Jan. 10, 2019

    Dealing with the water gap that is well identified in the State Plan is essential to protect irrigated agriculture and support the state’s quality of life and economy. The largest number of residential, business and agricultural water users are in the Arkansas and Platte basins. Their needs must be balanced with other users and uses, including recreation, wildlife and aesthetics.

    “The state of our state is solid. It is strong. It is successful. It is daring. And it is bold” — Governor Jared Polis #COleg

    Colorado’s diverse landscape has a rich natural and agricultural heritage that fuels the economy. Photo: Michael Menefee

    Click here to read Governor Jared Polis’ State of the State Address.

    From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

    Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis took the oath of office, in a ceremony that included poets and blessings from a variety of faith leaders. Thursday, the state’s 43rd governor presented his first state of the state address under a theme of “A Colorado for All.”

    “The state of our state is solid. It is strong. It is successful. It is daring. And it is bold,” one of Polis’ favorite watchwords and one that he repeated eight times during the speech….

    On agriculture, Polis pointed out that “volatile commodities markets, a damaging trade war from Washington” and an increasingly serious water shortage are making life harder for those in the ag industry. He said his pick for ag commissioner — Kate Greenberg, formerly of the National Young Farmers Coalition — will focus on the future of farming.

    Polis also pledged to a “bipartisan and sustainable funding source” for the state water plan, and to partner with groups like the Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union to “reduce barriers to employee ownerships and to grow wages in the ag sector,” as well as expanding access to capital for the next generation of farmers.

    Polis emphasized his commitment to renewable energy and addressing climate change, both which will require less dependence on fossil fuels. But he also pledged to find ways to take care of those who work in the energy industry. “Some of the hardest-working people in Colorado today work in the coal and oil-and-gas industries and we will not leave them behind,” he pledged. That means transitioning to good-paying jobs that take advantage of the skills and experience of those workers…

    Polis later told reporters he would favor a 3 to 5 percent reduction in the income tax rate, a proposal contained in a bill introduced in the state Senate on Thursday.

    Senate Bill 55 is sponsored by northeastern Colorado lawmakers Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells. Polis said he had not yet seen the bill as of Thursday, but it appears to match his proposal from the speech.

    SB 55 would reduce the individual and the corporate state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.49 percent; and reduces the state alternative minimum tax by 0.14 percent. It has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee; no hearing date has yet been set…

    “While it is important to look towards the future of agriculture, it’s vital not to forget the lessons the past has taught us,” said Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft. “Support of all farmers and ranchers across the state is key, whether they are big or small, organic or conventional, young or old.”

    As to the water plan, Shawcroft added that agriculture “is most profitable and most productive when farmers and ranchers have access to the water resources they need. Those resources can’t be tied up on the Front Range.”

    […]

    On Monday, that committee is scheduled to review House Bill 1029, which would redraw the boundaries of the Republican River District. Democratic Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins is sponsoring the bill on behalf of the interim Water Resources Review Committee, and told this reporter that new boundaries will pull in well owners whose groundwater pumping is depleting the flow of the Republican as well as interfering with compact compliance. The district was drawn by the legislature in 2004 along a geographic ridge and now must be modified to include these additional well owners. Arndt said that those in the district pay $14.85 per irrigated acre for compact compliance; the well owners brought in under HB 1029 will also pay that fee.

    The largest group of well owners to be brought into the district are located in Kit Carson and Cheyenne counties. The redrawn boundaries also would bring in a small portion of Washington County.

    Karley Robinson with newborn son Quill on their back proch in Windsor, CO. A multi-well oil and gas site sits less than 100 feet from their back door, with holding tanks and combustor towers that burn off excess gases. Quill was born 4 weeks premature. Pictured here at 6 weeks old.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Polis’ uber-reasonable tone had a disarming effect. Who would profess to be against early childhood education or lower health-care costs? The new governor artfully framed long-contentious issues as solvable so long as lawmakers have the state’s best interests at heart…

    Other items that resonated with rural communities: supporting the outdoor recreation economy, but “doubling down” on supporting the state’s agricultural producers. That means protecting the industry’s lifeblood — water. “We must commit to a bipartisan and sustainable funding source for the Colorado Water Plan,” Polis said…

    Infastructure — broadband, roads, public transit — all need investment and funding sources. Polis’ framed his call for 100 percent renewable energy as “not just about climate change,” but saving money for consumers withe cheaper energy and “making sure the good-paying green jobs of the future are created right here in Colorado.”

    The governor’s speech hit on all the points meaningful for his supporters without causing undue fear for the rest of the state — with the possible exception of oil and gas companies and “influential” corporations. Polis indicated he wants to let communities have more say about industrial activities withing their borders and he wants to make the tax code more fair. That means closing loopholes that benefit corporations.

    Photo credit The Climate Reality Project.

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Blair Miller):

    In his first major policy speech in office, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis outlined an optimistic and ambitious plan for his first year in office and promised to work to make law his lofty goals regarding education, climate change, health care, infrastructure and energy and to work to keep Colorado “the best state in the nation.”

    […]

    He won applause early in his speech when he acknowledged the “record-setting number of women” now serving in the General Assembly – second in the U.S. to Utah. And he received another standing ovation for a thinly-veiled dig at the Trump administration.

    “Here in Colorado, we treat each other with respect. We reject efforts to intimidate immigrant families, or tear children from their parents’ arms,” Polis said. “We don’t tolerate bigotry or discrimination of any kind. And we don’t accept hostage-taking as a form of governance. … So, in the spirit of putting problem-solving over partisanship, let’s work together.”

    […]

    Regarding energy, Polis reiterated his commitment to Colorado using 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and said there would be no more doubting the effects of climate change.

    “Climate change is a scientific reality. It’s real. There’s no pretending otherwise for farmers and ranchers wo are facing historic water shortages. There’s no pretending otherwise for the 46,000 men and women who work in Colorado’s ski industry and see their jobs threatened by decreased snowpack,” Polis said. “And there will be no pretending otherwise in this administration.”

    He said that his administration would also “do right by all the men and women in today’s energy workforce” and acknowledge the state’s coal and oil and gas workers, saying, “We will not leave them behind.”

    “We will embrace the skills and experience these Coloradans bring to the table. Their help will be needed and rewarded at every single step of this transition,” Polis said. “And we will support the communities these jobs have sustained, to ensure they can continue to thrive in the renewable-energy economy.”

    But at the same time, Polis hinted that he would allow for local control over some industries, like oil and gas, which several Front Range communities have called for in the face of new fracking development.

    “Just as we stand up for workers and good jobs, so too must we stand up for our communities and their right to have a voice when it comes to industrial activities within their borders,” he said. “It’s time for us to take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil-and-gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact, and to make sure that all of our communities have clean air and water.”

    #ColoradoRiver #drought plan, more money for water projects top 2019 legislative agenda #COleg

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado River drought planning as well as the funding dilemma behind the state’s ambitious water plan, are among the water issues likely to win stage time at the Colorado State Capitol this year.

    When the session opens Friday, Democrats will control both chambers, having retained the majority in the House of Representatives and taken control of the Senate as a result of the November elections.

    The two committees where most water bills originate have new leadership as a result of the political shift. Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) is now chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Dylan Thomas (D-Avon) is now chair of the House Rural Affairs Committee.

    800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

    There is one major issue that will loom over this session even without legislation—the Colorado River drought. In November, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water policy and planning agency, adopted a critical policy statement supporting a Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Once the plan is finalized, a process that could take months, it may require lawmakers to act.

    The policy comes in response to a 19-year drought in the Colorado River Basin that has seen storage in its two largest reservoirs—Lake Powell and Lake Mead—drop below 50 percent of capacity. Continued drought could lead to water cutbacks in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins in order to comply with the 1922 Colorado River Compact and related agreements. The Upper Basin comprises Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, while the Lower Basin states include Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Included in the DCP is discussion of a far-reaching conservation effort in Colorado and the other Upper Basin states that would free more water for storage in a protected pool in Lake Powell to ensure Lower Basin states receive their legal allotment.

    Under the new policy adopted by all four Upper Basin states and the Upper Colorado River Commission, any demand management program would emphasize voluntary, temporary and compensated reductions in water use, and would not be implemented without an extensive public review process.

    If it comes to actual cutbacks, water users across the state would share the pain, including Front Range communities, under the new policy.

    Despite these assurances, there is a great deal of legislative concern, especially over the potential role of the federal government in deciding if and when to release water from Upper Basin reservoirs to replenish Lake Powell. Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose) likened it to “depositing money into a bank account [Lake Powell] and authorizing someone else [the Bureau of Reclamation] to make withdrawals.”

    The crisis on the Colorado River is likely to serve as context for several water policy discussions this session, though Rep. Roberts said, “There won’t be any rush to legislation.”

    Donovan said lawmakers would be fully briefed on the drought plan, “and then we will be able to proceed to consider appropriate actions to put the state in the best position to comply with the Colorado River Compact.”

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado’s Water Plan

    Another high priority will be examining ways to fund Colorado’s Water Plan (CWP). The CWP was prepared by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) at the direction of Governor John Hickenlooper and adopted in 2015. It contains eight measurable objectives—including new water storage, maintaining agricultural productivity, and improving watershed health. It also includes critical actions to achieve them.

    The plan cites a need to raise $100 million annually over 30 years—or $3 billion from 2020-2050—to sustainably fund its implementation. It suggests a loan repayment guarantee fund and “green” bonds for environment, recreation, conservation, agriculture and education activities. Not all funding would come from the state; storage projects often rely on ratepayers to cover the costs of water development and delivery.

    Legislators are expected to explore funding options for structural and nonstructural projects. The CWCB has included $20 million for CWP implementation in the 2019 “Projects Bill” that will be submitted to the legislature for approval. That is $9 million more than in 2018.

    North Fork Republican River via the National Science Foundation.

    Republican River Compact

    Another bill that has been forwarded to lawmakers from the 2018 interim Water Resources Review Committee would redraw the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District in eastern Colorado to include more wells that reduce the flow of the Republican in violation of a compact with Kansas and Nebraska. The bill would allow the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district to pay for a pipeline that transports water to the river to ensure compact compliance. The district borrowed $62 million to buy water rights and build the pipeline, and has assessed farmers $14.50 per acre to repay the loan.

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    Severance Taxes

    Lawmakers will also consider a bill that would change the timing of severance tax allocations for several CWCB water programs, to allow for better planning. The state collects severance taxes from oil and gas producers and other extractive industries, some of which is used to support water-related activities.

    Currently the state’s severance tax revenue is transferred three times a year to the CWCB based on revenue forecasts; if the actual tax collections are below forecasts (which is often the case), funds are “clawed” back. This bill would base allocations on the amount collected in the previous fiscal year and consolidate three payments into one for the following year. Because tax collections in fiscal year 2018 exceeded forecasts, “it gives us a moment in time to do this,” Donovan said, avoiding any gap in funding.

    Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.

    Deficit Irrigation

    Still another issue likely to surface is how to encourage more deficit irrigation, a strategy that applies less water than optimally needed by a crop in order to free up water for other uses. One proposal that did not make it out of the summer interim water committee would have added deficit irrigation to land fallowing as a type of pilot project the CWCB could approve, with the conserved water being available for short-term lease. Although the bill received support from a majority of committee members, it did not garner the two-thirds necessary to advance as a committee-sponsored bill. It may be considered again this year. (A similar bill—HB 1151—passed the House in 2018 but was withdrawn by its senate sponsor for additional study.)

    The lower Crystal River was running at 8 cfs near the state fish hatchery on Aug. 1, 2018. Lows flows on the Crystal have spurred action from the state, including curtailment and a call for instream flows. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

    Instream Flows

    There is also interest in legislation that could expand the state’s instream flow pilot program, where water right holders forego diversions, instead leaving their water in the stream on a short-term basis for fish and habitat protection without jeopardizing their water right. The program is voluntary, temporary, and can provide financial compensation. It may involve “split-season” use, where a farmer irrigates his or her crops early in the season and then leases the water to a nonprofit (in partnership with CWCB) to maintain instream flows later in the year. Although the committee did not report out a bill on this issue, there is reportedly interest in legislation that would encourage additional voluntary leasing while protecting agricultural water use.

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    Water Quality and Hard-rock Mining

    And last but not least, the General Assembly is expected to renew consideration of a measure it rejected in 2018. Lawmakers considered HB 1301, which would have required reclamation plans for new or amended hard-rock mining permits to demonstrate an “end date” for water quality treatment to ensure compliance with water quality standards. The bill also would have eliminated the option of “self-bonding”—an audited financial statement that the mine operator has sufficient assets to meet reclamation responsibilities—and required a bond or other financial assurance to guarantee adequate funds to protect water quality, including treatment and monitoring costs. It passed the House but was defeated in a Senate committee. Rep. Roberts, the primary sponsor last year, expects a bill on the same topic this session.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net

    Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed here.

    2019 #COleg: Water issues high on the list for legislators #COWaterPlan

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, along with others, are looking for ways to fund the Colorado Water Plan, the product of a collaborative effort during Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term in office designed to assess and meet the state’s water needs for years to come.

    That plan calls for doing many things over the years, not the least of which is to create about 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage, and save another 400,000 acre-feet through conservation efforts. Estimates to achieve all of its goals, however, have been as high as $20 billion.

    As a result, Coram says there’s no time like the present to find long-term funding sources to pay for it, and he doesn’t believe that it can come from severance taxes, which are collected by companies that extract natural resources, such as oil and gas drilling.

    Not only are severance taxes subject to huge swings in how much the state can collect because of market forces, but Front Range legislators are always quick to dip into that money when the economy goes sour, he said.

    To date, they’ve done that to the tune of more than $400 million in recent years, money the Legislature has yet to pay back.

    “The fact is, if we are going to meet our needs, the Colorado River is certainly overallocated and everybody’s got their eye on it,” Coram said. “We’ve got to come up with a sustainable funding source and not rely on severance taxes, which the General Assembly goes in and robs when it feels like it.”

    Estimates project that about $100 million a year would be needed to implement the water plan.

    Though Coram said he’s not yet sure what funding source to turn to, he’s heard talk of special taxes to pay for it all, such as a surcharge on all water users and a special bottle fee. He predicted that there is no single source that could raise the money needed to implement the plan.

    If a new tax is to be a source, it will have to be placed before the voters as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

    “We’ve got to create a designated funding mechanism for water infrastructure, conservation and storage, and every piece to the puzzle has to be a part of it,” Coram said.

    “My concern is the Front Range wants us to change our life so they don’t have to change theirs. We’ve got to move slowly, but we’ve got to put some cash in the till to do these things.”

    Meanwhile, Rep. Don Catlin, R-Montrose, expects to be working on a water-related measure of his own.

    Catlin plans to introduce a bill to strengthen easements for irrigation ditches. He says a problem is reoccurring all around Colorado as various areas of the state become more urbanized.

    He said an increasing number of city dwellers are buying property in rural areas that include easements for irrigation ditches, but they don’t fully understand why those easements exist.

    As a result, some of those new property owners are treating the ditches as their own private streams, even placing cobblestones in them as part of their landscaping, Catlin said.

    When ditch riders try to access their systems, they’re running into conflicts with these homeowners, including being sued.

    “It’s an urban versus rural issue, but I think one of the big problems is a lot of people don’t understand water needs,” Catlin said. “This would be a way of sharpening up that right. A lot of these urban people move in, they don’t want you to walk up the easement to check your ditch. That can’t be right.”

    […]

    Rep.-elect Matt Soper, R-Delta, who also is looking for ways to fund the water plan, is considering a bill to expand the state’s grant program for school construction and infrastructure. He’s also working on measures to crack down on sexually explicit electronic messages that are sent to juveniles, and a measure to require all local governments to post meeting notices online.

    #COleg: KC Becker of Boulder has made her choices for who will be leaders of 11 House committees in the 2019 and 2020 sessions

    Colorado Capitol building

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

    Becker…reorganized a few committees, eliminating the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee in favor of a “Rural Affairs Committee.”

    […]

    In a Sunday statement, Becker said the Rural Affairs Committee “will oversee issues of particular importance to rural Colorado such as agriculture, water, rural broadband and rural economic development.”

    […]

    And there’s one new committee: Energy and Environment…

    Rural Affairs (formerly Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources) will be chaired by Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon and vice-chairwoman Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara.

    Energy and Environment will be chaired by Rep. Dominique Jackson of Aurora; vice-chairwoman will be Rep. Edie Hooton of Boulder…

    The Energy and Environment committee, and the Finance committee, will be led by African Americans; five of the 11 committees are led by women.

    Bill to expand Republican River water district headed to lawmakers — @WaterEdCO

    More than 9,000 Landsat images provide vegetation health metrics for the Republican River Basin. Credit: David Hyndman

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Early next year Colorado lawmakers will consider a bill that expands the Republican River Water Conservation District, helping the district pay for a program that ensures the state delivers enough water to Kansas and Nebraska to meet its legal obligations.

    Colorado has spent millions of dollars battling lawsuits over the problem and earlier this year agreed to pay Kansas and Nebraska another $4 million in damages.

    Last week, the Colorado General Assembly’s Water Resources Review Committee recommended a bill that would redraw the boundary of the Republican River district to include several hundred additional wells whose pumping is reducing the flow of the river.

    The bill would allow the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district in order to pay for a pipeline that transports additional water to the river.