FromThe 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.”
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”