Governor Polis signs bills to reduce #groundwater use, fund water #conservation projects — #Colorado Newsline

Irrigation equipment on a farm in Montrose County, Colorado on May 29, 2021 with Lone Cone in the background. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed two bills into law that are aimed at conserving a precious and dwindling resource in the state: water. For the bill signings, the governor traveled to the San Luis Valley, an important agricultural region where farmers face mounting challenges from extreme drought driven by climate change.

Republican Sens. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, plus Reps. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, and Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican, sponsored the first bill, Senate Bill 22-28. It puts $60 million of federal COVID-19 relief money into a new “groundwater compact compliance and sustainability” fund to help finance projects that reduce groundwater use in the Rio Grande and Republican river basins.

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Such projects might include efforts to “buy and retire” wells used for irrigation as well as portions of irrigated farmland, with the goal of restoring water to underground aquifers and helping the communities meet deadlines to reduce their water use. The Colorado Water Conservation Board can allocate money from the groundwater fund based on recommendations from the boards of directors for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Republican River Water Conservation District.

“The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well,” Simpson told the Alamosa Citizen in April.

The other bill Polis signed, House Bill 22-1316, provides millions of dollars for construction projects approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The bill’s legislative sponsors included Reps. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, and Catlin, along with Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Simpson. Among the local and regional projects funded are:

  • $3.8 million for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. By increasing water flows through the central Platte River habitat area — which stretches across northern Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska — the project is aimed at improving conditions for the interior least tern, pallid sturgeon, piping plover and whooping crane.
  • $2 million to support the state’s efforts to comply with the Republican River compact, which was first negotiated between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska in the early 1940s. The compact governs the three states’ use of the water resources in the Republican River basin, which begins on the plains of eastern Colorado and flows through northwest Kansas and eastern Nebraska.
  • $500,000 for the Arkansas River Decision Support System. The Arkansas River DSS project involves collecting data on characteristics like climate and groundwater in the Arkansas River basin, which covers the southeast quadrant of the state, and analyzing the data to help inform future decisions about water use.

Polis, a Democrat, signed both bills into law at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District offices in Alamosa. According to a statement from Polis’ office, the governor then joined state and national officials in the nearby town of Center to champion a major development for the San Luis Valley’s potato industry.

The U.S. recently began exporting potatoes — including those grown in the Valley — to new regions in Mexico under an agreement reached late last year between the two countries. Previously, potato exports were limited to a 16-mile border zone.

“This agreement, paired with the critical work the Valley is doing to protect and conserve our water, will make a major positive difference for our farmers, meaning more money in the pockets of hardworking Coloradans,” Polis said in a statement. “Colorado is strategically positioned to lead the nation in potato exports to Mexico.”

Colorado sent its first shipment of potatoes to Mexico under the new agreement last week, according to the statement.

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2022 #COleg: #Colorado legislature scores notable wins on energy efficiency, climate, and transit — The Ark Valley Voice #ActOnClimate

Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

HB22-1362 (Energy-Efficient Building Codes) This landmark bill increases the statewide minimum performance requirements for building energy codes, requiring cities and counties to increase efficiency and cut pollution from homes and commercial buildings when updating their local codes.

The bill requires local governments to introduce electric- and solar-ready code language beginning in 2023, followed by low-energy and low-carbon code language beginning in 2026. Finally, the bill invests more than $20 million in energy efficiency and building decarbonization projects. SWEEP thanks Representatives Tracey Bernett and Alex Valdez along with Senators Chris Hansen and Faith Winter for leading this effort…

SB22-206 (Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources) This bill was crafted in the wake of the devastating Marshall Fire. It provides $20 million to the Colorado Energy Office to distribute as loans and grants to help Coloradans rebuild efficient, resilient, and high-performance homes after wildfires and other climate disasters; and $15 million to the Department of Local Affairs to help fund resilient recovery efforts after disaster emergencies.

It also establishes an Office of Climate Preparedness to coordinate the state’s post-disaster recovery efforts and develop a statewide climate preparedness plan.

HB22-1218 (EV-ready Building Codes) This bill requires builders to future-proof new and renovated commercial and multifamily buildings for electric vehicle (EV) charging. For parking spaces in these buildings, adding such infrastructure during the initial construction phase is up to six times less expensive than adding charging later as a stand-alone retrofit.

Colorado anticipates nearly one million EVs on its roads by 2030, requiring more than half a million EV charging stations at homes, businesses, shopping centers, and highway corridors, so it makes sense to future-proof new buildings with the panel capacity and wiring to accommodate EV charging…

HB22-1026 (Transportation Options Tax Credit) This bill will help employers support employees that commute to work using an energy-efficient mode such as transit, a bicycle, or a vanpool. The credit is available for two years and covers 50 percent of the cost of providing clean transportation options.

To receive the tax credit, employers must offer clean transportation options to all employees, including part-time and contract workers, which will ensure the benefits are available to all workers including those who don’t have the option to work from home.

SB22-118 and HB22-1381 both focused on geothermal energy. The first bill passed, and the second was laid over. These two bills would help building owners and communities deploy energy-efficient geothermal heat pump systems to heat and cool buildings and/or provide hot water.

HB22-1151 (Turf Replacement) This bill would reduce water use for lawn irrigation and conserve electricity that otherwise would have been used for pumping. The Colorado Water Conservation Board would be required to create a program for Coloradans that would financially incentivize them to voluntarily replace their irrigated turf with water-wise landscaping. Rep. Dylan Roberts one of its sponsors, has been one of the many voices behind recent efforts in Eagle County to move toward drought-tolerant landscaping there.

2022 #COleg: Turf replacement, wildfire, #groundwater sustainability funding among #water wins as #Colorado legislative session ends — @WaterEdCO

Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Larry Moriandi):

The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2022 session on May 11. Among the water bills that passed, four share a common theme—funding. A rare confluence of new revenue sources led to strong bipartisan support of bills dealing with groundwater compact compliance and sustainability, state water plan projects, wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration, and urban turf replacement. A bill designed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws failed.

An orangethroat darter, one of the nine remaining native fish species in the Arikaree River. Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated.

Groundwater compact compliance and sustainability

Senate Bill 28 creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay for the purchase and retirement of wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. It appropriates into the fund $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revenue that had been transferred into the state’s Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer. These are one-time dollars that must be obligated by the end of 2024; if not spent by then, they will be used to support the state water plan.

The bill seeks to reduce groundwater pumping connected to surface water flows in the Republican River to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It will also help meet aquifer sustainability standards required by state statute and rules in the Rio Grande Basin, home to the San Luis Valley. To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be retired in the Republican Basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. If the targets are not met, the state engineer may have no choice but to shut down wells without compensation.

Water sustains the San Luis Valley’s working farms and ranches and is vital to the environment, economy and livelihoods, but we face many critical issues and uncertainties for our future water supply. (Photo by Rio de la Vista.)

Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, noted that agricultural production coming out of the two basins benefits the overall state economy, not just the local communities. “The state has some skin in the game,” he said, and the availability of ARPA revenue “presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to support the districts.

Simpson emphasized that neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users over $140 million since 2004 to retire irrigated land and purchase or lease surface and groundwater to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. The Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers nearly $70 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and has cut groundwater pumping by a third. Simpson requested $80 million from the Economic Recovery Task Force and, by demonstrating the interconnectivity between the state and local economies and the commitment already shown by the districts—along with strong bipartisan support from legislators—was able to secure the $60 million appropriation.

State water plan projects

Each year the Colorado General Assembly considers the CWCB’s “projects bill,” which, among other things, has included appropriations from CWCB’s Construction Fund to support grants for projects that help implement the state water plan in recent years. The funding source for those grants is different this year, with gambling revenue from Proposition DD, which the electorate passed in 2019, becoming available for the first time. Proposition DD legalized sports betting and levied a 10% tax on sports betting proceeds, with the majority of that revenue going into the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund.

House Bill 1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the fund for grants to help implement the state water plan; $7.2 million of that amount is from sports betting revenue. Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, said, “This is the first appropriation of funds from Proposition DD … and it looks like it’s starting to grow into what we had hoped.”

The bill also appropriates $2 million to CWCB from its Construction Fund to help the Republican River Water Conservation District retire irrigated acreage. Rod Lenz, district president, said the district has doubled its water use fee on irrigators but that “we’re in need of short-term funding while we wait for that rate increase.” The $2 million in state revenue will help the district meet its 2024 interim target of retiring 10,000 acres of the 25,000 acres necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact by 2029. This is on top of the funds the district will receive from Senate Bill 28.

A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

Wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration

Like Senate Bill 28, House Bill 1379 takes advantage of ARPA revenue by appropriating $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to restore, mitigate and protect watersheds from damage caused by wildfire-induced erosion and flooding. Testimony on the bill in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee emphasized how investing mitigation dollars now helps avoid spending even more on very expensive recovery efforts later.

The bill allocates $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund to help communities reduce wildfire risks by promoting watershed resilience. It moves $2 million into the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction projects. And $15 million goes to CWCB to fund watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects, and to help local governments and other entities apply for federal grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act related to water and natural resources management.

Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

Turf replacement

While most of the focus at the Capitol in reducing water use has been on agriculture through retiring irrigated farmland, House Bill 1151 elevates urban turf replacement in importance. The bill requires CWCB to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial property owners to voluntarily replace non-native grasses with water-wise landscaping. It appropriates $2 million in general funds to a newly created Turf Replacement Fund and authorizes local governments, nonprofits and other entities to apply to CWCB for grants to help finance their programs. Landscape contractors, to whom individuals can apply for money to replace their lawns, are also eligible.

Rep. Catlin pointed out that “50% of the water that comes from the tap and goes through the meter and into the house is used outside.”

“We’re building ourselves a shortage,” he warned, “by continuing to use treated water for irrigation.” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, added, “For too long the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains have borne the brunt of water conservation … but this is a bill that will give the tools to metro areas for them to play their fair part in this problem that is our drought.”

WAM bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020, leading some to suspect the company was engaging in investment water speculation. WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley helped prompt state legislators to propose a bill aimed at curbing speculation.
CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Investment water speculation

Senate Bill 29 was an attempt to strengthen protections against investment water speculation, defined as the purchase of agricultural water rights “with the intent, at the time of purchase, to profit from an increase in the water’s value in a subsequent transaction, such as the sale or lease of the water, or by receiving payment from another person for nonuse of all or a portion of the water.” It was aimed at curbing outside investors who may have little or no interest in agriculture from using the water right to maximize its value as the price of water increases during drought. It authorized the state engineer to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and, if found, to levy fines and prohibit the buyer from purchasing additional water rights for two years without the state engineer’s approval.

The 2021 interim Water Resources Review Committee recommended the bill, but it was never viewed as more than a “placeholder.” Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed her disappointment that the bill did not generate more engagement between the water community and policymakers. “I was certainly hopeful that by having a bill we would force conversation,” she said, “but it did not result in having some forthright ‘let’s get around a table and hammer this out.’” Members struggled with trying to balance concerns over speculation with protecting property rights. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, the other co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized, “We are certainly not trying to take a farmer’s or rancher’s ability away from selling that water. In many cases that is their 401K, their retirement.”

Opposition from water user groups in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee sent a clear message: Existing legal requirements provide the necessary safeguards to address water speculation. Travis Smith, representing the Colorado Water Congress, said what’s needed is “having more voices, taking more time.”

Senate Bill 29 was amended to strike the language in the bill and refer the issue to interim study. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who was chairing the committee, expressed his frustration: “We have an ineffective water group that won’t have a conversation with lawmakers anymore. When they have a bill they just take a position and quit working with people.”

With that said he carried the bill over for further consideration, effectively killing it since this was the last committee meeting of the year. It’s unclear whether the issue will be studied this interim since it’s an election year and fewer committee meetings will be held.

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.

2022 #COleg: To help refill two struggling underground aquifers, #Colorado lawmakers set aside $60 million to retire irrigation wells and acres of farmland — #Colorado Public Radio

Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke clears paths for water to flow onto land the subdistrict owns. The property is one of the subdistrict’s investments in recharging the aquifer. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado lawmakers unanimously voted to set aside $60 million of federal COVID relief money to create a fund to help water users in two river basins meet groundwater sustainability targets. If signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the legislation would create a groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money would be used to buy and retire groundwater wells used to irrigate farmland in the Rio Grande River basin in the south and the Republican River basin in the east to keep the water in underground aquifers that are struggling to keep up with drought and overuse…

Farmers and ranchers in both river basins face rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use, which are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements and preserve underground water supplies. If these goals aren’t met, state water officials say there could be alarming consequences — and thousands of well users could face water cuts.

In the San Luis Valley, the state water engineer is requiring some groundwater well users to limit pumping because too many wells are all pulling from the same groundwater source. Chris Ivers, the program manager for two subdistricts in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said farmers and ranchers have levied property taxes on themselves to fund similar local efforts to meet groundwater sustainability goals.

2022 #COleg — @ColoradoDNR

Click the link to read “2022 Colorado General Assembly session: Legislators wrap up work after tackling fentanyl, passing largest budget in history” from Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland, Hannah Metzger, Pat Poblette and Luige Del Puerto) via The Colorado Springs Gazette website. Here’s an excerpt:

  • Record spending. Legislators passed and the governor signed a $36.4 billion spending plan — the biggest in Colorado’s history — that funds state priorities in the upcoming fiscal year. The budget allocates roughly $2.5 billion more than current spending levels. The budget includes major increases in several areas, notably health care and public safety…
  • Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County
  • Wildfires. The nature of the Marshall fire, which tore through a suburban neighborhood in the dead of winter, horridly illustrated Colorado’s new reality: a state that could face its worst wildfire season in history…
  • HB 1132 requires all controlled burns on private property to be reported to local fire departments. SB 7 implements an enhanced wildfire awareness month outreach campaign over the next two years. HB 1011 allocates nearly $27 million to match money that local governments designate for forest management or wildfire mitigation efforts, and HB 1012 spends over $7 million on forest health and restoration. Earlier this session, the legislature also passed HB 1007, which creates a grant program funding wildfire mitigation outreach; HB 1111, which increases insurance coverage of wildfire losses and SB 2, which spends $5 million on volunteer firefighting resources.

    2022 #COleg: Bill would set $60 million fund for #groundwater sustainability — The Alamosa Citizen

    The Rio Grande Canal is the largest water right in Colorado.

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    Rio Grande and Republican River would use funds to meet state groundwater sustainability, interstate compact compliance targets

    COLORADO is moving toward putting $60 million into a new groundwater compact compliance fund for the Rio Grande and Republican River basins created and funded through a state senate bill drafted and championed by state Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa.

    The bill, Senate Bill 22-028, creates the Compact Compliance Fund that would be administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources and would receive an appropriation of $60 million from Colorado’s share of federal COVID relief money from American Rescue Plan funding.

    The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, originally only established the fund, and then an amendment unanimously adopted Thursday by the Colorado House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee added $60 million into it. The bill next will be heard by the House Appropriations Committee.

    “Given the unanimous votes every step of the way, so far, I am hopeful the bill with the appropriation will become law in the next week or two,” Simpson told Alamosa Citizen. “The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well. Still some work to do, but things look very promising for both of these Colorado communities.

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    If the Compact Compliance Fund is adopted by the Colorado Legislature it would pay for efforts to meet groundwater sustainability targets in the Rio Grande Basin and interstate compact requirements for the Republican River Basin. Each basin would get an earmark of $30 million to pay for efforts like retiring groundwater wells and other conservation and water sustainability measures. The goal would be to spend all $60 million within the time constraints put on federal COVID dollars, whether it’s a 50-50 split or not.

    The Republican River basin. The North Fork, South Fork and Arikaree all flow through Yuma County before crossing state lines. Credit: USBR/DOI

    The threat to livelihood for farmers and ranchers and economic disaster for the regions tied to irrigated agriculture in the Rio Grande and Republican River basins was made loud and clear in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee.

    “These farmers and ranchers have done everything they possibly can,” said Marisa Fricke, one of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s program managers. “They grow produce for us and hay for our cattle.”

    Farmers and ranchers in both basins have levied property taxes on themselves through the water conservation districts to pay for their efforts to help the Rio Grande and Republican River meet groundwater sustainability and interstate compact compliance goals set by the state. It has meant fallowing of crop fields, permanently retiring irrigated acreage, taking groundwater wells off line either temporarily or permanently, and compensating farmers and ranchers for their efforts to help offset loss from less irrigated acres.

    State Reps. Marc Catlin and Dylan Roberts made impassioned pleas for including $60 million of the ARPA money into the compact compliance fund during their presentation of the bill in the House Ag committee. Both are House sponsors of the bill.

    “This is an opportunity with these funds to say, ‘We’re with you,’” said Catlin of the risk farmers and ranchers take their sacrifices to address compact and sustainability issues on the Republican River.

    “This is a great bill for the San Luis Valley and Republican River Basin,” said Heather Dutton, district manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. “Colorado through COVID relief bills provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in our communities. The imbalance between water use and supply is a critical issue facing Colorado and especially the basins highlighted in this legislation.”

    Farmers in the San Luis Valley are looking to take even more drastic steps in their efforts to meet state targets on groundwater pumping and recharging of the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s unconfined aquifer. In Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, farmers are facing a new proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s Plan of Water Management that would tie the level of groundwater pumping allowed to the natural surface water of the property. Some farms in the subdistrict do not have natural surface water, in which case they would have to purchase water credits from a neighboring farm or pay an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot.

    This concept keeps the system in balance by replenishing what has been withdrawn from the aquifer with surface water and allows the community within Subdistrict No.1 to work together through the exchange and sale of credits. In the event that more groundwater is withdrawn from the aquifer and not replenished an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot would be assessed, according to the proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s water management plan. Money collected by the conservation district from an over pumping charge would come back to the Subdistrict 1 community in the form of payments towards enrolling in water conservation programs, according to Fricke.

    “For over a decade farmers and ranchers have worked to meet sustainability levels and have taxed themselves assessments for waters taken out of the aquifer,” Fricke told House ag committee members.

    Eventually the water conservation districts would establish guidelines and the state Division of Water Resources would administer drawdowns of the fund. In the unlikely chance Rio Grande and Republican River water managers didn’t spend all $60 million, the money would revert to the division of water resources.

    Future state appropriations to Compact Compliance Fund would hinge on executive and legislative budget priorities.

    ‘Morally wrong’ for Douglas County to be coveting water from the San Luis Valley — @AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

    Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, right, with attorney Steve Leonhardt, who Douglas County has hired to help it work through RWR’s water exportation proposal. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    RIO Grande County Commissioner John Noffsker made Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon a counter-offer to the Renewable Water Resources exportation proposal: Douglas County gives the San Luis Valley its annual sales tax collections from Park Meadows Mall in exchange for some water.

    Noffsker’s point? That the Valley has no more right to sales tax dollars collected by Douglas County than Douglas County has to water in the San Luis Valley aquifers.

    Pleasantries were exchanged Saturday [April 23, 2022] between Laydon and a few mostly elected officials during a two-hour exchange at Nino’s Restaurant in Monte Vista. The conversation didn’t reveal anything new or anything Laydon and Douglas County haven’t heard over the past four months as Douglas County weighs whether to invest in the Renewable Water Resources water exportation plan.

    “You’re the tip of the spear on this one,” Noffsker said in making Laydon aware that people watching Douglas County’s deliberations know Laydon holds the deciding vote on the three-member commission, with Commissioner Lora Thomas dead set against RWR and Commissioner George Teal in support.

    “Once you start putting a straw in this body of water, there’s no end game,” Noffsker said.

    “You’re basically saying to us, much as what happened to the Native Americans, that you have something we want and we can do more with it than you can, and that is wrong,” said Noffsker. “It’s morally wrong. When we have to sit here and defend how we use our water, we shouldn’t have to do that. This water belongs to the Valley. It should not be taken out of here to benefit somebody else.”

    The meeting at Nino’s with Noffsker and other local elected officials was Laydon’s second of the day. Earlier Laydon and Special Counsel Steve Leonhardt met privately with farmers who Laydon said expressed a variety of concerns, from lack of knowing what’s going on in the subdistrict formations of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to concerns about their small operations and whether small farms would survive the period of persistent drought and climate change.

    With the local elected officials, which included Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker and Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman and Commissioner Lori Laske, Laydon raised the idea of a community fund that Renewable Water Resources has touted as part of its proposal. The Douglas County commissioner was told the community fund was a slap in the face to residents of the San Luis Valley.

    “It’s not about money, it’s about keeping the (water) resource here,” said Alamosa City Councilman Mike Carson. Carson works at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is coordinating the Protect San Luis Valley campaign fighting the RWR exportation proposal.

    Karla Shriver, president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Subdistrict 2 board, said additional financial relief for Valley farmers is on the way through legislation currently moving through the state legislature. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Cleave Simpson would create a new compact compliance fund and would have around $30 million of American Rescue Plan Act money awarded to Colorado in it to help farmers in the San Luis Valley meet groundwater compliance targets set by the state. Read more about the legislation HERE.

    Renewable Water Resources has voiced opposition to the legislation. It sees the bill as a government bailout for San Luis Valley farmers at a time when RWR is asking for money from Douglas County and dangling those tax dollars in front of Valley farmers to buy them out.

    San Luis garden. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Noffsker said the RWR proposal is only about making a return on investment, while the Valley fights for its economic livelihood.

    “I don’t mean any urban/rural fights,” said Noffsker. “But what’s happening is an urban area that apparently wants to grow more, wants to take from us to do it. If we do something like this, we are being dictated to by the Front Range on what our lives are going to be. That is not correct.”

    Laydon, as he’s said in other meetings, told the group that Douglas County only wants to partner with communities that welcome Douglas County and that want to partner with it. He didn’t find that broad support on his weekend trip to the San Luis Valley, and he hasn’t heard any outpouring of support in the months he and his colleagues have been studying the Renewable Water Resources exportation plan.

    Unless, of course, Douglas County wants to give up its retail sales tax revenues. Sacrificing a golf course or two might help as well.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    2022 #COleg: Lawmakers suspend attempt at legislative fix for water speculation: Senate bill 29 failed to gain traction with agricultural #water users — @AspenJournalism

    An irrigation ditch on Orchard Mesa in the Grand Valley, bringing water from the Colorado River to orchards and fields. The Grand Valley has been the center of discussions and a legislative effort around investment water speculation. CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    Colorado lawmakers have suspended an attempt to prohibit outside investors from profiting off the state’s water.

    On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee voted 5 to 2 to approve an amendment sending Senate Bill 29 back to the interim Water Resources Review Committee for more study and input from water users. However, at the end of Thursday’s hearing, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, acting as chair, decided to “lay over” the bill, meaning the committee would take it up at another time.

    But with the 2022 legislative session ending on May 11, there is probably neither time nor the desire from lawmakers to push the bill through, meaning that, to all appearances, the legislation is dead. The Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee would now have to take the measure back up and move it along to the full Senate and then to the House in order for it to go back to the interim committee.

    Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Eagle County, who initially proposed the back-to-interim-committee amendment and is a sponsor of the bill, were the two votes against sending the issue back to the interim committee. It’s unclear why Donovan, who did not return a call for clarification as of presstime, voted against her own amendment.

    “We gave it a heck of a college try,” said Donovan, the twice-elected representative for Senate District 5, which includes Pitkin County, who will be stepping down at the end of the year due to term limits. “And I think we continued an important conversation. Water always takes a long time to figure out and I was certainly hopeful that by having a bill we would force conversation.”

    Senate Bill 29, with Western Slope sponsors Donovan and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, was an attempt to stop out-of-state investors in agricultural water from making a profit off a public resource that grows scarcer in a water-short future driven by climate change.

    Many say investment water speculation is a threat, but few agree on what should be done about it. A legislative fix, despite several attempts at tweaks with amendments throughout the session, failed to gain support from the constituency the bill aimed to protect: agricultural water users. Although some agricultural water rights holders recognize there could be negative impacts to their communities if water is sold to investors, they don’t want the state making the process of selling their ranch harder, placing restrictions on who they can sell to or limiting their ability to make a profit.

    The original bill would have given the state engineer at the Department of Water Resources the ability to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and fine a purchaser of water rights up to $10,000 if they determine speculation is occurring.

    That version failed to gain traction, as did a handful of proposed “strike-below” or “strike-through” amendments, including one put forth by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which would have addressed speculation using the abandonment principle by saying that if someone was getting paid to not use their water, they could be punished by losing their water right.

    Donovan then floated the most recent amendment that would have sent the issue back to the interim Water Resources Committee for further study and input from water users, a move Coram said was kicking the can down the road.

    Lawmakers scolded some in the water community for what they said was a lack of cooperation and communication around developing legislation aimed at preventing speculation.

    “We have an ineffective water group that won’t have a conversation with lawmakers anymore,” Sonnenberg said. “When we have a bill they just take a position and quit working with people.”

    WAM bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020, leading some to suspect the company was engaging in investment water speculation. WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley helped prompt state legislators to propose a bill aimed at curbing speculation.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Bill opposition

    At Thursday’s hearing, several people testified in opposition to the bill. Colorado Water Congress, Colorado Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, as well as three Grand Valley water providers, among others, were opposed to the bill.

    Former state representative from Gunnison County Kathleen Curry works as a lobbyist on behalf of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Ute Water Conservancy District, organizations that provide agricultural and domestic water to the Grand Valley. She said her clients would support taking more time to consult with experts and stakeholders.

    “My folks have two major concerns regarding the legislation as it was introduced and as it’s been contemplated so far,” she said. “One has to do with the additional time needed to obtain feedback from the affected parties and water rights owners and secondly, they are still a bit unclear about the need for legislation, and the scope of potential impacts to water rights owners remains a concern.”

    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

    The Grand Valley has been the center of investment water speculation concerns, where New York City-based private-equity firm Water Asset Management has been acquiring irrigated farmland. WAM is now the largest landowner in the Grand Valley Water Users Association. But as long as WAM keeps putting the water to beneficial use and keeps the land in agricultural production — which it appears to be doing — it doesn’t count as speculation.

    Still, the threat from out-of-state, urban interests loomed large at Thursday’s hearing.

    “We were hearing across our districts and state about a new type of player in the water world,” Donovan said. “And that player was custom suits and shiny shoes that call big cities home. … There was concern from many in the water world that probably an investment firm was not going to be the best partner moving forward.”

    In an attempt to address the issue in 2020, legislators convened a workgroup, made up of water managers and policy experts across sectors to explore ways to strengthen the state’s anti-speculation laws. Saddled with the incredibly complex task of figuring out how to protect Colorado’s water from profit-seeking investors without infringing on private property rights, an August 2021 report from the workgroup did not give recommendations to lawmakers because they could not come to a consensus about which concepts to implement. The group’s report did, however, lay out potential avenues new regulations to prevent investment water speculation could take.

    For Loma rancher, workgroup member and President of GVWUA Joe Bernal, the lack of consensus meant that lawmakers should not move forward with any legislation.

    “Our group found it very important that more information be gathered from landowners and stakeholders,” he told the committee Thursday. “I find it very concerning that bill sponsors moved forward with the crafting of an anti-speculation bill when there seems to be very little support from the people and the citizens it seems the sponsors are trying to protect.”

    An irrigated field in the Grand Valley, near Grand Junction made green by water diverted from the Colorado River. Grand Valley water user groups were opposed to Senate bill 29, which was aimed at preventing investment water speculation.
    CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Threats to agriculture

    The concern at the heart of the speculation issue is not that investors could profit off of Colorado’s water. Underneath, there is a broader fear about the loss of agricultural land and with it, a way of life and a part of Colorado’s history, culture and identity. The work group identified the large-scale, permanent dry-up of agricultural lands as the No. 1 risk from speculators.

    For Bernal, the bigger threat to Colorado agriculture comes from developers who would subdivide the land for houses and ranchettes and take it out of agricultural production. The acres that were sold to WAM, which are still being farmed, could have been sold instead to developers, an outcome he doesn’t want to see.

    “I think it could be studied further, but at this point we don’t have a problem yet,” Bernal said. “I’m not saying I’m glad WAM is here, but it seems to be the lesser of two evils. Given the choice of having the land developed, it’s a better option.”

    Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the April 23 edition of The Aspen Times.

    2022 #COleg: Filling in #Colorado’s decarbonization gaps — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

    Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    Legislators are considering how to nudge emissions from buildings, clean up Front Range air, and bring agriculture into the decarbonization effort

    Conventional wisdom holds that politicians shy away from major initiatives in election years. Some think that is at play in Colorado this year. After all, inflation is at work, energy prices are rising, and analysts predict a rough election year for Democrats in Congress.

    But if Colorado’s 2022 climate and energy legislative agenda certainly won’t match that of 2019, nor of 2021, it’s shaping up as an impressive year to advance the work on achieving economy-wide decarbonization goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    “This is probably not going to be a session filled with transformation legislation on climate change as 2019 and 2021 were, but there are some really good bills,” says Jacob Smith executive director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a coalition of 40 local governments.

    An all-electric house. Credit: REWIRING AMERICA

    Legislators are considering bills that seek to advance Colorado’s efforts to reduce emissions associated with buildings, clean up the crappy air quality along the northern Front Range, and bring the agriculture sector into the decarbonization effort.

    Courtesy of Microgrid Knowledge

    Others address microgrids, the potential for carbon storage, and funding for the state’s Office of Just Transition, the agency crafted in 2019 for coal communities and workers to reinvent themselves.

    Legislators in 2019 adopted a remarkable set of bills that essentially pivoted Colorado’s energy system in a way that had never been done. Most prominent were the economy wide decarbonization goals.

    Only 2004, when Colorado voters adopted the first renewable energy portfolio standard, comes close to the same pivot in energy.

    The 2019 tsunami was made possible by heightened worries about climate change but also a shift in the Colorado Senate that gave Democrats majorities in both chambers. This came concurrently with the arrival of Jared Polis as governor after his campaign on a platform of 100% renewable electricity by 2040.

    Then came 2020—and the covid shutdown, followed by the flood of even more powerful bills in 2021, including several that targeted methane from extraction to end-use in buildings. At least one of the ideas adopted in 2021 had been first proposed in 2007 but never got close to the finish line.

    Now is catch-up time, a filling in of the gaps.

    “Last year we essentially had two legislative sessions in one, and we accomplished a lot, and now we need to work on the implementation of it,” says Mike Kruger, chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage AssociationThat won’t require as much legislation,” he points out. “That’s more regulatory work.”

    Still, even as they waited the governor’s signature on many of the 30-plus bills that had been passed, state legislators indicated they knew there was still major work ahead. State Sen. Steve Feinberg, then the majority leader (and now the Senate president), said a major priority in the 2022 session would be legislation to improve air quality along the Front Range. Sen. Chris Hansen said he was thinking about how to integrate agriculture into Colorado’s decarbonization.

    In September, Hansen revealed at a fundraiser that he intended to introduce legislation that would set interim decarbonization targets for Colorado. Those new targets—for 2028 and for 2040—are intended to create a steady trajectory for Colorado’s decarbonization efforts, to avoid the tendency to punt the decarbonization can down the road until a last-night cram session before the test.

    When did Hansen decide this was needed?

    “I think it was part of what I do essentially every summer and fall, which is really try to think about the important gaps, where they are and which ones, if you were to address them, you’d get the most bang for the buck when it comes to decarbonization,” said Hansen in an interview.

    “So I’m always trying to think about that supply curve, of carbon abatement opportunities, let’s do the cheapest, easiest ones as fast as we can. And that is really kind of driving my policy development process.”

    Meanwhile, in Boulder, State Rep. Edie Hooton was thinking about microgrids, and in Longmont, Rep. Tracey Bernett was thinking about both air quality and buildings.

    This week, the bills having to do with buildings.

    See: Colorado’s carrots and sticks for buildings

    Next week, air quality, agriculture and other bills.

    2022 #COleg: Turf replacement bill gains ground: Outdoor landscaping is largest use for some Western Slope water providers — @AspenJournalism

    Thornton home and lawn 2019. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    Colorado could soon have a program that would pay property owners to get rid of one of the largest water uses for Western Slope water providers: grass.

    A turf replacement bill [HB22-1151 Turf Replacement Program:Concerning measures to incentivize water-wise landscapes, and, in connection therewith, creating a state program to finance the voluntary replacement of irrigated turf] , which passed unanimously this week out of the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee, would require the state water board to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for the voluntary replacement of irrigated turf with water-wise, drought-resistant landscaping. Local entities that already have turf-replacement programs could apply to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for money to help increase the rebate to property owners. In areas where a program doesn’t currently exist, the CWCB would have to hire a contractor to administer a program.

    The drafters of House Bill 1151 say it is aimed at efficient water use and would increase communities’ resilience to drought and climate change, reduce the sale of agriculture water rights to meet increased demand in cities, and protect river flows. Sponsors are asking the program to be funded with $4 million from the general fund. The bill’s next stop is the House Appropriations Committee.

    Colorado would be following in the footsteps of other states that take water from the dwindling Colorado River by expanding these so-called “cash for grass” programs. Some Colorado municipalities and water providers already have lawn buy-back programs; the bill could increase the incentives they give to customers.

    Vail has begun methodically removing grass from its parks from areas that serve little purpose, partly with the goal of saving water. Buffehr Creek Park after xeriscaping. Photo: Town of Vail

    According to bill sponsor Rep. Dylan Roberts, who represents Routt and Eagle counties, nearly 50% of the water used between the municipal and industrial sectors goes to the outdoor watering of non-native turf grasses.

    “That’s not the type of activity we should be doing in our state when we are facing such a drought,” he said. “If this bill can help incentivize folks to make the right decision about water conservation in their community, that’s a win.”

    Each acre of turf removed saves one to two acre-feet of water per year, according to the bill’s language.

    #Nebraska Must Act Now to Secure Our #Water — Governor Pete Ricketts #SouthPlatteRiver

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    Click the link to read the release from Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts office:

    Nebraskans know every drop of water is precious. Agriculture is our top industry. It makes up 20% of our economy, and it generates one in four jobs in our state. Access to water makes this possible. We have the most irrigated acres of cropland in the country. Three of eight acres of farmland in Nebraska are irrigated.

    Fifty years ago, far-sighted Nebraskans set up a system of water management, including our Natural Resources Districts (NRDs), that has allowed us to manage our water based on river basin. This has allowed our state to maintain the Ogallala Aquifer within one foot of where it was in the 1950s.

    The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

    By contrast, Colorado has mined their water. The Ogallala Aquifer under Colorado has dropped nearly 15 feet since the 1950s. Now, Colorado is aggressively planning new developments that threaten Nebraska’s water resources. Last year, Colorado released their South Platte Basin Implementation Plan. It was updated last month and now includes 282 total projects to meet their growing demands. Altogether, these projects cost an estimated $9.8 billion.

    Governor Clarence J. Morley signing Colorado River compact and South Platte River compact bills, Delph Carpenter standing center. Unidentified photographer. Date 1925. Print from Denver Post. From the CSU Water Archives

    Thankfully, 100 years ago Nebraskans negotiated an agreement with Colorado over the use of South Platte River water. The South Platte River Compact (Compact) was signed by Nebraska and Colorado in 1923 and ratified by Congress in 1926. It entitles Nebraska to 120 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from April 1st through October 15th (irrigation season) and 500 cfs of water from October 16th through March 31st (non-irrigation season). Under the Compact, we can only claim our non-irrigation season water entitlement by building a canal and reservoir system—known as the Perkins County Canal—along the South Platte River. Until we build the canal, Colorado has no obligation to deliver the water.

    South Platte River Storage Study Area. Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

    As Colorado’s desire for water grows, they’re acting as if Nebraska’s non-irrigation season water rights under the Compact don’t exist. In 2016, the Colorado Legislature passed HB16-1256, the South Platte Water Storage Study, into law. Its purpose was to identify water storage options along the lower South Platte River. Colorado wants to make sure no water “in excess of the minimum legally required amounts” gets to Nebraska. In the study’s final report, Colorado clearly assumes that Nebraska’s legal requirement is only the 120 cfs during irrigation season. Since we haven’t built the canal, Colorado is not planning to deliver any water to us during non-irrigation season. Zero.

    The good news is that the Compact gives Nebraska undeniable authority to construct a canal to claim our non-irrigation water flow. It even gives us legal entitlement to land in Colorado to build it. Senator Dan Hughes, of District 44, has prioritized LB 1015, authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to design, construct, and operate the Perkins County Canal and reservoir system. My budget recommendation to the Legislature includes $500 million for the project. This is a bargain compared to the nearly $10 billion Colorado is preparing to spend on their water resources.

    Our proposed canal has caused a stir in Colorado. In response to our plans, a legislator in Colorado introduced SB22-126 earlier this month to prioritize water storage projects in the South Platte Basin. Colorado’s leaders believe that “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” I am concerned that even though Nebraska has clear entitlements to South Platte River water under the terms of the Compact, it will be difficult for us to claim what we are owed once municipalities in Colorado become reliant on the water.

    There’s no doubt that Colorado plans to take the 500 cfs of water guaranteed to Nebraska during non-irrigation season under the Compact. On February 7th, a coalition of water districts gave a presentation to the Colorado Legislature on ways to shore up South Platte River resources. The presentation indicates that Colorado only recognizes its 120 cfs delivery commitment to Nebraska during irrigation season. In other words, the presentation assumes Nebraska is not entitled to receive a single drop of South Platte River water for almost half the year.

    We must take action now to protect this water from being taken. Our ag producers rely on it for irrigation. Communities along the Platte River use it for drinking water. The water is critical to power generation in Nebraska, and our natural habitats along the Platte depend on these water flows.

    People have asked, “why not slow down and discuss reworking the terms of the compact?” Any renegotiation would take time to hammer out. It would require approval from the Colorado Legislature and Nebraska’s Unicameral. What are the odds of that happening anytime soon? Keep in mind: delays only benefit Colorado. Remember, Colorado is trying to accelerate their work along the South Platte River. Pausing our plans, while they move full steam ahead, would put us at risk. The longer we delay, the more we risk losing access to the water we’re due.

    This month, I’ve held town halls across the state to inform Nebraskans about our water rights with Colorado. There has been overwhelming support for moving forward on the canal. People understand that the price of inaction is far higher than the funding needed to secure our water rights. I’ll encourage you to do what I asked of them: contact your state senator to let them know your thoughts on LB 1015. The passage of this bill is a necessary first step.

    Fifty years from now, Nebraskans will look back on this generation. Will they say we had the foresight to secure our water resources? Or will they say this generation failed?

    If you have questions about the proposed canal, write me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.

    2022 #COleg: Bill providing millions in relief to #RepublicanRiver, #RioGrande basins clears first hurdle — @WaterEdCO

    A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

    Click the link to read the article on Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado lawmakers have given initial approval to a bill that would provide millions of dollars to help two major water-short farm regions reduce water use and comply with legal obligations to deliver water to Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and New Mexico.

    On Feb. 10 the Colorado Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved [SB22-028 Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund: Concerning the creation of the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund] that creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay to buy and retire farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. Colorado and federal tax revenue would bankroll the fund, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board would distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer.

    The need

    The fund is needed, according to proponents, to help reduce groundwater use that is depleting surface water flows in the Republican River and threatening Colorado’s ability to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It is also intended to help drought-stressed aquifers in the San Luis Valley recover and to meet aquifer sustainability standards required by the state in the Rio Grande Basin.

    To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be taken out of production in the Republican basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. David Robbins, general counsel for both districts, noted that, “Both districts have received letters from the state engineer indicating that if they fail in the task they will receive orders shutting down the wells in each basin, which will have dramatic and very difficult consequences for everyone in both basins.”

    The bill’s proponents hope to take advantage of a one-time funding opportunity—federal Covid-19 stimulus dollars under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The General Assembly created the Economic Relief and Recovery Cash Fund last year to receive ARPA dollars and transferred nearly $850 million into it; investment in water infrastructure is among the eligible uses. It also established an Economic Recovery Task Force to recommend how to spend those funds. Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, who is also General Manager of the Rio Grande district and a co-sponsor of the bill, has requested $80 million from the task force to support the bill. The governor’s budget includes $15 million as a starting point.

    Neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users $148.5 million to retire irrigated land, purchase or lease surface and groundwater, and pipe groundwater to the river near the Nebraska border to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. Aaron Sprague, a member of its board of directors, said the district had retired 42,000 acres of irrigated land since 2006 and thought they were in compliance, but then a court stipulation signed in 2016 by the three states, requiring 25,000 acres additional acres be retired, “effectively moved the goal posts on us.” The district has retired 3,000 acres of that additional land so far. Sprague figures the economic impact of well shutdowns to be $2.2 billion annually on local, regional and state economies.

    Although the Rio Grande is also part of an interstate compact among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, the issue there is reducing groundwater pumping to sustainable levels pursuant to state law. What constitutes sustainability is different in the shallow and deep aquifers that underlie the Rio Grande’s San Luis Valley, but it basically boils down to balancing inflows and outflows—precipitation, which averages less than 7” per year in that region, and return flows equaling groundwater withdrawals. As in the Republican basin, the Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers $69 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and cut groundwater pumping, with 13,000 acres retired and well pumping reduced by a third in that period.

    But 3,000 wells and 170,000 irrigated acres are at risk if the Rio Grande doesn’t meet the 2029 deadline. How would that affect the valley? Simpson emphasized that, “Irrigated agriculture in the San Luis Valley has about a $1 billion annual impact on our community…the culture, the economy were all built around it.”

    The cost

    So how much would it cost and where would the money come from? David Robbins suggests that each district would need at least $50 million “over and above” what they already have spent to achieve compliance. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, another co-sponsor whose district includes the Republican River Basin, said he wasn’t sure $150 million total would be enough. “When commodity prices are where they are,” he noted, “it’s much more difficult to retire acres.” Corn now is selling at over $6/bushel, its highest level in years, making irrigated acreage more valuable.

    The bill will go next to the Senate floor for debate. It has strong bipartisan support and is identical to a bill recommended by the interim Water Resources Review Committee last fall. But as Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, committee chair, pointed out, there is no appropriation attached. “This bill just creates an entity,” she cautioned, “and then we’ve got the real hard work to do of making sure we find money to put into it.”

    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.

    2022 #COleg: SB22-028, “Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund” passes out of committee with unanimous vote — The #Alamosa News #groundwater #RioGrande #RepublicanRiver

    A farmer uses a center pivot to battle drought on a field in Center, Colo., in the San Luis Valley on Aug. 24, 2020. Credit: Allen Best

    Click the link to read the article on The Alamosa News (Priscilla Waggoner). Here’s an excerpt:

    In a unanimous, bi-partisan vote, Senator Simpson’s bill [SB22-028 Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund: Concerning the creation of the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund] passed, unamended, out of the Colorado Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Thursday. Next step is the floor of the Senate where the bill will be voted on by the body at large.

    The bill creates the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund to help finance groundwater use reduction efforts in the Rio Grande River Basin and the Republican River Basin, including buying and retiring irrigation wells and irrigated acreage.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board administers the fund and can make expenditures based on recommendations from the board of directors of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District or the Republican River Water Conservation District. A conservation district’s recommendations must first be approved by the state engineer…

    Clearly referencing the water development investment group Renewable Water Resources (RWR), Donovan wanted to know how to explain a group of people wanting to export water from the valley when it is clear water scarcity is already an issue. Robbins, who was testifying at the time, responded that it was something they “were trying to understand themselves” but said that the Rio Grande Water Conservation District is united in their resolve to fight the efforts with all they have.

    Referencing the RWR proposal, Donovan then commented that being given money to build a senior citizen center or for law enforcement won’t help much if there are no senior citizens or communities left. She then commented that the General Assembly is receiving the message that the group “needs to look for water somewhere else.”

    2022 #COleg: SB22-126 Prioritize #Water Storage Projects South Platte Basin #SouthPlatteRiver

    South Platte River Storage Study Area. Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

    Click the link to read the article on The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice). Here’s an excerpt:

    The [SB22-126 Prioritize Water Storage Projects South Platte Basin: Concerning a requirement that the Colorado water conservation board prioritize water storage in the South Platte river basin in choosing projects to finance with money from the Colorado water conservation board construction fund.], sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would require that water storage in the basin would be prioritized when the CWCB decides what projects to fund.

    Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District based in Sterling, shared the bill with his board of directors during their regular meeting [February 8, 2022]. The board later voted to support the bill.

    The bill specifically lists two intended purposes of the prioritization – to “(increase) the beneficial consumptive use of Colorado’s undeveloped waters to which Colorado is entitled under the South Platte River Compact,” and to “reduce reliance on transmountain diversions.”

    According to the bill, the CWBC would create a construction fund into which any money appropriated by the General Assembly for water projects would be held. Interest on the investments from the fund would revert back into the fund, and unexpended funds would not be returned to the legislature at the end of the year.

    In addition, when allocating money for water storage projects, CWBC would give projects in the South Platte Basin top priority.

    2022 #COleg: #Wildfire related bills this session

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    Click the link to read an article from The Denver Post (Nick Coltrain). Here’s an excerpt:

    [HB22-1111 Insurance Coverage For Loss Declared Fire Disaster: Concerning insurance coverage for insured losses incurred as a result of a declared fire disaster] aims to make it easier to file and receive initial claims for lost property, ease the inventory process and extend housing reimbursement, among other things, when a loss is declared as part of a declared fire disaster. It passed its first committee Thursday night on a bipartisan 10-2 vote.

    “(Mass property loss in a fire disaster) makes it much harder to recover,” Amabile said before the hearing. “It’s harder to find a place to rent, it’s harder to get your building permits approved, it’s harder to find a builder and an architect, and it’s also harder to get your claim through the insurance company because they’re also overwhelmed with claims.”

    The Marshall fire underscores the need for this type of legislation, she said. Homes lost to fire disasters still account for a small percentage of total insurance claims, including things like hail, but the mass trauma they inflict is dramatic, she said…

    Slopes above Cheesman Reservoir after the Hayman fire photo credit Denver Water.

    In [HB22-1011 Wildfire Mitigation Incentives For Local Governments: Concerning the establishment of a state grant program that provides funding to local governments that dedicate resources for wildfire mitigation purposes], which Snyder introduced with Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton, he hopes to encourage local governments to bolster their efforts at fighting wildfire with a state matching grant.

    Broadly speaking, a local government would need to have a dedicated funding source for fire mitigation to qualify for a matching slice of money from the state forest service. A fiscal analysis predicts it would cost about $20 million in its first full year, beginning July 1, 2023.

    What qualifies as mitigation would be broadly defined and left to the local government, Snyder said. The state’s ecosystem is too diverse to prescribe solutions. The bill has not been scheduled for a committee hearing yet, the first step to possible passage into law…

    Agile equipment gathers processed logs in the forest and takes them to the road and stacks them. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    Land management, including proper timber harvest and grazing, needs to coexist with a focus on preservation, he said. Will noted a colleague, Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, is running [HB22-1166 Incentives Promote Colorado Timber Industry: Concerning the adoption of incentives to promote the timber industry in Colorado, and, in connection therewith, creating an internship program in the Colorado state forest service, extending an existing sales and use tax exemption to cover the sales, storage, and use of wood harvested in Colorado, and creating a state income tax credit for the purchase of qualifying items used in timber production] to promote the timber industry, which Will said could help with forest and fuel management.

    Fire management will need education, awareness, planning, mitigation and preparation, Will said. And while he encouraged those efforts, it’s Mother Nature’s cooperation, for better of ill, that will define wildfires in Colorado.

    Click the link to view a list of bills for wildfire.

    2022 #COleg: HB22-1151 Turf Replacement Program

    Click here to read the bill.

    Click the link to read an article from KRDO (Spencer Soicher):

    House Bill 22-1151 is described as a way to “incentivize water-wise landscapes” by “creating a state program to finance the voluntary replacement of irrigated turf.

    The bill also said it would reduce the sale of agricultural water rights in response to increased demand for municipal water use.

    If passed, people across the state would receive a dollar for every square foot of non-natives grass they get rid of.

    2022 #COleg: River District addresses controversial #water speculation bill: Amendment says getting paid to not use water could result in abandonment — @AspenJournalism #cwcac2022

    The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund, has been buying up parcels of land that are irrigated with water from the canal.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    An organization that works to keep water on the Western Slope is taking a stab at rewriting an unpopular piece of proposed legislation aimed at preventing speculators from profiting off of water.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District board of directors voted at its quarterly January meeting to present to legislators an amendment to Senate Bill 29, which addresses investment water speculation. The River District is attempting to use the abandonment principle of water law to address investment water speculation. Invoking the well-known adage of “use it or lose it,” the amendment says that if someone is getting paid to not use their water, they could be punished by losing their water right.

    Every 10 years, engineers from Colorado’s Division of Water Resources review every water right to see if it has been used at some point in the previous decade. If it hasn’t, the water right could end up on the abandonment list and the owner has to oppose the listing in water court to try to keep the water right. In Colorado, a user must put their water to “beneficial use,” meaning using the water for what it was decreed for, such as growing crops.

    The River District is proposing that someone’s water right could be considered abandoned in much less time than 10 years — perhaps only a matter of days — if they are being paid to not use their water. The concept would not apply to approved water conservation programs, such as those set up by state officials.

    “The amendment that we are talking about basically creates a penalty for someone who is not using water if they are being paid to do so and it is outside of a state-sanctioned program,” said River District general manager Andy Mueller. “We have to make sure people are using or not using their water rights for purposes they are not decreed for, and that’s really where we see the speculation potential threat coming in.”

    As an example, Mueller said municipal providers in the water-short lower basin states such as Arizona, could pay farmers in western Colorado to let their water run downstream for the benefit of Arizona water users. He said he has not yet seen any lower basin entities paying to reduce water use in Colorado, but that it could happen in the future.

    “Our concern is focused on how do you prevent that or have a penalty that’s meaningful, and the abandonment statute seems like a really great way to do that,” he said.

    The “strike-through” amendment, if legislators accept it, would essentially replace the current version of the bill.

    Mark Harris, General Manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, checks on the entrance to Tunnel 3, where water in the Government Highline Canal goes through the mountain to Palisade, continuing to Grand County. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Opposition from agriculture

    The River District’s amendment is an attempt to revise the current proposed legislation, which has not found support from agricultural water users. Even the bill’s Western Slope sponsors — Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Eagle County, and Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose — acknowledge it is imperfect.

    The bill as currently proposed aims to prevent a buyer of agricultural water rights from profiting on the increased value of the water in a future sale by giving the state engineer at the Department of Water Resources the ability to investigate speculation claims and levy fines. Lawmakers are trying to prevent out-of-state investors from making a profit off a public resource that grows scarcer in a water-short future driven by climate change.

    The bill has been introduced in the Senate and will be considered by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

    But it has been met with opposition from agricultural producers, one of the very groups that it is trying to protect and who say they don’t want the state peering into their private property transactions.

    Although some agricultural water rights owners recognize there could be negative impacts to their communities if water is sold to investors, they don’t want the state making the process of selling their ranch harder or placing restrictions on whom they can sell to or their ability to make a profit. This leaves some posing the question: Whom is the bill for?

    “Why are people running a bill if the constituency is not interested and they don’t feel the bill is properly vetted?” asked Joe Bernal, a Loma farmer and president of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, an organization that provides irrigation water to farmers in the Fruita area.

    The Colorado Farm Bureau, too, has concerns about the bill and, in a letter sent in October to the Water Resources Review Committee, says the bill could unintentionally negatively impact farmers and ranchers. Farm Bureau State Affairs Director Austin Vincent said the organization is aware of the River District’s proposal but has not taken a position on it.

    The Glenwood Springs-based River District represents 15 counties on the Western Slope and often advocates for agricultural water interests. The organization has historically taken an active lobbying role. Some board members thought it better to oppose the bill or ignore it altogether — with the assumption that it, as currently written, will die on its own — rather than try to rewrite the legislation.

    The board was split 8-5 in favor of presenting the amendment to lawmakers. Pitkin County Attorney and River District representative John Ely voted against advancing the amendment.

    “I thought it was just cleaner to oppose something you feel is poorly written than try to amend it,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to rewrite a bill.”

    State Rep. Dylan Roberts, second from left and State Sen. Kerrys Donovan, second from right, both who represent Western Slope districts, participate on a panel at Colorado Water Congress in January. Donovan is a sponsor of a bill that aims to tackle investment water speculation. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Speculation concerns

    Last year, lawmakers tasked a work group composed of water managers and policy experts from across water sectors with exploring ways to strengthen the state’s current anti-speculation laws. The group, which included Bernal and River District general counsel Peter Fleming, came up with a list of eight concepts on how to prevent water investment speculation. But the group did not give clear recommendations to legislators because they could not come to a consensus about which concepts to implement.

    That inability to find consensus and make recommendations, to Bernal, meant that lawmakers should drop their attempts to put forward a bill.

    “It seems to me that this legislation has taken on a life of its own. For what reason, I don’t know,” he said at last month’s Colorado Water Congress conference in Aurora. “I would like to know why legislators are not listening to the team of experts.”

    But Donovan said it is now the job of legislators to delve into the report and figure out how to navigate from there. She said lawmakers will get input from stakeholders about next steps.

    “A lot of us acknowledge that it’s going to be hard to advance this session an anti-investment speculation bill, but enough of us have heard from our constituents that it’s an important enough issue that we at least need to try,” she said. “My goal this year is to just keep the conversation going.”

    The anti-speculation bill is, in part, an attempt by lawmakers to address concerns in the Grand Valley, where a New York City-based private-equity firm has been acquiring irrigated farmland. Water Asset Management is now the largest landowner in the Grand Valley Water Users Association. But under Colorado water law, as long as WAM keeps putting the water to beneficial use by keeping the land in agricultural production — which it appears to be doing — it doesn’t count as speculation.

    Even though Bernal doesn’t support the proposed anti-speculation bill, he is still wary of WAM.

    “I am concerned about outside interests buying up property in the valley and large blocks of it,” Bernal said. “We as a community are keeping our eyes wide open.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Vail Daily. This story ran in the Feb. 4 edition of the Vail Daily.

    2022 #COleg: #Colorado should limit kids’ lead exposure with school water filters, advocates say — #Colorado Newsline

    Denver Water delivers safe, clean water to 1.5 million people every day, 25% of Colorado’s population. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Nearly 3 in 4 Colorado kids have detectable levels of lead in their bloodstream, according to a peer-reviewed study published in September.

    The September analysis — published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics — found that nationwide, slightly more than half of children tested positive for lead, making Colorado’s rate above average.

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    Some state lawmakers and public health advocates want to address Colorado’s lead problem by installing water filters in every K-12 public and charter school in the state. They plan to introduce a bill that would leverage federal funds to pay for the water filter installation.

    Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial justice organization with offices in Denver and Aurora, and Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy group, are backing the bill, which has yet to be officially introduced. Sponsors include three Democrats: Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora along with Reps. Emily Sirota of Denver and Barbara McLachlan of Durango.

    “Lead is a problem in Colorado schools,” said Cori Bell, an attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council who advocates for healthy and affordable water. Bell spoke during a virtual news conference Monday to announce the upcoming bill.

    “Schools and child care centers may have older plumbing materials, such as pipes and faucets, which are more likely to contain high levels of lead,” Bell continued. “There are so many times when pipes at schools sit unused. Think about the weekends, school breaks and summer vacation. During these times, lead can dissolve in the water that’s sitting in the pipes. No one would hand a child a lead straw for their glass, so why would we allow lead contamination in school drinking water?”

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that exposure to lead can cause serious health effects for children, including brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

    Lead exposure is most common among children who live in communities with older housing and high poverty rates, according to the September study, which also found higher-than-average lead exposure in children from predominantly Black and Hispanic ZIP codes.

    Rachel Lehman, a member of Colorado People’s Alliance, said she didn’t trust the drinking water in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood where her family lives. She buys water filters for her home once a month, and her daughter lugs water from home in a Hydro Flask when she goes to class.

    “Water is life,” Lehman said during the news conference. “I don’t see how this is a political issue at all, and I urge the state of Colorado to do some kind of action in this matter to support clean drinking water for all of our children.”

    Dr. PJ Parmar, whose clinic serves refugees in the East Colfax neighborhood, pointed out the difficulty of testing individual kids for lead.

    “If anyone has tried to test the blood of a 1- or 2-year-old, it’s impractical,” Parmar said. But his clients would be on board with the broader filter proposal, he said, because “many of them come from places where they don’t trust the drinking water anyway.”

    Under the upcoming bill, the $26.7 million filter installation cost would be paid for using existing federal funds.

    Advocates say President Joe Biden’s social spending plan, which remains stalled in the U.S. Senate, would cover annual filter maintenance costs totaling $12.7 million for Colorado schools. But if Congress doesn’t pass the social spending plan, or some version of it, it’s unclear who would pay for maintenance. State funding for K-12 education already falls more than $500 million short of the amount that lawmakers are required to pay school districts under a formula in state law.

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Opinion: Zornio: #ClimateChange is not enough of a focus in #Colorado’s 2022 legislative start: Two weeks after the most destructive #wildfire in Colorado’s history, lawmakers appear ready to downplay the #ClimateCrisis — The #Colorado Sun #COleg #ActOnClimate

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    From The Colorado Sun (Trish Zornio):

    As the new legislative session kicked off, Coloradans got a glimpse at what state legislators are prepared to prioritize. There’s a lot of good stuff: education, public safety and the economy.

    Unfortunately, of the 102 bills and resolutions already submitted in the House and Senate, few appear ready to seriously tackle the root causes of climate change — fossil fuels.

    To suggest this oversight is irksome would be a gross understatement. In the past few years, Colorado has seen firsthand the impact of a rapidly changing climate. Most recently, the Marshall fire became the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, destroying nearly 1,100 structures worth over half a billion dollars.

    Before that, Colorado has been experiencing growth of extreme wildfires, including a truly historic 2020 fire season. This included the Pine Gulch Fire, the Cameron Peak fire and the East Troublesome fire, all of which easily passed 100,000 acres burned — and one over 200,000 acres — breaking records multiple times within the same season.

    Then there were the Glenwood Canyon mudslides in 2021 that went well beyond anything engineers had prepared for due to the intensity of the fires.

    The slides closed I-70 on and off for weeks at a time, severing the primary connection across the state and prompting officials to seek over $116 million of taxpayer dollars for repair costs. The intensity of the mudslide was a direct impact of climate change.

    Setting extreme wildfires and mudslides aside, there’s been a myriad of record-breaking events in Colorado as of late: record-breaking heat, record-breaking winds, record-breaking drought, record-breaking hail, record-breaking tornadoes, record-breaking cold and even record-breaking bombogenesis. Of note, my iPhone desperately wants to autocorrect that last one to “bimbo jeans,” a testament to the relative newness of word use.

    Particularly concerning is that it’s no longer unique enough to simply break existing records. Now we shatter previous records, even breaking the record-breaking heat, winds, drought and hail with new record-breaking heat, winds, drought and hail all in the same darn season.

    For all intents and purposes, the solution is deceptively simple: more policies that reduce the burning, release and accumulation of carbon into the atmosphere.

    Yet for years the urgency to act has been lacking, as if climate change is still yet to come. We set goals for 2030 or 2050, implying we have time when we don’t. Climate change is not an on/off switch; it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long, roiling boil, and for years the molecules have already been moving faster and faster.

    For this reason, the climate crisis must be a constant legislative priority this year, next year, and every year to come for the foreseeable future. We must also be exceptionally clear in our messaging: Actions taken now are not to prevent climate change from occurring — this is impossible, it’s already under way. Instead, today’s actions are to mitigate the severity of impact from our past actions. What we are experiencing now is merely a warning sign.

    Critically, prioritizing the climate crisis does not mean we somehow abandon other priorities. On the contrary — almost any area of policy addressing climate change is part of the solution.

    Consider the economy. If the goal is to save Coloradans money, one of the best solutions is to address climate change. At a personal level, we won’t gain nearly as much from a few dozen tax dollars back per year as we do by avoiding a loss of thousands of dollars in insurance deductibles, lost wages and displacement costs when a wildfire fueled by climate change burns down much of our town.

    Similarly, we can’t achieve social equity without mitigating climate change — the burdens will fall disproportionately on disadvantaged communities. We can’t achieve sustainable agriculture or outdoor tourism on the West Slope without mitigating the lack of precipitation. We can’t even achieve a sufficient education with sweltering classrooms, reduce health concerns or maintain a federal budget with increasing billion-dollar disasters.

    It should be noted that there are several bipartisan wildfire mitigation bills this session, and that’s something to be proud of. Still, this is adaptation, not a mitigation strategy for climate change. Without doing more to target the underlying source of the problem — by and large the burning of fossil fuels — there’s only so much that can be done.

    After listening to the State of the State last Thursday, it became incredibly clear that climate change is simply not the focus this session — and unless the messaging changes drastically, it won’t be. As one journalist keenly pointed out on Twitter, the governor used the word “climate” three times, just once more than he mentioned Taylor Swift.

    This got me thinking.

    Perhaps Coloradans would do well to make our pleas directly to Ms. Swift instead. After all, a catchy song on climate change appears to be the only way it will ever make center stage.

    Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors unenthusiastic about proposed water investment bill — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate #SouthPlatteRiver

    A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    “I get pulled in both directions in my mind; I don’t want water speculators coming in and buying up land,” said board Vice President Gene Manuello. “But at the end of the day, it is a private property right. I don’t see legislature stepping into that. I don’t think we need this bill.”

    […]

    The bill comes with a long list of concerns and unintended consequences. Among those voiced most often by LSPWCD board members Tuesday was governmental interference in what has traditionally and legally been a private property transaction. A summary of the bill, prepared by attorneys associated with the Water Rights Association of the South Platte, says it would present an unreasonable restraint on the transfer of real property; require the director of the state’s Natural Resources Department to determine the intent of people buying land with attached water rights; and asks purchasers to hope the value of the water rights doesn’t increase.

    LSPWCD Director Joe Frank served on the working group that reported back to the DNR in August and said a misunderstanding about water speculation may have driven the process.

    “There’s this view out there that investment speculation is driving up the price of water, but I don’t think that the issue,” Frank said. “It’s basic supply and demand; we have an increasing population and a finite supply of water, and that’s what’s driving up the cost of water.”

    Manuello pointed out that the real solution, in his mind, is increased storage, a concept that has been unpopular until recently.

    Ag interests fear water anti-speculation over-reach — The #LaJunta Tribune Democrat

    The Government Highline Canal, near Grand Junction, delivers water from the Colorado River, and is managed by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Prompted by concerns about outside investors speculating on Grand Valley water, the state convened a work group to study the issue.
    CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs) via The La Junta Tribune Democrat:

    f there’s an antidote to the threat of water speculation in Colorado, state legislators have a ways to go to come up with a means to do it that will satisfy most agriculturalists, based on a panel held during the Colorado Ag Water Summit.

    For now, any proposed legislation that involves the risk of intrusive government intervention or the potential to devalue a multigenerational private property asset puts many in the farming and ranching community on edge.

    In a mutually respectful but sometimes tense discussion, a wide-ranging panel described the sale of water rights as existing along a spectrum ranging from an unfettered marketplace modeled on Wall Street to something more akin to a public trust.

    Discussed at some length was a 160-page report compiled by a 19-member working group that led to a few early proposals that made most panelists and audience members uneasy.

    Joe Bernal, a Mesa County farmer and one of only two landowners on the working group, felt the dialogue had been constructive and informative but ended without a clear path forward and with more research and input needed.

    As a farmer, he felt outnumbered, he said. And he was disappointed the group failed to reach a clear consensus on what water speculation actually is…

    The final paragraph of the report urged legislators not to act on any of the concepts discussed due to the drawbacks identified and a lack of consensus among the group…

    An early draft bill would grant the state water engineer the ability to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and fine purchasers up to $10,000 if they determine speculation is occurring, along with capping the percentage of ag water rights a single owner can hold in a district, requiring sworn affidavits of a purchaser’s intent and potentially other fines and restrictions…

    One area where most everyone agreed was on the concept of tying water rights to beneficial use as one of the state’s proudest achievements.

    Beneficial use implies water is a shared asset of the state that can’t be purchased merely to hold or to hoard; it has to be deployed in a way that maximizes its value for all.

    From there, however, opinions quickly splintered in different directions.

    Colorado wants to keep investors from flipping water rights. Let the speculation begin

    From The Colorado Sun (Thy Vo and Michael Booth):

    Legislators want to tackle water speculation after two companies buying up water rights in Grand Valley and the San Luis Valley sparked fears

    Want to understand water speculation in Colorado?

    Let’s say you’re in line at a pizza shop.

    Hear us out.

    There’s a big sign at the pizza counter saying, “Limited quantities due to climate change. Buy only what you can eat.”

    But the guy in front of you buys five pizzas for $20 each. He starts reselling them by the slice for $5 a piece. The store owner says, “You can’t do that here.”

    The pizza glutton walks away, saying, “Fine. I’ll put them in the freezer and I’ll eat it all later.”

    Do you believe him?

    And if you don’t believe him, what are you going to do about it?

    That kind of speculation on water purely for profit is supposed to be illegal already in Colorado. But under current law, there’s no way of telling what’s in the water buyer’s heart. The buyer can say they’ll keep using the water for farming or for city drinking water or for a gold medal fly fishing stream.

    The 2022 legislative session is shaping up to be a big battleground for this key question about the future of water rights in Colorado. Climate change is cutting into the amount of water available in Colorado’s rivers. Front Range and resort communities continue their rapid, thirsty growth. And state officials may need to lock down reserve supplies across the region in case a seven-state compact demands we deliver big water downstream in the western lifeline that is the Colorado River. Who gets to broker the inevitable water sales is a moral, legal and economic question for our time…

    Water users and lawmakers say they’re especially worried about a new, potential threat: investors and out-of-state private equity buying up water rights to wait for an opportune time to sell, potentially taking away water from other users like farmers and ranchers and driving up values.

    “Every water right on the Western Slope, particularly those closer to the border, will have an increased value,” said state Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat. “And if those are being held by those in New York or Dallas investment firms, that’s a very different scenario.”

    Donovan, state Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, and Democratic state Rep. Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat, have drafted legislation that would attempt to prohibit speculation for pure financial gain. But almost nobody, including the sponsors, is wholeheartedly behind the bill as written…

    The Government Highline Canal, near Grand Junction, delivers water from the Colorado River, and is managed by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Prompted by concerns about outside investors speculating on Grand Valley water, the state convened a work group to study the issue.
    CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Still, many have concerns that, even if proponents can find a way to effectively ban profiteering, the proposal could jeopardize ordinary transactions between farmers and other water rights holders that are currently legal.

    “They may be casting the net to bring in tuna, but a law like this could bring in a lot of dolphins as well,” said Joe Bernal, a fourth-generation farmer in Grand Valley and president of the board for the Grand Valley Water Users Association. “We have an anti-speculation [doctrine] that is sufficient in Colorado.”

    Pizza, fish nets … complex water rights battles tend to spawn multiple metaphors in search of simple explanations. Cyran offers another, when critiquing whether a new anti-speculation bill would give too much power and responsibility to the state water engineer in deciding what water buyers’ true designs might be.

    New anti-speculation duties could transform the water engineer’s office from a traffic cop into a prosecutor, Cyran said.

    “It puts him in a tough place of determining intent,” Cyran said.

    A looming threat, or the market at work?

    Pressure is building after two decades of Western Slope drought to clarify Colorado water law for inevitable battles. The Colorado River, serving 40 million people in seven Western states and Mexico, is delivering 20% less water downstream than just two decades ago. River volume could drop that much again in the next two decades.

    Through the Colorado River Compact, Upper Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet of water each year to the more populous Lower Basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada. Most of that comes from melting Colorado snowpack. Climate change and drought have already dropped water levels in Lake Mead to trigger points that mean 500,000 acre-foot cutbacks for Arizona’s water use in 2022.

    If Colorado’s compact water deliveries to Lower Basin states fall below the average over a decade, state officials would need to cut use by farmers, cities and others to allow more to flow down the Colorado River and across the Utah border.

    The Little Snake River as it passes under Wyoming Highway 70 near Dixon. Photo credit: Wikimedia

    Most state leaders don’t want to wait until there’s a “compact call” that would force emergency cuts across the board. They have experimented with demand management, in effect renting farmers’ water for three years out of 10, to find water without drying up agriculture permanently. But large-scale purchases of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Front Range cities shopping for future water supplies are being quoted up to $50,000 an acre-foot, according to water developers.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Meanwhile, thirsty Front Range cities keep growing, with those like Parker and Castle Rock looking to replace depleted aquifer water with renewable river water.

    Expanding demand and shrinking supply is a recipe for worry.

    Farmers and ranchers worry investors will buy up their way of life — but they also worry the state could impede their ability to make money by selling their valuable water rights. Cities worry that prices are soaring, and that brokers will lock up dwindling supplies. State and nonprofit officials who support demand management worry that by the time they have to rent water in bulk, they’ll have to negotiate with hedge funds.

    Two private water-buying efforts — whose owners are adamant they are not speculators — prompted much of the recent talk about toughening laws against water profiteering.

    The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund, has been buying up parcels of land that are irrigated with water from the canal.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    In 2020, as the Colorado River Water Conservation District on the Western Slope was winning a mill levy election to fund local water projects, its leaders and supporters pointed fingers at a private equity firm called Water Asset Management. The New York-based firm, with the help of local advisors, had become the biggest single landowner in the Grand Valley Water Users Association, buying up farms and the accompanying water rights…

    James Eklund, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and now an adviser to WAM, says the investors have owned much of the Grand Valley land for five years, and are not flipping the property or water rights to others. The buyers seek profits in improving farm management and upgrading water systems for efficiency, Eklund said.

    Bernal also served on a state-appointed working group that included water managers, lawyers and a former state Supreme Court justice and studied the speculation issue for nearly a year before deciding over the summer not to recommend any of the concepts they considered. With a lack of consensus on how to strengthen speculation laws — and a lack of agreement on how exactly to define the problem — Bernal thinks it’s a mistake for lawmakers to pursue legislation to tackle a problem that he says has yet to arrive…

    One provision of the draft speculation bill is aimed squarely at recent Grand Valley history: It directs each ditch company to set a percentage cap on how much of their collective water rights any one member can control.

    Eklund, whose own family has deep farming roots on the Western Slope, finds the bill’s vague language and layers of restrictions to be anti-capitalist, whether the drafters meant it to be or not…

    The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

    Pumping SLV water to the Front Range stirs more fears

    The other project most frequently invoked in warnings is Renewable Water Resources, a private effort by former Gov. Bill Owens and partners to gather San Luis Valley water rights and pipe the water to municipal buyers on the Front Range. The investors say they are spending $68 million just for the water rights, and they will create a $50 million community fund for the valley.

    RWR has been talking with Douglas County about becoming the primary buyer of the water, and is now pitching the county to use millions of federal stimulus money to seal the deal. While they are buying up valley water to sell to the Front Range at a profit, project spokesman Sean Duffy said, RWR is most definitely not speculating.

    With Front Range communities like Douglas County lining up to buy the water to serve Colorado residents, Duffy said, “this is a very specific project for a very specific need.”

    Yet the proposal, which could spend years in water court before any construction begins on the pipeline needed to move the water, has spurred near-universal public opposition in the San Luis Valley, with dozens of towns, water districts and civic leaders blasting any loss of water.

    State Sen. Cleave Simpson, an Alamosa Republican who also works as the general manager for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said various investors and entrepreneurs have proposed exporting water from the San Luis Valley for decades…

    Still, any new legislation to make speculation even less likely than under existing law must protect the interests of farmers and ranchers whose rights to water are the most consistently valuable thing they control, he added…

    It’s a delicate conversation for Bernal, who sits on the board of the Grand Valley Water Users Association and like others is now also renting land from Water Asset Management. The association, which hasn’t taken a position on the draft legislation, largely supplies irrigation water to commercial farming operations.

    He and other local farmers are always worried about new threats to local water or efforts to develop land currently used for agricultural production, Bernal said…

    Would the bill actually block speculation?

    Colorado already has [an] anti-speculation [doctrine] that require people to put their water rights to “beneficial use,” such as irrigating a farm, providing tap water for a city, making ski area snow, or providing stream flow for recreation.

    Water courts will require those filing for a new use of a water right to show they have a customer for the new beneficial use. Colorado statutes and case law require that, too. But the answer to the question of whether legal brokering also appears to be a “speculative” flip is not clear. How long does a water buyer have to use the right before selling it to another party? What’s the consequence if they later change the use of the water that they expressed when buying the water right?

    The draft bill backed by Donovan and Coram aims to target situations where a water right is purchased specifically with the intent to make a profit in a later sale or transaction.

    Currently, if a person or company wants to buy a water right, they need to show they “can and will” put the right to beneficial use, said Kevin Rein, state engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

    But it’s going to be “very difficult” to prove this more nebulous type of financial speculation, Rein said — that at the time of the sale, the buyer intended to use the water right primarily to make a buck. Current water law doesn’t provide a structure to consider those questions, let alone what the answers should be, he said.

    The draft bill doesn’t say how investment speculation would be identified. It does require the buyer, if the sale is challenged, to offer up evidence that they aren’t engaging in financial speculation. The legislation would also task Rein’s office, which is responsible for administering water law, with the authority to investigate suspect sales. The agency already looks at transactions to determine whether they violate current anti-speculation laws, but that’s a simpler analysis that’s more administrative than legal.

    How the state water engineer would implement the bill could also be resolved through a rulemaking process rather than decided by lawmakers.

    Simpson, the senator from Alamosa, also questions whether it’s appropriate for Rein’s office to be given that authority…

    Either way, trying to ban investment speculation would be new territory for Colorado water law, said Rein, who also served on the working group that studied the issue over the summer. And he believes Colorado water courts have yet to examine the type of financial speculation the legislation wants to target…

    There’s also the question of how the state could actually enforce the law against speculators with deep pockets to fund lawyers and pay penalties, which the draft bill caps at $10,000. Under the proposal, if someone is fined for a speculative transaction, the state engineer could also impose a waiting period of up to two years on the sale or transfer of shares to the buyer.

    Supporters of the draft, including Donovan, acknowledge the details of the bill will be complex, and contested.

    Donovan said the proposal will need a lot of work to balance personal property rights and preventing profiteering off a dwindling public resource.

    State Senator Simpson opposes “investment in water speculation” draft legislation — The #Alamosa Citizen

    Center, Colorado, is surrounded by center-pivot-irrigated farms that draw water from shrinking aquifers below the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Google Earth

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

    COLORADO State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa said this week that a legislative bill in draft form that tries to address “investment in water speculation” is not a good bill and isn’t convinced there is a “need for a bill like this.”

    “What you’re really trying to do is keep water attached to the land and productive agriculture,” Simpson said in a wide-ranging interview with The Alamosa Citizen. “So for me, rather than trying to force it this way, I take the advice of (state) representative Marc Catlin, that the best way to protect that is to make sure ag stays profitable, because profitable operations generally aren’t looking to sell their water or water rights.

    “I encourage people to think about the things we do in the legislature,” he added, “either from a tax policy or environmental impacts. Just don’t overregulate or overtax the industry so much and give them a chance to succeed.”

    The draft bill, “Concerning A Prohibition Against Engaging In Investment Water Speculation In the State” cleared the Colorado Legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee in October and is expected to be introduced in the 2022 Legislative Session. It is being sponsored by Sens. Kerry Donovan of Eagle County and Don Coram of Montrose County, and by Rep. Karen McCormick of Boulder.

    One section of the bill addresses the sale or transfer of shares in mutual ditch companies. Simpson said he is a shareholder in a mutual ditch company and doesn’t support how the draft legislation attempts to control how shares are sold or transferred.

    “I just think they’re better ways to do that versus you’re on this fine line of interfering with people’s private property rights,” Simpson said. “It’s like very generally going to you and saying you bought a house and going, ‘Well, you can’t sell the house for either a profit or you can’t buy a house on speculation and then sell it for more than you paid for it.’ There’s just this fine line we’re walking down about trying to protect water and ag, and people’s private property rights.”

    Why it matters:

    In addition to his state senate role, Simpson is general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is among the Colorado water experts working to address climate change and impacts on irrigitable ag land.

    Through his role at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District he has worked to implement a variety of conservation measures to address the declining Upper Rio Grande Water Basin and the 20-year drought the San Luis Valley has been experiencing.

    He also has been battling an effort led by former Gov. Bill Owens called Renewable Water Resources, which is a project that aims to purchase SLV ag land for its water rights and then control enough water on private land to pipe into the Front Range. Owens’ front man for the project is a person named Sean Tonner.

    Asked if the draft legislation could help blunt the Renewable Water Resources project, he said it could help but he is still more concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposal.

    “We have a handful of pretty rigorous and substantial barriers that make those kinds (RWR) of acquisitions and transfers pretty hard,” he said. “Not impossible, but pretty hard. I guess on the surface, this bill might give you another protection and maybe make it almost impossible. But then the unintended consequence again is, what does it do to everybody else?”

    #Colorado lawmakers propose millions in funding to slash #groundwater use; curb #water profiteering — @WaterEdCO

    A center pivot irrigates a field in the San Luis Valley, where the state is warming farmers that a well shut-down could come much sooner than expected. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    The Colorado General Assembly’s interim Water Resources Review Committee is recommending new legislation that, if approved, could set aside millions to help water-strapped regions of the state meet their obligations to deliver water to Kansas, New Mexico and Texas.

    It also recommended another bill designed to curb water speculation. Both measures are expected to be considered by the Colorado General Assembly next year.

    Groundwater compact compliance

    The committee on Oct. 27 approved a draft bill that creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay for the purchase and retirement of farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande river basins. The action was taken to reduce groundwater use that diminishes surface flows and ensure compliance with interstate compacts on both rivers. Legislative appropriations and federal revenue would bankroll the fund. The Colorado Water Conservation Board would distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grade Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer.

    So how much land are we talking about? To comply with compact water delivery obligations and groundwater sustainability rules, 25,000 acres of irrigated land would have to be retired in the Republican basin and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande basin by 2029. To date, just 3,000 acres in the Republican and 13,000 acres in the Rio Grande have been retired from production. Absent those reductions, well pumping could be curtailed.

    When asked how much money is needed, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, whose district includes the Republican River basin, said the conservation district there is looking for $50 million in addition to the $50 million it already has. Pinning the cost down is difficult; Sonnenberg noted that, “It’s harder to retire farm ground when you have $5 [per bushel] corn than it is when you have $3 corn.”

    David Robbins, general counsel to both the Republican and Rio Grande districts, testified at an earlier committee meeting that the Rio Grande would also require at least $50 million on top of the $69 million it has already raised by taxing its farmers for sustainability efforts.

    Water speculation

    The committee also reported a bill that it views more as a vehicle for further discussion than a finished product. It prohibits the purchaser of a water right from engaging in “investment water speculation” and empowers the state engineer to investigate alleged violations. Investment water speculation is defined as “the purchase of agricultural water rights that are represented by shares in a mutual ditch company in the state with the intent…to profit from the increase in the water’s value in a subsequent transaction…or by receiving payment from another person for nonuse of all or a portion of the water” unless it’s part of a water conservation or instream flow program.

    Committee members struggled with trying to balance concerns over speculation with protecting property rights. Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, committee chair and one of the bill’s sponsors, said she continues to hear from constituents on the West Slope about what looks like investment water speculation and its impact on farming operations. At the same time, she noted other groups are sending “a very conflicting narrative now that we actually have bills to respond to…and the feedback is don’t do anything, slow down.”

    Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, another bill sponsor, emphasized that “it’s not our intent to take away the ability of a farmer whose 401K is his water [if that water were sold], but somehow we need to put some constraints” on speculative investments. “This bill as written,” he continued, “probably doesn’t get us there, but it does give us the opportunity to work through the session.”

    With that said, Coram proposed an amendment that broadened the bill’s title by shortening it, from a bill “Concerning a Prohibition Against Engaging in Investment Water Speculation in the State” to one “Concerning Water Speculation in the State.” That change provides the bill sponsors with flexibility to flesh it out over the coming months without being locked in to the current text.

    Water infrastructure investment

    The committee also approved a letter to the state’s Task Force on Economic Relief and Recovery Cash Fund to consider investing money in water projects. The task force was created by the General Assembly last session to receive federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and recommend how to spend it. The legislature transferred nearly $850 million into the fund and among the eligible uses are “investment in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.”

    The legislature convenes Jan.12…

    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.

    Investment #water speculation bill clears the Colorado’s Water Resources Review Committee: Despite opposition from agriculture interests — @AspenJournalism

    The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund, has been buying up parcels of land that are irrigated with water from the canal.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Colorado lawmakers are advancing a bill aimed at outlawing water investment speculation, even as they acknowledged their attempt to address the complex problem is an imperfect one.

    On Wednesday, members of Colorado’s Water Resources Review Committee voted to put forth a bill in the 2022 legislative session that aims to prohibit a buyer of agricultural water rights from profiting on the increased value of the water in a future sale. The measure is an attempt to prevent out-of-state investors from making a profit off a public resource that grows scarcer in a water-short future driven by climate change.

    The draft bill gives the state engineer at the Department of Water Resources the ability to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and fine a purchaser up to $10,000 if they determine speculation is occurring. Those making a complaint could also be fined up to $1,000 if state officials deem a complaint frivolous. A second section of the bill also directs the board of directors of mutual ditch companies to set a minimum percent of agricultural water rights for one purchaser to hold that would trigger the presumption that they are engaging in investment water speculation.

    Western Slope state Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Eagle County, and Don Coram, R-Montrose County, and Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Boulder County, are sponsoring the bill.

    At the beginning of Wednesday’s discussion, Donovan vented her frustration with what she called mixed messages from water managers. Most seem to agree that stopping investment water speculation is important, but no one can agree on the best way to do that.

    “There was a general agreement that investment water speculation was an important issue to work on, so much so… that we invested taxpayer dollars in order to turn out a report,” she said. “We have put resources into addressing this issue and now the feedback is ‘don’t do anything, slow down.’”

    Donovan was referring to a report released in August by a work group, which was tasked with exploring ways to strengthen the state’s current anti-speculation laws. The group, made up of water managers and policy experts from across water sectors, came up with a list of concepts on how to prevent water investment speculation. But they did not give clear recommendations to legislators because they could not come to a consensus on which concepts to implement.