Four Water Bills Pass in Colorado

May 31, 2022

There is now bipartisan support of bills including groundwater compact compliance and sustainability provisions

The Colorado General Assembly passed water bills, four of which center water funding. 

According to Water Education Colorado, there is now bipartisan support of bills regarding: groundwater compact compliance and sustainability; state water plan projects; wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration; and urban turf replacement. 

However, there was a bill proposed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws, which ultimately failed.

The first bill, Senate Bill 28, entails a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund. The fund, according to Water Education Colorado, will “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.” 

$60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revenue which was transferred into the state’s Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund will be distributed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The distributions will be heavily influenced by recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and approval by the state engineer. 

If the funds will be approved by 2024, they will then be used to support the state water plan, added Water Education Colorado.

Senate Bill 28 aims to:

  • Reduce groundwater pumping connected to surface water flows in the Republican River with the goal of complying with a compact of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska; and
  • Comply with aquifer sustainability standards by retiring 25,000 acres of irrigated land in the Republican Basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029.

Another bill, House Bill 1316, was also evaluated and passed. This bill is one that the Colorado General Assembly considers the CWCB’s projects bill. The bill includes: 

  • Appropriations from CWCB’s Construction Fund to support grants for projects that help implement the state water plan;
  • Appropriations of $2 million to CWCB from its Construction Fund to help the Republican River Water Conservation District retire irrigated acreage. This will help meet the 2024 interim target of retiring 10,000 acres of the 25,000 acres necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact by 2029; and
  • Appropriations of $8.2 million from the fund for grants to help implement the state water plan, $7.2 million of which is from sports betting revenue.

Proposition DD, which was passed in 2019, legalized sports betting and levied a 10% tax on sports betting proceeds, according to Water Education Colorado. The majority of that revenue goes into the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund.

Another bill, House Bill 1379, will appropriate $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,” according to Water Education Colorado. 

Additionally, the bill:

  • Allocates $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund to reduce wildfire risks by promoting watershed resilience;
  • Moves $2 million into the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction; and 
  • Allocates $15 million goes to CWCB to fund watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects.

The last bill, House Bill 1151, “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,” according to Water Education Colorado.

The bill also: 

  • 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.

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Cristina Tuser