Lawmakers Prepare for Flexible Water Right Legislation

According to a November 10th Pueblo Chieftain article, legislation that could allow water rights to be changed for indefinite purposes is expected to be introduced in the next state legislative session. Flexible water markets would be authorized as a new type of water right under a proposed bill that got a green light from the interim water resources committee on an 8-2 vote at its final meeting in October. State water law now requires an end user to be identified to avoid speculation. The anti-speculation doctrine is a powerful legal tool. The new bill would allow changes of use of irrigation water rights through fallowing, reduced cropping, deficit irrigation and other alternatives to full irrigation that do not result in permanent dry-up or irrigated lands. Unlike previous attempts at legislation, the bill would still require a court process to determine the historic consumptive use of the water for crops. Only that portion can be removed from a water system, even under existing law. A water right could be used for agriculture, municipal, industrial, recreation or environmental uses in alternate years under the legislation. The interim committee also wants legislation that would look at property tax implications for partially irrigated farmland, as well as ditch-wide quantification of water rights when only some are used for a different purpose.