March 13, 2016--Western Slope interests not sold on latest flex bill (Pueblo Chieftain)

A bill that would allow half of a farmer’s water to be transferred for one year to other uses passed the House agriculture committee 8-5 Monday. The bill, HB1228, was opposed by Western Slope water districts and legislators as unnecessary, expensive to farmers or ranchers and potentially harmful by allowing water that could be used within the state to flow out. Former state Sen. Bruce Whitehead called it “borderline speculation.” However, diverse groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Colorado Corn Growers testified that the bill keeps water in agriculture by providing another way to use it without diminishing a water right. Those groups have been working on alternative transfer programs in the South Platte River basin for several years. The bill is the latest version of a flex water right that has failed in the past two sessions. It would determine the historical consumptive use — how much water crops use — and establish alternate points of diversion in advance of one-year substitute water supply plan which might or might not occur. The bill also requires water to stay in the same river basin of historic use as defined by state water divisions. Water users still would be required to get an administrative substitute water supply plan in each year water is transferred. Sponsors Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Jon Becker, D-Fort Morgan, said the bill provides an “agricultural water protection water right” that prevents more ag water from being sold to cities. But Don Coram, R-Montrose, at one point asked a witness, “What’s the difference between buy-and-dry and lease-and-cease?” Both the Southwestern Colorado and Colorado River conservation districts oppose the bill, which they say would require farmers and ranchers to spend more out of pocket to defend water rights. But the Colorado Water Congress, Division of Water Resources and Colorado Water Conservation Board all voiced support of the legislation, saying it could be administered fairly and would not create any more need for legal defense than already exists. To view the full article visit the Pueblo Chieftain.