Water Bills Signed into Law by Gov. Hickenlooper

A number of water bills introduced by Sen. Mary Hodge have been signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Among the signed water bills is a SB 13-074 which creates a mechanism to determine the maximum number of acres that can be irrigated under a pre-1937 water right for decrees that did not expressly limit the acreage when issued. The legislation closes a loophole in Colorado Water law, according to the Legacy Ditch Association, that was threatening the value of senior water rights, specifically pre-1937 decrees. A news release from the Legacy Ditch Association said the new law is designed to mitigate the impact of two recent Colorado Supreme Court decisions which require senior ditch companies to prove that the farmers who initiated the rights in the 1860s intend to irrigate all the lands and ditches irrigated today. “If farmers couldn’t find sufficient evidence demonstrating the ‘intent’ of the original appropriator, the Water Court reduced the number of acres that could be served by the rights, even though the ditches had been irrigating the acreages for over 100 years,” Legacy Ditch Association Water Attorney Andy Jones said in the news release. “Colorado Farmers, especially those in the South Platte River Basin, faced the prospect of having a substantial percentage of their net worth wiped out.” Gov. Hickenlooper also signed SB 13-041 which clarifies the term “beneficial use” includes the impoundment of water for firefighting or storage for any decreed purpose and SB-072 which eliminates the requirement that the state engineer issue a final permit for any Denver Basin well that is in compliance with an existing conditional permit.