2016 was a busy session for the Colorado legislature and conservationists. Western Resource Advocates and our partners had tremendous success shaping several bills that affect protection of Colorado’s rivers and lakes. Partnerships we solidified at the Colorado state Capitol this year will help in 2017, where we hope many proposals from Colorado’s Water Plan will move forward to advance water conservation and water recycling. A recap of key 2016 bills includes:
- Rain Barrels Are Legal!! HB 16-1005 will legalize the use of residential rain barrels for all Coloradans. The bill received a rainfall of votes in the House and Senate, passing 61-3 and 27-6, respectively. Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill at the Governor’s Mansion on May 12th. WRA was involved in crafting bill language, lining up supporters, testifying in committee, and pushing media coverage. Legalizing rain barrel use is part of our work, for more than a dozen years, to accelerate urban conservation as the cheapest, fastest, and most flexible water supply. Legalizing rain barrels will help build the water conservation ethic we need for all Colorado residents to implement Colorado’s Water Plan and its landmark urban water conservation goal.
- Minimizing Water Loss: HB 16-1283 set out to decrease the water lost by municipal water providers from leaky pipes and faulty water meters. WRA worked on bill language, consulted with sponsors, and created legislative fact sheets. A concerted water loss management effort enabled through this bill could have added 20,000 acre-feet to our state’s water supplies each year, enough water for 200,000 people. Improved efficiency is a cornerstone of Colorado’s Water Plan, and water loss reduction is one of the single most effective efficiency measures we can undertake. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass out of committee. We will work to advance this bill next year after further refinements from a variety of stakeholders.
- Protecting Flows for Fish: HB 16-1109—which addressed conflicts between state water law and certain proposed federal policies—passed after WRA Staff Attorney Rob Harris and our partners successfully lobbied for inclusion of language to safeguard existing laws that protect fisheries. We preserved “bypass flows,” an aquatic habitat standard that ensures enough water is kept in rivers for fish to survive. Our defensive efforts helped keep a political squabble between certain land users and federal agencies from accidentally hurting fish and other wildlife.
- Adding Flexibility in Water Management to Benefit the Environment: Mixed Results: At least two bills aimed at increasing the flexibility of water management to achieve community, environmental and agricultural goals had mixed success. HB 16-1228, to enable temporary transfers of irrigation water rights to cities or other users, passed and awaits the Governor’s signature. This allows Front Range agricultural users to retain their water rights but share some of their water with other users in times of need. HB-1392, proposing to establish a statewide water bank – which would have enabled sharing water inside river basins and potentially dedicating some water for streams themselves – died in committee. WRA engaged with sponsors on both bills to help create beneficial alternative water transfer mechanisms, to enable providing water for the environment and recreation, while ensuring that the legislation did not create loopholes for unneeded and environmentally damaging water projects.
Legislative advocacy is essential. The nitty-gritty work at the Capitol is where aspirations meet reality and where hard won gains for our rivers and lakes must be defended. We are proud that we defended key protections and helped advance a better water future for all Coloradans.