Workload full to brim with water measures

One could get the impression that there’s not much agreement about issues here at the Capitol. Actually, we should be reminded that both sides of the aisle generally agree on 80 to 85 percent of legislation. This week, I would like to report about the work I’ve been doing on the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, especially with respect to water bills.

Every Monday morning, I meet with Colorado Water Congress and continue to learn about the state’s water issues. CWS is composed of various water districts, including the Southwest Water Conservancy District and the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. At these meetings, we discuss pending legislation and significant water-policy issues.

Because the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee has only two lawyers out of 11 members, it is my intention to immerse myself in water issues and water law so I can most effectively represent the 59th District. Water issues are economic issues.

Senate Bill 41 is a bill to protect stored water, and preserve supplies for drought and long-term needs. Although I received some emails from constituents saying this bill would encourage speculators and water hoarders to the detriment of all other users, we were able to amend the bill to ensure that the storage must be used for firefighting or other applications that are rooted in an existing water right. With these amendments, SB 41 is a good bill, and I am pleased to vote in favor of it.

SB 72 deletes the requirement for a final permit for all wells withdrawing designated groundwater from the Denver Basin aquifer. Essentially, many historical uses of Denver groundwater were based on conditional permits, that have sustained extended historical use. Because this bill does not affect District 59 and will not impair any of our water rights, I supported it.

House Bill 1130 addresses interruptible water-supply agreements that authorize an agricultural user to enter into agreements for three years out of a 10-year period to “lease” their water rights to other users in times of drought or emergency need. Because this bill not only extends an existing program, but also results in the further protection of water rights that benefit agricultural lands, I supported it both in committee and on the House floor.

Another bill I supported in committee and on the House floor is SB 74. This bill resolves ambiguities in old water-rights decrees regarding the place and use of irrigation water.

To some extent, this bill and its discussion focused on the conflicts between Front Range water districts and agricultural use. After a full hearing and some amendments, we were able to pass the bill. My reasoning, as with the other bills, was that this bill would add value to the rights of agricultural irrigators, provide stability to our system, and encourage and protect irrigators in Colorado.

I thoroughly enjoy my work on this committee and will continue to strive to protect our agricultural and Western Slope water interests.

I also have been asked to co-sponsor the Habitat Stamp Bill with Rep. Millie Hamner from House District 61. As our hunters and anglers know, the habitat stamp allows for the acquisition of conservation easements, habitat and protection of wildlife. This bill is supported by many people in my district who understand how important it is to protect wildlife habitat in Colorado.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending the annual Boys & Girls Club Colorado Alliance “Youth of the Year” awards ceremony at the Denver Art Museum. It is a wonderful organization that brings a great deal of support and opportunities to the bright young people in our state.

Of the 13 award recipients this year, two were from the 59th District. Congratulations to Aleashea Prescott from the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County and Michelle Simmons from the Boys & Girls Club of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Your hard work and bright future are an inspiration to all of us.

Mike McLachlan represents House District 59 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray and Hinsdale counties and part of Gunnison County. Call McLachlan at (303) 866-2914 or email mike.mclachlan.house@state.co.us.