Conservation Conversations column: Water legislation among flurry of 2019 bills
The 2018 election brought sweeping changes that have resulted in a new policy direction for Colorado. Democrats control the House, Senate, Governor’s Office and every other statewide office.
As a result, Colorado’s Department of Agriculture has new leadership. Kate Greenberg was appointed as commissioner and Steve Silverman was appointed as deputy commissioner by Gov. Jared Polis.
The state’s new leaders have their work cut out for them to address the challenges facing rural Colorado, including aging infrastructure, mental health, opioid addiction, heath care availability and low commodity prices.
The Colorado Association of Conservation Districts (CACD) serves as the unified voice for the Conservation Districts of Colorado, including the Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts. The conservation districts, through CACD, support vigorous and creative agricultural policy and often work with partners that share similar visions such as Colorado Farm Bureau.
For 100 years, Colorado Farm Bureau has been advocating for farmers and ranchers and rural Colorado to ensure legislators, government leaders and urban Coloradans understand the unique needs of agriculture.
Both CACD and Colorado Farm Bureau were active during the 2019 legislative session. In the brief four-month term, hundreds of bills were approved and sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. With many new legislators hailing from more urban areas, it was expected that agriculture and water policy may not be front and center on many of their agendas.
In the end, it was topics such as criminal justice, education, health care, local controls on oil and gas operations, taxes and the red flag bill which captured the attention of most legislators.
Colorado Farm Bureau’s goal was to gather friends and partners and continue sharing agriculture’s story with those under the dome in hope that new policies would help rural Coloradans, not harm them.
Colorado Farm Bureau engaged on a variety of bills including conservation easements tax credit changes, allowing farm stands to operate more broadly, researching the use of blockchain technology in agriculture, and tax exemptions for agricultural goods like fertilizer and equipment sales. Colorado Farm Bureau continuously engaged on these issues through testimony, calls-to-action and media outreach.
CACD was very involved in HB19-1082 — a bill to clarify the rights of water right easement holders. From the initial drafting stages until the bill was signed into law by the governor, CACD worked with its sponsors, the Colorado Water Congress and supporters of the bill, including Colorado Farm Bureau.
This bill provides clarity to landowners affected by irrigation easements and producers who operate those ditches regarding the right to construct, operate, clean, maintain, and repair the infrastructure. This bill also addresses the right to improve the efficiency by lining or piping the ditch.
Legislators also focused on the decline in severance tax revenue and the many priorities competing for this funding. Water projects and implementation of the Colorado Water Plan have historically relied on severance tax revenue for funding.
A bipartisan effort is underway to create a new funding source for implementation of the Colorado Water Plan. HB19-1327 proposes to decriminalize sports betting and tax the net proceeds to fund implementation of the Water Plan and other public purposes.
This bill passed in the final days of the session and is now on the governor’s desk for consideration. If signed by Gov. Polis, the bill will become a ballot measure in Colorado this November, allowing the voters to decide whether to legalize sports betting and collect a 10% tax on the net proceeds to fund implementation of the Water Plan and other public purposes.
Before the next legislative session begins in January 2020, a number of legislative committees will meet during the interim months. The interim committees are joint committees consisting of both House and Senate members.
The Water Resources Review Committee studies water issues and recommends legislation to address these issues. Colorado is never short on water issues, and this committee serves an important role. Topics such as demand management, compact compliance and protecting and enhancing the instream flow program are expected to be on the agenda for the Water Resources Review Committee.
Colorado Farm Bureau is working hard to tell the story of agriculture to legislators, government leaders and urban Coloradoans to protect and promote the future of its members, rural values and agriculture.
The Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts will continue to provide leadership, encourage wise resources decisions, set standards and encourage stewardship to conserve, improve and sustain our natural resources and the environment.
For more information, please visit our website at http://www.bookcliffcd.org.
Taylor Szilagyi is with the Colorado Farm Bureau. Sara Dunn, representing the area conservation districts, contributed to this month’s column.
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