(Feb. 10) – Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, won bipartisan House approval this morning for her first bill – a measure to help rural Colorado and address the looming water shortage that is one of the state’s most pressing problems.

Rep. Arndt’s bill, HB15-1038, encourages alternatives to “buy and dry” of agricultural lands by giving agricultural owners of water rights the opportunity to sell a portion of the water to municipal, industrial or conservation users while retaining the irrigation use of the right.

“Thanks to legislators on both sides of the aisle who supported this bill,” Rep. Arndt said after the 42-22 vote. “We’re helping preserve agriculture and rural Colorado, address the state’s water needs and conserve our most precious natural resource.”

In view of anticipated population growth, particularly along the Front Range, Colorado’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative Study predicts a significant gap between water supply and demand. Absent an alternative, additional municipal water supplies will come through “buy and dry,” in which urban water districts purchase farmers’ water. This practice would dry up an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated Colorado farmland by 2050.

Under current statutes, an agricultural water user may apply for a change in use, but must identify a single, specific end user for the water right. Rep. Arndt’s “flex use” bill permits agricultural water rights owners to qualify their water for uses other than irrigation, encouraging alternative transfer methods that can help meet municipal needs while preserving irrigated agriculture.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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