(March 20) – Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, went three for three this afternoon in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee.
HB17-1219, sponsored with Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, was sent to the House floor on a 9-4 vote. The bill extends and expands a Colorado Water Conservation Board pilot program allowing owners of water rights to fallow their irrigated agricultural land and lease out the associated water rights for up to 10 years without relinquishing them forever. The bill extends the pilot program to 2034 and expands it to authorize up to 15 pilot projects, spread among Colorado’s major river basins.
“People are using this pilot project to hold onto their water right, realize value from their water right and improve their land, all at the same time,” Rep. Arndt said. “I think it’s a win-win.”
The bill is intended to slow the “buy and dry” trend that takes agricultural land out of production forever. The CWCB only approves projects that would fallow the same land for no more than three years in a 10-year period.
“It’s good for agriculture, it’s good for water rights, it’s good all around,” Rep. McLachlan told the committee. “It’s good to start doing something with the Water Plan.”
Earlier, the Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee voted 12-1 to approve HB17-1248, Rep. Arndt’s bill to implement a big chunk of the Colorado Water Plan, a comprehensive effort to set water policy that was drafted in 2015. The bill would release $160 million from the CWCB construction fund for a variety of water storage and conservation projects. The biggest of them is $90 million for the Windy Gap project in Northern Colorado, which was first proposed 50 years ago. The bill is headed to the Appropriations Committee.
Also approved by House Ag today was Rep. Arndt’s HB17-1233, expanding statewide a provision in water law stating that participation in a water conservation program will not diminish the “historical consumptive use” by which a water right is measured. HB17-1233 was sent to the House floor on a bipartisan 8-5 vote.