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April 29, 2024

Legislation to Protect Streams, Rivers and Wetlands Passes House

DENVER, CO – The House today passed legislation to restore critical protections for Colorado’s streams, rivers and wetlands. 

“After the Supreme Court removed important protections and left our waterways in jeopardy, we knew we must take action now to secure Colorado’s water future,” said Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “With the passage of this bill, we’re one step closer to a Colorado-specific approach to protecting our streams, rivers and wetlands. From brewing beer to sustaining our livestock and crops – fresh, clean water is at the core of nearly every industry in Colorado. This bill protects our state’s water supply now and into the future so generations to come can experience the Colorado way of life we all hold dear.”

“Protecting our freshwater resources now means future generations can thrive in Colorado knowing they have clean and accessible water,” said Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont. “A 2023 Supreme Court decision rolled back crucial water protections and we need legislation that helps effectively manage and protect our wetlands, rivers and streams. Our bill would outline regulatory certainty for our businesses, landowners and agriculture industry when it comes to Colorado’s water. Colorado’s water is a steady and vital resource that must be conserved and protected for generations to come, and this bill protects what we all find essential.” 

The Clean Water Act authorizes the EPA to define “Waters of the United States” and the Army Corps of Engineers to regulate discharges from dredge and fill activities into waters that meet that definition. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA in 2023 redefined what constitutes waters subject to federal regulation and placed an estimated 60 percent of Colorado wetlands at risk of losing protections. The impacted wetlands and seasonal streams in need of protection work to ensure adequate water supply, aid groundwater recharge, and provide for wildlife habitat in Colorado. 

HB24-1379, passed the House by a vote of 43 to 20 and works to protect Colorado waters that are no longer federally protected. The bill would create a permitting program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for dredge and fill activities impacting state waters. The permitting framework is based on well-established approaches already used by the Army Corps of Engineers and will provide clarity and certainty on when a permit is needed for dredge and fill activities. Normal farming, ranching, and agricultural activities, such as plowing, farm road construction, ditch maintenance, and erosion control practices would not require a permit.

Until the recent decision in Sackett v. EPA, the Army Corps’ permitting program safeguarded the vast majority of Colorado’s state waters from pollution caused by dredge and fill activities. Dredge and fill activities involve digging up or placing dirt and other fill material into wetlands or surface waters as part of construction projects. These operations are necessary in many infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, housing developments, flood mitigation, and utility pipelines. This legislation provides a way for these projects to move forward while protecting Colorado’s water resources. 

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