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April 8, 2024

McCluskie, McCormick Legislation to Protect Streams, Rivers and Wetlands Passes Committee

DENVER, CO – The House Agriculture, Water & Natural Resources Committee today passed legislation to restore critical protections for Colorado’s streams, rivers and wetlands. 

“This bill outlines a Colorado-specific approach to protecting our streams, rivers and wetlands so we can sustain our water quality and ensure future generations enjoy all the activities that make Colorado unique,” said Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “After the Supreme Court removed important protections and left our waterways in jeopardy, we’re taking steps now to secure our state’s water future. We know fresh, clean water is necessary for everything from brewing beer and maintaining our world class ski resorts to keeping up with increased household demands and sustaining our agriculture industry. This bill protects our water now and into the future.” 

“We’re stepping up to protect our vital freshwater resources to ensure that for future generations, Coloradans will have clean and accessible water,” said Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont. “Our important legislation creates regulatory certainty for our businesses and landowners when it comes to Colorado’s water – this means we can effectively manage and protect our wetlands, rivers and streams. From agriculture and tourism to everyday families living in the four corners of our state, Colorado’s water is a steady and essential resource that must be conserved and protected for generations to come.” 

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 by a vote of 9-4 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, 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. The legislation provides a way for these projects to move forward while protecting Colorado’s water resources. 

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