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May 29, 2024

Signed! Legislation to Protect Streams, Rivers and Wetlands

SILVERTHORNE / STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO –  Governor Jared Polis today signed legislation to restore critical protections for Colorado’s streams, rivers and wetlands. He also signed bipartisan water conservation bills to encourage the adoption of graywater use, fund water conservation projects and implement recommendations from the Colorado River Drought Task Force.

“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, sponsor of HB24-1379. “As this bill is signed into law, we are now 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 law 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.”

“There is no more important resource to our state and no more pressing challenge that we will face as a state in the decades to come than protecting our water,” said Senator Dylan Roberts, D-Frisco, sponsor of HB24-1379. “Last year’s Supreme Court decision jeopardized protections for over half of Colorado’s wetlands, which threatens water supply, wildlife habitats, and our state’s environment and economy. This new law will protect streams, rivers, and wetlands that are vital to Colorado by creating a new Colorado-based permitting program to implement proven best practices for dredge and fill activities with key protections for agriculture and other crucial industry activity.”

“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, sponsor of HB24-1379. “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 law 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 law 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 the 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 are in need of protection work to ensure there is adequate water supply, to aid groundwater recharge, and to provide for wildlife habitat in Colorado.

HB24-1379, works to protect Colorado waters that are no longer federally protected. The law will 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 law provides a way for these projects to move forward while protecting Colorado’s water resources.

HB24-1362, also sponsored by Senator Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa and Representative Marc Catlin, R-Montrose encourages the use of graywater in Colorado to conserve our state’s scarce water supply by authorizing the installation of graywater systems in new construction projects statewide. It offers flexibility for local governments to adopt more tailored uses of graywater systems, including permitting their installation in existing structures, or prohibiting them altogether. 

“With this bill becoming law, we’re conserving our water resources, protecting our environment and upholding the Colorado way of life,” said Rep. Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, sponsor of HB24-1362. “This bipartisan law encourages local governments to use graywater in irrigation and for non-drinking household purposes, which is a great option for getting the most out of our water. Living on the Western Slope, I’m committed to protecting and conserving our precious water resources — and this law makes it easier for our communities to recycle water.”

Governor Polis also signed HB24-1435, sponsored by Representatives McCormick and Marc Caitlin and Senators Roberts and Cleave Simpson to designate important water supply and conservation projects around the state for funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

In addition to HB24-1435, Governor Polis also signed SB24-197, sponsored by Speaker McCluskie, Representative Caitlin and Senators Roberts and Perry Will, R-New Castle, which would implement several recommendations made by the Colorado River Drought Task Force, including tactics to address the worsening drought conditions on the Colorado River.

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