BRECKENRIDGE, CO – Today Governor Jared Polis signed into law a pair of bipartisan bills to support Colorado’s water supply and bolster projects that help restore natural streams.
SB23-177, sponsored by Senators Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, and Representatives Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, and Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, funds the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) water projects. This legislation provides the Board, within the Department of Natural Resources, with over $90 million to fund water-supply projects, species conservation and research. The projects aim to take on Colorado’s water crisis, including funding for Water Plan Grants, Water Plan Action Advancement items, water forecasting, and watershed restoration efforts, among other investments. This year’s bill has particular emphasis on conservation of threatened fish in the Platte and Colorado Rivers.
“Communities all across the state depend on this crucial funding to protect their water and I am grateful that we are investing more in our water projects through this year’s water funding bill than we ever have before,” said Roberts, sponsor of SB23-177 and SB23-270. “Now more than ever, it’s important that we work collaboratively to develop solutions to conserve our water and improve our water infrastructure. Coloradans know we need solutions, but too often are faced with legal obstacles or a lack of funding for projects. These bipartisan bills will simplify processes to complete stream restoration projects, tap into millions of dollars of state and federal funding, and ultimately help secure our state’s water future.”
“Colorado’s watersheds and streams protect us from wildfires, preserve diverse ecosystems and support the livelihood of our local farmers and ranchers,” said McCormick, sponsor of SB23-177 and SB23-270. “The Colorado way of life revolves around water, and with these laws, we’re focused on restoration and preservation of our streams and rivers. This bipartisan legislation makes it easier for communities to leverage federal dollars to complete stream restoration projects and creates a plan for preserving our water resources now and into the future.”
The CWCB’s work includes protecting Colorado's streams and lakes, flood mitigation, watershed protection, stream restoration, drought and water supply planning, and water project financing. Many of the Board’s projects focus on the Western Slope, like the Upper Colorado Conservation Project, which is researching the use of water-sharing agreements as ways to enhance water flow and provide temporary municipal water supplies in times of shortage.
Stream restoration projects are vital in protecting water supplies, restoring habitats, and recovering from drought, fire, and floods. SB23-270, sponsored by Senators Roberts and Simpson, and Representatives McCormick and Catlin, creates a more streamlined process for stream restoration projects to move forward.
Currently, certain stream restoration projects could be considered an out-of-priority diversion of water, creating an uncertain or impossible path for those projects to proceed. The bill constitutes an important first step by creating a rebuttable presumption that a minor stream restoration project doesn’t impede on downstream water rights – thus allowing smaller projects to move forward without unnecessary enforcement actions while the community continues to explore solutions for larger projects. A rebuttable presumption is an assumption made by a court that is taken to be true unless proven otherwise.
The legislation outlines stream restoration projects as those with the purpose of wildfire or flood mitigation; bank stabilization; water quality protection or restoration; habitat, species, or ecosystem restoration; infrastructure protection, and more.