Groundwater bill supported by Central Colorado Water, local farmers group defeated
April 28, 2014
A groundwater bill supported by a group of local farmers and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley has been defeated.
House Bill 1332 — aimed at providing relief for areas of Weld County and elsewhere where groundwater wells have been curtailed, and where high groundwater levels have caused damage — narrowly passed out of the House Appropriations Committee by a 7-6 vote Wednesday morning, but that afternoon was defeated 36-29 when it went to the House floor, according to Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, who sponsored the bill.
"It's disappointing," said LaSalle-area farmer Glen Fritzler, an outspoken proponent of the bill, whose groundwater wells had been curtailed in recent years, whose basement flooded and who also helped form the Ground Water Coalition. "It might be the end for us in this legislative session, but we'll certainly try again next year."
HB 1332 called for de-watering measures in areas of high groundwater, funding for more groundwater monitoring and studies, and potentially creating a "basin-wide management entity."
The bill struggled for support from other water circles in the state.
Earlier this month, the Colorado Water Congress voted 20-3 against supporting the bill, and members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable — a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to discuss the region's water challenges — spoke out against the bill.
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Rather than support the proposed legislation, the roundtable voted in favor of having further discussions about the high groundwater levels and curtailed wells, and, if reaching consensus on the issues down the road, adding such suggestions to the South Platte basin's long-term water plan and eventual statewide Colorado Water Plan, which are currently in the works.
The majority of South Platte Roundtable members said at that meeting that such measures, like the de-watering efforts, are more complex than they appear. They also said the state putting forth more dollars for more groundwater studies is unnecessary since the recent Colorado Water Institute's study is available for further examination, and the State Engineer's Office is in the midst of a separate groundwater study.
Furthermore, creating an entity for basin oversight would just add "another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy."
Wednesday's defeat was another setback for LaSalle and Gilcrest area farmers, who, due to changes over the years in the state's administration of groundwater, had their groundwater wells curtailed or shutdown several years ago.
They've pushed for several other bills this year and in recent years that address the issue, but have been voted down.
For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer.
The pumping of that groundwater draws down flows in nearby rivers and streams — surface supplies owned and used by senior water rights holders.
But, because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community struggle to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.
In addition to losing the ability to pump their wells, many of those impacted believe the lack of well-pumping and increased augmentation is what's caused the high groundwater levels that in recent years flooded basements and ruined crops in saturated fields. Many believe, however, that the high groundwater levels in recent years were caused by a variety of factors, and the existing system for groundwater management is needed to protect senior surface water rights. ❖