For the first time, the annual funding bill for Colorado water projects includes money to acquire in-stream water rights for environmental protection and to explore alternatives to wild and scenic rivers designations by the federal government.
House Bill 1346 is the so-called "projects bill" that contains the recommendations to the General Assembly from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday with the unanimous endorsement of House Committee Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources.
"A lot of things didn't make the cut," said Jennifer Gimbel, the CWCB's new executive director who outlined about $11 million worth of expenditures from severance tax revenue. "There is an incredible public process that hones down the list for this bill."
Earlier Wednesday, the same committee detoured a Senate-passed bill aimed at giving state wildlife officers more choices in pursuing hunting violators.
Senate Bill 69, sponsored by Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, was sent to the House Judiciary Committee for more work on the legal ramifications.
Sportsmen's groups backed off their support of a compromise that Taylor had worked out with the Division of Wildlife after the Colorado District Attorney's Council said it almost would be impossible to prosecute poaching violators.
The council's executive director, Ted Tow, said people who intend ahead of time to kill an animal for the trophy parts and waste the meat still could be charged with a felony.
"What doesn't get prosecuted under this bill as currently written is the hunter who shoots the animal and then knowingly walks away because it's not a big enough ego-wall booster," Tow said.
Taylor introduced the bill to call attention to what he called the overzealous prosecution of an Evergreen man who legally shot a mountain goat but was convicted on felony charges after he voluntarily reported to wildlife officers why he had left the carcass in field.
There was relatively little controversy, however, about the water projects bill, which also recommends approval of two loans - one for $60.6 million to the Republican River Conservation District in eastern Colorado to build a compact compliance pipeline from near Laird to the Kansas border, and one for $11.2 million for the Dry Gulch Reservoir Project near Pagosa Springs in western Colorado.
Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, who along with Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, is sponsoring the bill, said new ideas for funding include an ongoing $1 million appropriation to the CWCB every year to acquire and maintain in-stream flow water rights.
"We haven't funded acquisition of in-stream flow rights before this year," Curry said. She noted the board would have the responsibility to maintain stream flows and volume in natural lakes "to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree."
Gimbel said the CWCB wants $400,000 to work with Colorado stakeholders in exploring options to potential federal designations of wild and scenic rivers that could restrict Colorado's use of the water. She said portions of three western Colorado rivers - the Colorado, Yampa and San Juan - have been mentioned as targets for wild and scenic designation.
"We want to get ahead of the (Bureau of Land Management) on this," Gimbel said.
Board member Eric Wilkinson was adamant about avoiding the federal designations.
"Colorado is very capable of managing its own water resources," Wilkinson said. "Colorado needs to determine its own destiny in that regard and cooperate with the federal government rather than reacting to a federal mandate."
The measure also contains funding for several activities associated with the Colorado River Compact administration, including studying what Colorado would or could do in the event downstream states demand more water under the compact than Colorado can deliver.
Other proposed CWCB expenditures for the next fiscal year include $300,000 on drought mitigation; $250,000 to develop a statewide system for responding to floods; $175,000 to assist water districts and other water providers in developing cloud seeding programs; and $100,000 to develop strategies for responding to the impacts of climate change.
In other action this week, Taylor's Senate-passed bill that would have allowed local governments to spend Conservation Trust Fund monies for staff and other operational expenses at their recreation areas died in the Colorado House on a 32-32 tie vote.
Lottery revenue is funneled into the trust fund and distributed by the Department of Local Affairs for parks and open space. Proponents of the bill argued the fund allows small towns to build such things as swimming pools and ball fields, but then they don't have the funds to hire life guards or umpires.
"Local governments and special districts are responsible to taxpayers," argued the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley. "This bill gives them the local control to use the money for the greatest value to their citizens and communities."
Senate Bill 67 previously passed the Senate 23-11 under Taylor's sponsorship, but by the time it reached the House, a solid block of Republicans, including Reps. Al White of Hayden and Ray Rose of Montrose, had lined up against it. They were joined by seven Democrats in the final vote that killed the bill.
"We should not be expanding programs to meet a budget but the other way around," said Rep. Ken Summers, D-Lakewood. "Parks and playgrounds have to live within the budget. Allowing the budget to run rampant to cover operational costs is not prudent fiscal policy."