Local lawmakers back bills to ease drought, support schools, build economies | CraigDailyPress.com

Local lawmakers back bills to ease drought, support schools, build economies

Editor’s note: This report has been updated to correct that the bill would create a task force to provide recommendations on how to implement programs to mitigate the impacts of interstate commitments. It would not provide the Colorado Division of Water Resources with any additional authority.

New bills championed by local lawmakers are popping up, while others are making their way through the Colorado legislature, as elected officials seek to address a variety of issues related to water, school funding, local economies and more.

Dylan Roberts
Courtesy photo

State Sen. Dylan Roberts, whose district includes Moffat and Routt counties, and Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie introduced legislation with Sen. Perry Will and Rep. Marc Catlin on Thursday, April 20, that would create a task force to address drought conditions on the Colorado River.

The task force would be comprised of representatives from state agencies, the Ute Mountain and Southern Ute Tribes, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, Front Range water providers and elected officials from Western Slope communities, as well as environmental organizations, farmers and ranchers.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District Board unanimously voted to support the legislation, which seeks to give communities new and more flexible tools to respond to severe drought.

“All of us on the Western Slope depend on a clean and reliable supply to power our economy and promote our way of life, but worsening drought conditions, exacerbated by climate change, are putting our water supply in jeopardy,” Roberts said in a statement.

Roberts went on to explain that the legislation would bring the state one step closer to addressing one of the most pressing issues Colorado has ever faced — the endangered Colorado River — while helping to ensure that every Colorado community has access to the water resources it needs now and into the future.

If passed, the bill would have the task force start meeting in July to develop recommendations to address the effects of drought on the Colorado River and its tributaries.

Other provisions in the bill would have the task force develop new recommendations that avoid disproportionate economic and environmental impacts to any one region in the state, while requiring that any acquisitions by the programs of a water right used for agricultural irrigation purposes is voluntary, temporary and compensated.

Other parts of the bill would instruct the task force to determine roles for designing and implementing programs and collaboration among different stakeholders and evaluate different sources of revenue for the acquisition of water, which would be on a voluntary basis with compensation for the owner.

The bill, as drafted, would create a task force that will provide recommendations to lawmakers on how to implement programs that will allow stakeholders in Colorado to mitigate the impacts of interstate commitments in ways that benefit both the environmental and recreational opportunities. It would not provide the Colorado DWR with any additional authority.

At the same time, the Colorado House advanced another piece of legislation on a preliminary vote Thursday to support rural communities by securing more good-paying jobs, building local economies and streamlining investments in energy technology and schools.

Rep. Meghan Lukens
Courtesy photo

“When rural communities succeed, we all succeed, and this bipartisan legislation demonstrates our commitment to uplifting local economies, creating good paying jobs and supporting our schools,” said Rep. Meghan Lukens, who also represents Moffat and Routt counties.

Lukens is one of the sponsors for both HB23-1247 and SB23-094.

While SB23-094 would work to support rural school districts to recruit and retain more drivers and establish more sustainable funding for school transportation, HB23-1247 would direct the Colorado Energy Office to conduct two studies focused on identifying advanced energy generation and transmission opportunities in rural Colorado to diversify the economy, establish good-paying jobs and support working families.

“We’re taking a community-specific lens to identify energy solutions for rural Colorado that will streamline careers in budding fields and allow Coloradans to continue to live in the communities they work in,” Lukens explained. “We’re focusing legislation on finding solutions for rural Colorado, specifically to help address the educator and staff shortage, and develop talent pipelines to improve school transportation and recruit more bus drivers in rural areas of the state.”

According to a summary of the legislation, SB23-094 would create the Colorado School Transportation Modernization Task Force to recommend solutions to the transportation challenges that create barriers for students to attend the school or afterschool programs, while also suggesting ideas for a sustainable funding stream and developing pipelines to recruit more drivers.

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