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Water speculation in the hot seat at the Capitol
Some say laws are like sausages — it’s best to not see them be made. I disagree (transparency!) so I headed down to Denver last week for the meeting of the Water Resources Review Committee at the Colorado Capitol in pursuit of the story, “Investment water speculation bill clears committee,” published on our website and in The Aspen Times, Vail Daily and Summit Daily News. In my 12 years as a Colorado journalist, I can’t remember a time when I ever covered something at the Capitol, but as soon as I walked in, I recognized it. It gives you this feeling of gravitas — the marble, the portraits of governors and presidents, the gold dome, the location at the center of the Denver universe at Colfax and Lincoln. If you’ve ever watched any TV political drama, you know what the Colorado Capitol looks and feels like. It exists in our collective unconscious.
The Water Resources Review Committee has 10 members, including Western Slope lawmakers Kerry Donovan, who is the chair, Marc Catlin, Don Coram, Barbara McLachlan and Dylan Roberts. When I first walked into the third-floor meeting room, staff from the Colorado Water Conservation Board were in the hot seat. They were giving an update on the Colorado Water Plan and were getting grilled by Coram and Catlin over why the CWCB is opposing a reservoir project in Ouray County. (The answer is because the CWCB holds instream flow rights on the streams involved, but that’s a story for another time.) I was there to see the committee discuss potential legislation for the upcoming 2022 session.
The WRRC is an interim committee which meets when the legislature is not in session to talk about statewide water issues and any bills they might want to advance in the upcoming session, which will begin Jan. 12. The group had met twice before, in August and September, and last Wednesday was their final meeting of the year. I wanted to see if the committee would advance a bill to address investment water speculation.
There were two draft bills addressing speculation up for consideration, but only one moved forward. A bill that would have required a purchaser of agricultural water rights to sign an affidavit swearing they are not engaging in investment water speculation was tossed out after its author, Donovan, asked for it not to be advanced. The committee, however, did advance the second bill, which aims to prohibit investment water speculation by allowing state engineers from the Division of Water Resources to fine speculators up to $10,000. Frivolous complaints about speculation could be punished with a $1,000 fine. It would also require mutual ditch companies to set a threshold percentage of agricultural water rights for one person to hold, above which would trigger the presumption they are engaging in investment water speculation.
Committee members voted 8-2, with Rep. Catlin and Rep. Hugh McKean, who represents Larimer County, voting no on advancing the bill. That bill now goes to the Legislative Council, which meets on Nov. 15, and will decide whether to approve the bill and let it go through the normal hearing process in the 2022 session.
Investment water speculation, which is defined as buying water rights with the goal of profiting off the increased value of the water in a future sale, has been a tricky problem for lawmakers and water managers to tackle. Last year, lawmakers gave a task force of water managers and policy experts the colossal assignment of exploring ways to strengthen the state’s anti-speculation laws. After a year of meetings but no consensus or recommendations, the task force kicked the problem back to lawmakers. This bill is their best effort at addressing the issue.
As we’ve written about before, the speculation issue is tied up with cultural questions about the rural-urban divide, fear of the loss of agricultural land and a suspicion of outsiders. A main reason people are concerned about a New York City-based private equity firm buying agricultural land in the Grand Valley seems to be because they are from New York City. This isn’t lost on lawmakers, who joked at the beginning of the speculation discussion about the 1993 Pace Picante Sauce commercial where a group of cowboys become enraged after one of them suggests a salsa that’s not made in the West. The implication is that the New York City salsa is fake, inauthentic.
After the meeting, Sen. Don Coram, who, along with Donovan, is a sponsor of the bill, told me speculation is a real issue because the water belongs to the people of Colorado.
“I don’t believe it’s up to someone from California, or New York or Florida to be messing with the people’s water of Colorado,” he said. “That’s for Colorado to decide.”
Thank you for reading, and supporting, Aspen Journalism during our end-of-year matching gift campaign.
— Heather Sackett, water desk editor
By Heather Sackett | October 30, 2021
The draft bill gives the state engineer at the Department of Water Resources the ability to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and fine a purchaser up to $10,000 if they determine speculation is occurring.
By Laurine Lassalle | October 27, 2021
Colorado Parks and Wildlife released its black bear management draft plan earlier this month, amid long-term growth in the number of conflicts between bears and humans. The plan proposes two options: maintaining the bear population’s status quo or actively decreasing the bear population.
By Laurine Lassalle | November 2, 2021
• Lake Powell’s elevation dropped to 3,544.3 feet, or 155.8 feet from full pool on Oct. 31.
• Roaring Fork River running at 21.49 cfs on Oct. 31 across town, up from 20.98 cfs last week.
By Laurine Lassalle | November 2, 2021
Garfield County reported 79 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, Eagle County added 34 cases while Pitkin County reported 15 cases.
“‘Skico is setting a really high bar for rezoning Rural and Remote,” (County Commissioner Steve) Child said. “I’m not worried about somebody else coming in and wanting to rezone their property.’ He later added, ‘I don’t see this as a dominoes falling on Richmond Ridge.’”
Source: aspentimes.com | Read more
“‘Last year, we had a great turnout,’ (County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill) said Saturday, referring to the Nov. 3, 2020 election in which Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican incumbent Donald Trump. … More than 12,000 county voters cast ballots in that election. As of Saturday morning, the county Clerk and Recorder’s Office had received 2,955 ballots.”
Source: aspendailynews.com | Read more
“When newspaper ad revenues imploded with the rollout of consumer broadband, the general response was to cut costs, eroding product quality, and sending the papers into a downward spiral in which most remain. For many, I am afraid, it has long since been too late to reverse course; the hole they dug for themselves has become too deep.”
Source: dicktofel.substack.com | Read more
“The 3rd District will include most of the Western Slope and southern Colorado, including Pueblo. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican who represents the district, will have a solid 9.3 percentage point advantage, per past election results.”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
Water officials say Yampa River over appropriation not as scary as it sounds, largely affects new wells
“Light said looking at data from the gauging station on the Yampa in Maybell, flows have declined from about 1.35 million acre feet to 1.1 million acre feet over the past 100 years. Demands are also increasing, with about 70 new water right applications each year and more than 600 new wells in the past decade.”
Source: steamboatpilot.com | Read more
“‘The settlement proposal avoids the legal risk that a federal court will order the project to proceed without any county-approved mitigation measures,’ Boulder County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said in a news release announcing the proposed deal with Denver Water.”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
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