Water-transfer mitigation bill dies in House

DENVER — A bill to require water buyers to mitigate large transfers of water from one river basin to another died on the House floor Friday.

But that was because Denver Water lobbied hard against the bill and managed to turn some lawmakers to its side, said Rep. Sal Pace, who introduced House Bill 1159.

“I had to run it, because every day I waited, I’d lose another vote,” the Pueblo Democrat said immediately after the bill’s demise. “I had a lot of people turn on me, including people who told me this morning (Friday) that they were with me.”

The issue is not a new one for the Legislature, but each time it comes up, urban lawmakers along the Front Range and even rural ones on the South Platte River Basin manage to find ways to kill it, Western Slope lawmakers said.

“We on the Western Slope have seen how the water’s been taken and used, so we’re just trying to get some mitigation things going here,” said Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs. “We’re really concerned about the amount of water that leaves our districts and goes to other areas, and we’re just trying to protect those interests.”

Opponents of the measure said that’s all they’re trying to do, too.

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said the bill’s true intent was to end all transmountain water diversions in the state, which would put more pressure on smaller communities downstream of the Denver metropolitan area.

“This is the first attempt at trying to make that happen,” he said. “This would all go on the backs of the South Platte basin in the form of a target.”

Western Slope and southern Colorado lawmakers, however, said that target has been on their backs for years.

“When we’re talking about rural Colorado, I think every one of us can speak that it is the lifeblood of who and what we are about, particularly from the West Slope,” said Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. “This creates a balance, a step in the right direction.”


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