Polis in Alamosa to sign major water bills into law

Simpson describes legislation as ‘unprecedented’

ALAMOSA — Two significant bills directly addressing Colorado’s water issues — both sponsored by State Senator Cleave Simpson (R-District 35) — were signed by Governor Jared Polis (D) on Monday, May 23, in a ceremony at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) in Alamosa. 

As has been reported, SB22-028, the “Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund,” will devote $60 million, split evenly between the Rio Grande and Republican River Basins, to purchase well permits and retire irrigated acreage.

In addition to ensuring compliance with the long-standing Rio Grande Compact amongst Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, the funding will provide unprecedented support to RGWCD’s ongoing, intensive efforts in sustainably managing the San Luis Valley’s aquifers and preserving agriculture into the future. 

Funding for the legislation was made available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Gov. Polis started the signing ceremony with strong praise for Sen. Simpson’s “leadership on water issues” in the legislature. He went on to cite the process that got the legislation passed.

“Water doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat,” Polis said. “The passage of this bi-partisan legislation is the result of bottom-up work from Senator Simpson and [State] Senator [Jerry] Sonnenberg (R) working jointly with the Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources to make this critical investment possible.”

Simpson opened his comments by saying, “This is my first bill signing,” an acknowledgement that drew a warm laugh from those in attendance. “This was a monumental task, and it took quite an effort. The bill went through five committees, two readings on the floor of the senate, and one on the floor of the house, and there wasn’t a single ‘no’ vote. This bill will help us move forward. It’s not a hand-out; we’ve been working on this for years. But it’s coming at a crucial time as we struggle with water issues.”

He closed by thanking everyone for their collaboration.

Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs expressed his gratitude to the sponsors of the bill and Polis for his support, saying it was “huge for the area.” He spoke of the drought, which has caused “unprecedented stress and threatened the livelihoods — and agriculture as a whole — in communities around the state,” while also acknowledging the “hard-earned progress” of people in the Rio Grande and Republican River basins. “The state stands by local leadership,” he said, “and I look forward to partnering in the future.”

Kate Greenberg, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, closed the official comments by thanking Sen. Simpson, SLV Water Conservancy District Manager Heather Dutton, Sen. Sonnenberg, and Conejos Water Conservancy District Manager Nathan Coombs for their partnership in getting the legislation passed.

Greenberg touted the legislation for accomplishing what has been the goal all along: providing “voluntary, compensatory solutions” to water issues. “[The San Luis Valley] is the place where we will look to leadership on the best way to move forward with water challenges facing agricultural communities in the state.”

With that, Gov. Polis signed SB22-028 into law.

That signing was followed by a signing ceremony for the second piece of legislation: HB 22-1316, The Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project.

“There are so many good projects in this bill, totaling just over $17 million,” Polis said, “with funding for weather modification, incentives to reduce water consumption” and many others.

Simpson, who sponsored HB 1316 as well, said, “People may think this is a routine bill for Colorado Water Conservation Board projects, but this bill is anything but routine. My main motivation for running for office was related to water. I’d set a goal of $100 million in my mind, and this, plus [SB22-028], is a big step forward.”

Another bicameral, bi-partisan victory, HB22-1316 devotes funding to a myriad of projects addressing Colorado’s water issues, with allocation from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Construction Fund to the CWCB, or the division of water resources in the department of natural resources for much needed projects.

Specifically, funding will be allocated to nine areas.

The bill will support continuation of the satellite monitoring system, including renovation of existing gauging stations; replacement of outdated collection platforms; lysimeter support, data collection, and maintenance; upgrading of transmission components of the satellite monitoring system established and operated pursuant to section 37-80-102 (10), C.R.S.; stream gauge flood hardening projects; and data collection efforts related to flood forecasting and warning.

Funding will be allocated to support continuation of the weather modification permitting program, which assists water conservation districts, water conservancy districts, and other water providers with the development of cloud-seeding programs which provide benefits to recreation, streams, and reservoirs through snowpack enhancement.

The bill paves the way to fund continuation of technical assistance for federal cost-share programs, such as assisting applicants seeking competitive grants from federal water infrastructure, quality, and delivery programs. Examples include the USDA’s regional conservation partnership program, the Colorado River Basin salinity control program, and the Gunnison selenium management program.

When it comes to water issues, litigation is always a consideration. HB22-1316 allocates funding to assist in addressing legal issues associated with compact compliance or any other litigation activities.

The bill also provides support for the Colorado Mesonet Project, created to collect vital data related to temperature and precipitation, and the Water Forecasting Project, which includes development of new ground and aerial remote sensing data and equipment and hydrologic modeling.

Funding will also be allocated to support the upper Colorado River Commission’s modeling and data analyses, comprehensive dam safety evaluations on existing dams that have a potential consideration for enlargement, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, which will support restoration of native and endangered species, and continued efforts in incentives for sustainably managing the Republican River.

Finally, there will be grant funding available for projects that assist in implementing the state water plan.

Polis signed 1316 into law to another round of applause.

“I’m a little overwhelmed,” Simpson said. “And I’m so honored to represent District 35, especially the San Luis Valley.”