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A bill designed to compensate rural communities for economic problems caused by water sales unanimously passed a Colorado Senate committee.
The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee also heard testimony on a Republican water conservation bill. Environmentalists criticized it as doing nothing new, and House Bill 1324 was laid over to let the sponsor work on amendments.
Senate Bill 115, by Rep. Brad Young, R-Lamar, and Sen. Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, fared better. It authorizes courts to consider requiring mitigation payments for people who remove water, and it mandates that counties distribute those payments to improve economic activity.
The bill also allows voters to approve a sales or other tax to purchase water rights to help the rural communities.
"This doesn't take care of all the effects that happen as results of water transfers, but ... this is a good compromise," Young said.
Nobody testified against the bill, but committee chairwoman Rep. Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling, said the bill does not go far enough to help rural communities. She and the 12 other committee members nevertheless voted to send the bill, which already passed the Senate, to the House floor.
There was more controversy on the bill by Rep. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, designed to increase water conservation. The bill prohibits the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority from authorizing loans or grants unless the recipient has a water-efficiency plan.
The bill also allows a water court to approve a water-rights change for water saved from conservation if no one is injured by the change.
Bart Miller, an attorney at the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, said Harvey's bill accomplishes nothing.
"It would have us stand in place when we should be moving, running forward," he told the committee. "It would have us paying lip service to conservation."
Other bill opponents said there is no such thing as conserved water because someone else always has a right to it downstream.
But supporters praised Harvey's bill as clarifying current law and supporting conservation.
"This is a gray area of the law and one this legislature has an opportunity to address," said Kent Holsinger, assistant director at the Department of Natural Resources.