Water bill dead as Hickenlooper vetoes second Democratic bill in two days

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Colorado River

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DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed his second Democratic bill in two days, a measure that would have incentivized water conservation on the Western Slope, FOX31 Denver was first to report.

Hickenlooper, who faces reelection in the fall, struck down Senate Bill 23, which would have allowed for the voluntary transfer of water savings to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for in-stream flow purposes west of the Continental Divide.

“This decision was not easy; it was a close call,”  the governor wrote in a letter to the Colorado Senate. “That is because the bill’s goals are important for our water future and we appreciate and honor the thousands of hours that went into crafting this legislation. Despite these efforts, there was a breakdown in consensus toward the end of the legislative session that divided the water community and, in our view, would make implementation of the policy more difficult.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, tried to create a new water right: “water efficiency savings,” defined as a portion of water rights used for agricultural irrigation or stock water purposes in water divisions 4, 5, 6 and 7, all west of the Continental Divide.

Those “savings” would then be loaned to the CWCB for in-stream purposes, such as improving river habitat or recreational uses.

“This legislation is precisely the type of collaborative innovative policy Colorado needs, so the Governor’s action today is a disappointing set back,” said Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith. “Given the opportunity to lead on conservation, the Governor instead chose to enforce the status quo.”

The bill, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote, faced strong opposition from House Republicans, mostly those from the eastern plains, in the waning days of the session, but it passed on a 35-30 vote.

It was supported by Trout Unlimited, a group of sportsmen, and by the Cattlemen’s Association, the biggest organization of ranchers in the state.

As they heard about the veto, supporters of the blasted Hickenlooper, who, they noted, has expressed a commitment to conservation.

“S.B. 23 was a chance for Colorado to demonstrate leadership among all western states struggling with a limited water supply and the balance between all-important human uses of water and the needs of our rivers and streams,” said Russ Schnitzer with Trout Unlimited.

“This sends a signal that despite the governor’s expressed commitment to water conservation, he is willing to bow to those who oppose change in any form. With this veto, innovative, common sense water efficiency solutions benefiting Colorado farms and ranches have been cast aside in favor of perpetuating the status quo locked in 19th century water management concepts.”

Hickenlooper informed lawmakers that he’s still open to the proposal becoming law but wanted to give stakeholders “more time…to build broader consensus” before taking it up again next year, according to the press release from his office.

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