Lawmaker wants to allow water ‘donations’
ASPEN – The next time drought slows mountain rivers to a trickle and trout are dying, upstream water users may be able to come to the rescue.The Aspen area’s state representative-elect said one of the bills she will introduce during the 2005 session of the Colorado Legislature is an “instream loan” that will remove legal hurdles that prohibit a water user from temporarily donating water.Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy asked her to sponsor that bill.A situation in Aspen during the drought summer of 2002 spotlighted the inflexibility of state water law. The drought combined with legal diversions of water to the Front Range and within the valley reduced the Roaring Fork River in Aspen to a stream that could be stepped across in places.The Salvation Ditch Co., which diverts water east of town, agreed to ease off diversions for the benefit of the river but the offer was nixed by the state water engineer.
Curry told the Pitkin County Commissioners yesterday she is working on a bill that would allow those types of loans in extenuating circumstances like droughts. The draft of her bill would allow water right holders to loan water for only three out of 10 years.Curry said she doesn’t want the loaning capability abused. One danger, she said, is if one water user was loaning water to another user as a way to circumvent state water laws.Curry will chair the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, where the bill will first be considered. She urged the Pitkin County Commissioners to send someone to testify for the bill at the appropriate time.The key to getting the bill passed is to adopt language that will be accepted by Colo. Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican who is dealing with Democrat majorities in the Legislature.”They keep telling me I need 101 signatures – 100 from the Legislature and one from the governor,” said Curry.
Another major bill Curry plans to introduce would “level the playing field” for landowners when negotiating agreements with energy companies that plan to drill for gas on their property. Ultimately, she said, the goal is to allow gas development in a more responsible way.The bill targets her constituents in Garfield County, where hundreds of wells are being drilled each year south of Rifle and Silt.In many cases ranchers own the surface rights but not the mineral rights. Gas companies that want to drill on the ranchers’ lands must try to negotiate surface use agreements, but Curry believes the process favors the industry.Curry said her proposed changes to the process are viewed as too tough by the gas industry and not tough enough by environmental groups. “Nobody’s happy,” she said, adding that might mean the bill is balanced.The proposal establishes a three-stage process. First the gas company must try to negotiate a surface use agreement with the property owner. If they can’t reach agreement for compensation over damage to the property or for taking a pasture out of production, then the gas company must pay for an appraisal.
If a deal still cannot be inked, the parties must go to binding arbitration.She said a Republican lawmaker who tried to pass similar bills in prior sessions warned her of trouble.”He said it was the worst experience of his life – dealing with the oil and gas industry,” she said. “They’re vicious.”Vail, Colorado