Bennet, Gardner introduce hemp water rights bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) this week introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure farmers across the West can use the water they own through private water rights to grow industrial hemp in states where it is legal.

A pilot program created by the 2014 Farm Bill granted permission to state Departments of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp. The Bureau of Reclamation, however, prohibits the use of federally-controlled water for growing industrial hemp. These conflicting policies create confusion for farmers who grow, or wish to grow, industrial hemp using water from federal reservoirs. The Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act would clarify federal policy, ensuring owners of water rights can use their water, even if it passes through federal facilities, to cultivate industrial hemp.

“This bipartisan legislation provided needed clarity for farmers in Colorado who want to grow industrial hemp legally,” Bennet said.

“This is a necessary measure to fix conflicting federal policies that are slowing the implementation of the Farm Bill pilot program and stifling new business opportunities in rural Colorado. At the very least, Colorado’s farmers deserve a clear path to boost growth in our agriculture economy.”

“Private landowners should be able to use their water to grow industrial hemp, regardless of whether the water passed through federal water projects,” Daines said.

“Washington, D.C. bureaucrats shouldn’t be able to restrict access to water for purposes that are allowed under state law.”

“As a farmer, I know how important it is that we give our nation’s agricultural producers the flexibility they need to thrive,” Tester said. “This bill makes responsible changes so farmers can access water, grow their operations, and conduct meaningful research that expands economic opportunities for families and businesses across America.”

“Colorado’s industrial hemp farmers should not be restricted by over-burdensome federal regulations that don’t respect Colorado’s water laws,” Gardner said. “This bipartisan legislation recognizes our farmers’ right to access Colorado water and makes sure the federal government cannot interfere with our their operations. Coloradans know how best to manage our state’s water and it is time for the federal government to get out of the way and allow Colorado’s farming operations to succeed.”

“As I’ve said before, the federal ban on industrial hemp is not anti-drug, it’s anti-farmer,” Wyden said. “This bill ensures farmers and researchers in states like Oregon that have legalized industrial hemp can move forward with their hemp pilot projects. I’m continuing to work with my colleagues to lift the ban on hemp to allow American farmers to grow hemp on United States soil and realize the vast opportunities industrial hemp farming has to offer.

“Industrial hemp research and farming have opened up doors for farmers in Oregon and across the country,” Merkley said. “Outdated policies should not stand in the way of our farmers growing small businesses and agriculture across the U.S.”

Stakeholders and elected officials throughout Colorado support this legislation.

“In this arid climate, a dependable water supply is a necessary resource for agricultural producers of any type,” Colorado’s Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown said. “This bill will provide reassurances that hemp farmers can continue to develop this growing industry to meet emerging market demands.”

“The bill will remove some of the ambiguity toward industrial hemp becoming a standalone commodity and crop that can be an integral part of diversifying the rural economy,” Executive Director of San Luis Valley Development Resources Group & Council of Governments Kevin Wilkins said.

“Opportunities to further explore and validate the anecdotal, soil health, agronomic and water conversation properties of the plant may be advanced by removal of this federal barrier.”

“Thank you Senator Michael Bennet for your leadership in the introduction of legislation to prohibit the Bureau of Reclamation from curtailing the use of water that has been through a BOR facility,” Colorado State Senator Don Coram said.

“Validating a law passed by the State of Colorado to insure farmers engaged in hemp production is vital to the growth of this burgeoning industry. Hemp could very well be the cash crop that allows farmers to be profitable and continue the family farm to the next generation. Colorado has been at the pinnacle of leading the nation in the effort to establish hemp production. Any effort to assist farmers by addressing the water issue is vital to our success.”