Simpson bill passes out of committee with unanimous vote

SLV individuals at the capitol in support of SB22-28. Left to right: David Robbins, attorney representing RGWCD; Marisa Fricke, Program manager Subdistrict No 1;, Heather Dutton, San Luis Valley Conservancy District,; Senator Cleave Simpson and Nathan Coombs, Conejos Conservation District. Courtesy photo

Next step: Senate floor

DENVER - In a unanimous, bi-partisan vote, Senator Simpson’s bill SB22-028 “Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund” passed, unamended, out of the Colorado Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Thursday. Next step is the floor of the Senate where the bill will be voted on by the body at large.

The bill creates the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund to help finance groundwater use reduction efforts in the Rio Grande River Basin and the Republican River Basin, including buying and retiring irrigation wells and irrigated acreage.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board administers the fund and can make expenditures based on recommendations from the board of directors of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District or the Republican River Water Conservation District. A conservation district's recommendations must first be approved by the state engineer.

Six individuals testified before the committee, including Senators Simpson and Sonnenberg, RGWCD Subdistrict No. 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke, David Robbins who is general counsel for both River Basins plus individuals representing the Department of Natural Resources and the Nature Conservancy.  All spoke in support of the bill with other supporters in the chamber who would have testified had time allowed.

Questions of the senators generally centered around current conditions in both basins followed by questions asking for descriptions of what kind of impact would be the result should funding fail to pass. 

When it came to the San Luis Valley, Senator Simpson said, “Everything in the valley has centered around water for more than a hundred years. Agriculture is the primary driver of our entire economy.”

Senator Sonnenberg then interjected on Simpson’s behalf. “Let me be a little more specific,” Sonnenberg said. “If you want to know what the impact would be, just go to the Arkansas Valley and look what happened there. Places like Sugar City no longer exist.”

Surprisingly, the topic of the attempt to purchase water and export it from the San Luis Valley came up in the hearing, posed as questions by committee members, including committee chairperson Senator Kerry Donovan.

Clearly referencing the water development investment group Renewable Water Resources (RWR), Donovan wanted to know how to explain a group of people wanting to export water from the valley when it is clear water scarcity is already an issue. Robbins, who was testifying at the time, responded that it was something they “were trying to understand themselves" but said that the Rio Grande Water Conservation District is united in their resolve to fight the efforts with all they have.

Referencing the RWR proposal, Donovan then commented that being given money to build a senior citizen center or for law enforcement won’t help much if there are no senior citizens or communities left.  She then commented that the General Assembly is receiving the message that the group “needs to look for water somewhere else.”

When the vote was taken, a few were cast with “great enthusiasm", as expressed by Senator Jaquez Lewis (D - Dist 17).

SB22-028 was originally sponsored by Senator Cleave Simpson (R – Dist 35), Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R – Dist 1), Representative Marc Catlin (R – Dist 58) and Representative Dylan Roberts (D – Dist 26) with a number of bi-partisan senators and representatives signing on as sponsors, as well.