Well-pumping bill from Renfroe, Brophy fails in Senate committee

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BRIGHTON — Senior water rights holders along the South Platte River hailed the failure of Senate Bill 147 in the Senate Agriculture Committee last week.

SB 147 — sponsored by state Sens. Scott Renfroe, Greg Brophy and Kevin Lundberg and state Reps. Lori Saine and Randy Fischer — would have allowed wells to pump in violation of current state law that protects senior agricultural water rights.

In a news release issued Friday, April 11, the Water Rights Association of the South Platte expressed relief at the bill’s failure. WRASP represents more than 240,000 irrigated acres from Barr Lake to Julesburg, and more than 1,150 high capacity irrigation wells that draw from the South Platte alluvial aquifer.

The bill would have allowed wells to pump 20 percent more than their decrees permitted under the auspices of a study.  SB 147 died on a vote of 5-1.

Testimony during the hearing demonstrated that the additional 20 percent of pumping proposed in connection with the study would injure other water rights and should not be used to solve high ground water issues. Additionally, the testimony provided by Jim Yahn, of the North Sterling Irrigation District, highlighted that based on court documents there have been localized areas of high ground water in the South Platte since the early 1900s.

The bill would have conflicted with existing water court decrees and undo stipulations between parties in hundreds of water court cases, making it unconstitutional. It could also interfere with Colorado’s obligations under the South Platte River Compact. The bill ultimately failed to make it out of the Committee on a 5-1 vote. 

Following the hearing, WRASP member Joe Frank expressed ongoing concern with the idea behind this legislation.

“Water rights in Colorado are property rights,” Frank said. “WRASP will always oppose proposals that undermine these property rights to the detriment of Colorado farmers. Taking our water should never be an option to solving water shortages in other areas.”