Critical water bill goes to governor

There are not many days left in the current legislative session, with adjournment scheduled for May 6.

The budget is finally done and all of the bills that I was the prime sponsor on are finished.

We have quite a few bills left that we will have to take action on in the Senate. These are mostly bills that originated in the House and have just come over to the Senate. There are also a number of Senate bills that were amended in the House. The Senate now three options: to decide to either accept the House amendment in which case the bill goes on to the governor; reject the House amendments and ask that a conference committee be formed; or reject the House amendments and adhere to our original position in which case the bill goes back to the House. If the House agrees to remove the amendment the bill goes to the governor but if the House refuses to remove their amendments then the bill is dead.

Many of the bills that are still in the process are there because they were controversial and they haven’t moved because the sponsors don’t know if they have the support needed to get them passed. But with few days left they will now be heard unless the sponsors, knowing that the votes aren’t there, decide to kill their bills by moving that they lay over until after the Senate adjourns. We have already seen that happen.

One of the most important water bills of this legislative session was passed out of the Senate last week and is now on its way to the governor. This bill, House Bill 09-1303, was sponsored by myself and Rep. Kathleen Curry and concerns the administration by the State Water Engineer’s office (Division of Water Resources) of water produced by oil and gas wells.

Historically the state engineer has not administered wells constructed to produce oil and gas. Although oil and gas wells generally produce some amount of water, and in the case of coal bed methane (CBM) wells as a necessary part of the process, this water has been considered to be under the purview of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation commission. The result of this has been that as long as the oil and gas producer has not put the water to a beneficial uses the state engineer has not required that these oil and gas wells obtain a water well permit.

In those cases where the producer has put the water to a beneficial use, the state engineer has required a water well permit and if that water has been determined to be tributary, the producer of the water has had to address injury to senior water rights by obtaining a water court approved augmentation plan.

Under House bill 09-1303 all oil and gas wells that produce tributary ground water after March 31, 2010 will be subject to the state engineer’s administrative authority. This means that along with a water well permitting requirement the wells will be required to get court approved augmentation plan, or its temporary equivalent, a substitute water supply plan approved by the state engineer.

The bill also allows the state engineer to adopt rules to assist in the process for determining that ground water meets the definition of nontributary. Consistent with current law if the water can be shown to be from a nontributary source, and if the producer of the water does not put the water to beneficial use after its withdrawal, there is no need for a water well permit or administration by the state engineer.

Many parties came together in the development of this legislation which was facilitated by the Colorado Water Congress and the state engineer’s Office. It was an open and collaborative process that will provide for an orderly process for bringing oil and gas wells that produce tributary water under the administration of the state engineer’s office without disruption of this important economic activity.