New law protects Western Slope water |

New law protects Western Slope water

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A new law that requires developers to show proof of adequate water supplies before getting a green light to build aims to balance growth with natural resources.

House Bill 1141, inked by Gov. Bill Ritter last week, gives communities statewide a new tool to sustainably manage growth.

The measure requires developers to show they can provide water for estimated peak daily, monthly and yearly water-supply requirements, and gives local governments the power to deny a development based solely on water availability.

“We hear arguments all the time that we cannot link land-use decisions to water availability,” said James Newberry, chairman of the Northwest Colorado Council of Government’s water quality and quantity committee. “This bill puts that argument to rest.”

The law doesn’t prevent developers from exercising existing rights, but it could cut future trans-divide water grabs.

Backers said the bill is critical in a state where there is very little ” if any ” new water available because demand for water already exceeds supply in most major river basins.

The Colorado Municipal League opposed the bill initially, saying local governments already have enough authority over development and that the state shouldn’t usurp local control.

“We felt the legislation was driven by a cause and not necessarily by any specific examples of problems,” said municipal league lobbyist Kevin Bommer.

The organization was concerned that a statewide law could override local control of development but dropped its opposition when the bill was rewritten to make it clear that local governments retain land-use authority.

The homebuilders’ association contended that the early drafts included language that required water infrastructure to be developed up front and would have given third-party groups like environmental organizations more legal standing to block developments or for post-approval lawsuits.

The homebuilders ended up supporting the final version of the bill, said government affairs spokesman Rob Nanfelt.

The law targets irresponsible development along the Front Range based on a “build first, find water later” mentality, said Chris Treese, an engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation district, headquartered in Glenwood Springs.

He singled out the South Denver Metro area, including El Paso and Douglas counties as the “poster children” for the measure.

“Local governments still have jurisdiction to approve development, but now they will have the information, too,” Treese said. “The concept is so simple. It’s embarrassing to explain that, until 1141, we didn’t have a statewide requirement to show an adequate water supply before issuing a building permit.”

Reckless approvals for developments along the burgeoning Front Range result in more pressure on Western Slope and agricultural water users, said Peter Roessmann, of Western Resource Advocates.

“We’re hoping promote a conscious connection between development and water supply,” he said.

Backers also touted the measure as a benefit to homebuyers, who will have some assurance of a steady water supply rather than facing the possibility of living in developer-imposed droughts.