FORT COLLINS, CO - Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Agricultural Water Protection Act (CAWPA), into law. CAWPA allows the owner of a water right to lease half for other beneficial uses as an alternative to the practice called "buy and dry," where all of the water rights are sold and the land is no longer irrigated for farming.
"This bill is truly a win, win, win. It benefits farmers and ranchers by giving them options to keep their land through flexible water right designation, it benefits municipal interests through leasing instead of buying out agricultural land, and it benefits conservation by ensuring water stays on the landscape," said Sen. Kerry Donovan. "This type of legislation will be critical to Colorado's future as water becomes more in demand and we fight to maintain our agricultural heritage."
Along with Sen. Donovan, the bill was championed through bipartisan efforts by Representatives Jeni Arndt (D-Fort Collins) and Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan), and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling).
Under the bill, landowners could change their right to a newly created Agriculture Water Protection (AWP) water right. Water owners may use the AWP to lease up to 50 percent of their water for many uses, while 50 percent must remain on the land to maintain agricultural irrigation.
Prior to CAWPA, farmers had limited short-term options for diversifying water use. Now, farmers may apply to change their irrigation right through Colorado's water court process and have the certainty of leasing water for short periods as often as needed to meet highest and best market demand in perpetuity.
"This legislation will help keep water on the landscape, protecting Colorado's economy, world-class habitat, hunting traditions and outdoor recreation," said Greg Kernohan, Ducks Unlimited's manager of ecosystem services. "We applaud the Governor, Rep. Arndt, Rep. Becker, Sen. Donovan and Sen. Sonnenberg for passing this important piece of legislation."
The Colorado Water Plan (CWP), a non-partisan effort to address Colorado's growing water dilemma, estimates a statewide shortfall of 163 billion gallons of water by 2050. One of the CWP's recommendations to address the shortfall was creating mechanisms to transfer water rights from agriculture to other beneficial uses. The plan asserts failure to implement such mechanisms would be devastating due to the practice of "buy and dry," a practice whereby cities and other users buy water rights from farmers and ranchers and permanently remove water from the landscape including wetlands and riparian areas which are dependent on irrigation. Dried agricultural land is less economically productive, and the CWP estimates the continued practice would result in the loss of 20 percent of irrigated agriculture lands statewide with 35 percent being in Colorado's most productive basin, the South Platte. Nearly 700,000 acres statewide could be dried up without new alternatives, like CAWPA.
The agriculture industry contributes nearly $41 billion per year to the economy and indirectly employs 172,921 people in the state, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Outdoor recreation contributes an estimated $34.5 billion annually to Colorado's economy.
Kernohan says by providing innovative options to maximize water use, the state is taking the right steps in securing Colorado's economic health and world class outdoor landscapes while meeting growing urban demands.
"We have serious water challenges facing our state, challenges that will only intensify in the years to come," said Rep. Arndt. "This bipartisan solution is a major step in the right direction in addressing Colorado's future water needs."
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13.6 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.
Becky Jones Mahlum