OPINION: Farmers Cheer Water Rights Measure Backed by Scott & Coram

By Sean Paige

Given that water has started far more brawls in arid Colorado than whiskey, the passage of any measure designed to lower tensions over the issue is a news-making rarity at the Statehouse. That explains the pride many were feeling Tuesday when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed SB-36, a bill designed to ensure that water disputes don’t drain farmers dry, by simplifying and streamlining the dispute resolution process.

Western Slope Republicans Ray Scott (Grand Junction) and Don Coram (Montrose) brought the bill after repeatedly hearing horror stories of how agriculture water right holders were victimized by an overly complicated, unfair and costly groundwater dispute resolution process that seems rigged to favor water speculators. SB-36 would help speed the resolution of water disputes, and lower potential legal costs for participants, by limiting the evidence a district court may consider, when reviewing a decision or action of the commission or state engineer on appeal, to the evidence presented to the commission or state engineer.

“This bill finally offers some relief for farmers who for too long have been subjected to an unfair and unnecessarily expensive water dispute resolution system that favoring well-funded brokers,” Scott said after the bill-signing ceremony. “I’m pleased to have been a part of this bill and to see it signed into law by the governor.”

“The cost of defending your water rights can cost as much as $100,000 each and every time you are in such litigation,” added Coram. “I have had farmers tell me they have spent in the neighborhood of $900,000. If you want to break a farm operation, I can think of nothing quicker. S.B. 36 will change the groundwater appellate process to mirror that of surface water, which says you can appeal only on the evidence presented.”

One farm owner also attending the bill signing, Colorado Farm Bureau member Marc Arnusch, said the new law would offer welcome help for any farmer in Colorado involved in litigation over water.

“Signing this bill into law allows farmers to protect our most valuable resources from continual litigation, because when we run out of money to spend on litigation, our voices go silent,” said Arnusch. “This bill ensures that our voices will be heard.”

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