New law could lead to fewer watering restrictions

SB 41 allows additional water storage

DENVER - When Senate Bill 41 passed both houses of the Colorado legislature, it was a matter of antiquated Colorado water laws getting updated.

How antiquated? When many of the water laws and accords for Colorado were written, one of the biggest uses for water in the state was mining.

Nowadays the state's mining industry is a shell of what it once was. As such, many of Colorado's water utilities think it is time for the state's water laws to fall in line with the times and current needs.

Slowly, the state legislature has been making minor changes in water accords and laws to reflect the current needs of the state. Senate Bill 41, which was signed into law earlier in April, is an example of those minor changes that can have major ramifications.

"Water law doctrine in Colorado was developed in a much simpler time," said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. "So this law is a very small step toward simplifying what has become an overly-complex and burdensome water law system."

As the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Mary Hodge sees it, it was correcting an oversight. The new law designates that storing water for fighting wildfires and for drought are beneficial uses. How it is currently set up, water can not be stored unless it is for one of three purposes: irrigation, residential use and mining.

"People are concerned when you start storing water that you’re either hoarding water or you’re using it as a speculative purpose," Hodge said.

Meaning that the resource could be monopolized and cause price gouging. That was how the state's anti-speculation doctrine was created, said water attorney Joe Dischinger.

But the new law would allow water utilities to increase its storing capacity.

"The reality is that we live in a different world today than when those statutes were first passed, Dischinger said. "It is necessary to have significant supplies of water that will carry from year to year."