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The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2023 legislative session on May 8, 2023. Below is a highlight summary of water-related legislation passed by the General Assembly. Of the bills passed, some have been signed into law by Governor Jared Polis, while others are awaiting his signature—those not signed or vetoed within 30 days of receipt will automatically become law. The individual status of each bill can be tracked through the provided hyperlinks.
Over the past several years and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer demand for disposable wipe products—including surface cleaning wipes, baby wipes, and personal hygiene wipes—has increased significantly. As a result, millions of wipes that were never designed to be flushed down a toilet end up clogging pipes and mechanical equipment, creating a host of public health issues, putting workers at risk, and causing costly problems for homeowners and public utilities. This problem is primarily due to lack of consumer understanding regarding the non-flushable nature of the majority of disposable wipe products. To respond to these challenges for local utilities and homeowners, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (ERWSD) spearheaded a legislative effort in the General Assembly, with the support of many communities across the state, including Littleton, Englewood, Boulder, Fort Collins, Pueblo, Montrose, Carbondale, Eagle, Gypsum, and Silverthorne.
The result was Senate Bill 150, which requires the labeling of packages of premoistened, nonwoven disposable wipes with the phrase “Do Not Flush.” The labeling requirement applies to manufacturers of a covered product that is sold or offered for sale in Colorado and wholesalers, suppliers, and retailers that are responsible for the labeling or packaging of a covered product. Senate Bill 150 specifies that a knowing or reckless violation of the requirements of the bill is a deceptive trade practice under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. These requirements will go into effect in Colorado as of December 31, 2023.
Senate Bill 270 provides that a stream restoration project designed and constructed within a natural stream system that is limited to certain minor restoration activities or has obtained any applicable permits or is under construction or completed by August 1, 2023: (1) does not cause material injury to any vested water right and (2) is not an unnecessary dam or other obstruction. This bill has passed the Senate and the House and is currently awaiting Governor Polis’ signature.
Senate Bill 270 generally exempts certain small stream restoration projects from the water court process. Holders of vested water rights, however, may challenge the assumption that a project will not cause injury to their water rights. Proponents of these stream restoration projects must provide notice to the public via the state’s Substitute Water Supply Plan notification list. Accordingly, if you or one of your clients holds a vested water right that may be injured by a qualifying stream restoration project, you should contact a water rights attorney to discuss your options.
Senate Bill 295 creates the Colorado River Drought Task Force to develop recommendations for state legislation that provides additional tools for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to collaborate with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, and other relevant stakeholders in the development of programs that address drought in the Colorado River basin and interstate commitments related to the Colorado River and its tributaries through conservation of the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries. The bill requires the task force to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the state and have experience with a wide range of water issues, and will include representatives selected by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to study tribal matters. This bill has passed the Senate and the House and is currently awaiting Governor Polis’ signature.
The first meeting is scheduled to occur no later than July 31, 2023. All task force meetings will be open to the public and at least one meeting will allow public testimony. The task force’s final report is to be submitted to the Legislature by December 15, 2023, and will include the task force’s formal recommendations, as well as discussion of recommendations that were not approved.
Since 1984, the Chatfield Watershed Authority (CWA), a consortium of local governments in the Chatfield State Park watershed, has been charged under state law with ensuring that Chatfield Reservoir meets its water quality standards under the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. To support these efforts, CWA led an effort to pass Senate Bill 267, which establishes a water quality fee to be paid by visitors to Chatfield State Park to support water quality improvement efforts by CWA. The bill has passed the Senate and the House and is currently awaiting Governor Polis’ signature.
Chatfield State Park is one of Colorado’s most-visited state parks, so Senate Bill 267 is a big win for park users and communities in the watershed. Michael Daugherty represents CWA.
For further information or questions about how these pieces of legislation might affect your water rights or projects, please contact:
Somach Simmons & Dunn provides the information in its Environmental Law & Policy Alerts and on its website for informational purposes only. This general information is not a substitute for legal advice, and users should consult with legal counsel for specific advice. In addition, using this information or sending electronic mail to Somach Simmons & Dunn or its attorneys does not create an attorney-client relationship with Somach Simmons & Dunn.
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