DENVER – Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango on Wednesday found herself at odds with fellow Republicans who opposed a water-conservation bill she is sponsoring.
The measure – which would offer free training to local governments on water-conservation practices – still made it out of the Republican-controlled Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, thanks to Democrats who joined Roberts in supporting the bill. Roberts is a member of the committee.
Senate Bill 8 passed by a vote of 5-4. The measure now heads to appropriations to discuss its $50,000 price tag for the upcoming fiscal year that will begin in July. That cost will drop to $13,600 during the next fiscal year.
Roberts introduced the measure after a more ambitious attempt failed last year. The measure in the last session would have limited the size of new lawns in an effort to conserve water. That measure faced fierce opposition, so she amended the bill to require a study of water-conservation practices.
This year’s SB 8 was vetted by the Water Resources Review Committee, which recommended the bill for introduction.
“This bill is a small step, but a small step forward, for us to recognize the precious and limited nature of water in the state of Colorado,” Roberts told the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.
She pointed out that the bill has no mandate. It simply allows local governments to voluntarily utilize the training programs.
But other Republicans on the committee expressed fears that the measure would lead to future mandates on local governments.
Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, asked a spokesman for the Colorado Municipal League whether he thought the bill was a “mandate creep” on the part of Roberts.
But even the Colorado Municipal League, a trade group for municipalities that opposes most bills with local government mandates, supported the measure.
“I always see mandate creep, but nothing gets past you if you’re paranoid,” joked Kevin Bommer, deputy director for CML. “That is always a danger. ... But I don’t see this bill going in that direction.”
Donna Brosemer, spokeswoman for Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department, was the only municipality to oppose the measure.
“Part of our concern is that what begins as a legislative encouragement gradually has the potential to slide into a legislative mandate. That makes us a little uncomfortable,” Brosemer said.
But The Colorado Water Congress, of which Greeley is a member, said its State Affairs Committee supported the measure. The Water Congress represents various water interests in the state.
“Certainly, water conservation is a key part of our water planning, and the approach to demand management is a key factor in looking at water supply and adequacy thereof,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Water Congress.
Roberts said after the vote she was disappointed by the close tally.
“When I have CML supporting the bill at the table, then that sends a very strong message,” Roberts said. “It was said last year that we could never accomplish getting CML together on the issue of water conservation, and this proves those folks wrong.”
There has often been tension between eastern and western Colorado lawmakers over water, especially as it pertains to sharing resources. But Roberts hoped that a voluntary water-conservation training program would bring all sides together.
“At the very grass-roots level, people are not only asking questions, but they’re demanding a higher level of accountability for water conservation,” Roberts said, pointing to meetings across the state to speak with constituents on water issues.
The future of her measure remains uncertain, and Roberts acknowledged it has a difficult journey ahead.
“This topic is a challenging topic,” she said. “I don’t expect it to be a walk in the park.”