A bill requiring large cities in Colorado to make plans to save water and limiting more homeowners associations from requiring water consuming plants passed its first legislative test.
Colorado Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Doug Linkhart, is touted as the main surviving water-conservation measure in the legislature. The bill was about to fail along party lines in a Senate committee, but Steamboat Springs Republican Sen. Jack Taylor joined Democrats in voting for it, passing the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 4-3 vote.
The bill bans any new requirements from municipalities or homeowners associations that would require thirsty bluegrass or other landscaping that uses a lot of water. However, Linkhart's bill allows communities already using such landscaping rules to keep them.
A similar provision in a House conservation bill led to its defeat.
Initially, Linkhart's proposal required all communities of 5,000 people or more to write plans showing how they will conserve 20 percent of their water.
It was amended to require such plans only of cities of 15,000 or more. Under the bill, unless they adopt such plans, cities will not get state grants for projects. A similar measure passed in 1991 for communities of 2,000 or more, but only about one-third of the required communities made the plans, Linkhart said.
Under the bill, the plans would require the cities to set targets, but there is no penalty for not meeting the standards.
"The bill is about big urban areas conserving water before they need more storage," said Linkhart, D-Denver, before the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
The bill is particularly significant this year because the legislature is considering a $10 billion proposal to set up a bonding authority for voter-approved water projects. Senate Bill 87 would require communities to set up the plans before applying for those bonds, Linkhart added.
Democrats from the Pueblo and Durango areas were concerned that Linkhart's bill would limit economic development in their areas and allow Colorado water to flow to other states. But they voted for the bill.
"I have a hard time encouraging my people not to use water so (people) in California can fill their pools," said Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus.
And conservation groups were concerned that raising the population threshold of affected towns from 5,000 to 15,000 would hurt conservation efforts.
"I'd like to see how many towns are now exempt, but this bill was designed for big urban areas," said Bart Miller of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.
Linkhart said the main opposition is the Colorado Municipal League that does not like the state requirements for local governments. But Linkhart added that the state has an interest in requiring cities to save water.