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Bipartisan dredge and fill regulations get Colorado Senate approval

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Lindsey Toomer

(Colorado Newsline) The Colorado Senate unanimously approved a now-bipartisan bill that will implement new protections for waters left vulnerable by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the reach of the Clean Water Act.

While the Colorado Legislature initially considered competing bills creating different permitting programs, Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer, a Weld County Republican and original sponsor of Senate Bill 24-127, joined the Democratic sponsors of House Bill 24-1379 following negotiations.

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A fly fisherman makes a cast at sunset in the Maroon Bells wilderness near Aspen, Colorado. © iStock - Matt Dirksen

The bill would create a permitting program under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for dredge and fill activities that impact state waters including streams, rivers and wetlands, with a variety of exemptions related to certain activities, particularly involving agriculture.

Following the 2023 Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency ruling, many small streams and wetlands are no longer covered by the Clean Water Act, meaning states need to introduce new regulations if they want to protect those waters.

House sponsors Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, and Representative Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat, pushed through 23 amendments on the House floor before the bill made it to the Senate.

The Senate bill, which Kirkmeyer originally supported, intended to house the permitting program under the Department of Natural Resources and further limit which waters were subject to the program. She now is a co-sponsor for the House bill, while the Senate bill is no longer scheduled for further discussion this session.

One final amendment in the Senate Finance Committee brought many of the organizations that initially favored the Senate version of the bill to support the House bill. Senator Dylan Roberts, a Friso Democrat and House bill sponsor, said the amendment was “crucial” in getting the overall support the bill now has.

That amendment clarifies that permits are subject to guidelines established in the Clean Water Act and says those guidelines cannot be reduced by future administrations, Roberts said. Roberts said this is to avoid the confusion that’s come up previously as Clean Water Act provisions have changed based on who is in the White House and what their administration prefers.

“We want to set in place where we are in Colorado so that we can give assurance and no more changes,” Roberts said to the Senate Finance Committee.

Roberts said the amendment also adds clarification on stream restoration, grandfathering existing projects, and flexibility and maintenance allowances for irrigation ditches. The amendment also requires CDPHE to report to the Legislature with quarterly reports to the Joint Budget Committee on how the program is going.

“We don’t want a backlog of permits. We don’t want things to get slowed down,” Kirkmeyer said. “We want to make sure that the Joint Budget Committee, if necessary, needs to do some additional funding to make sure that they have the resources necessary to be successful with this program, that’s what we want to do.”

Kirkmeyer said she and Roberts sat down with stakeholders including the health department, environmental groups, the Colorado Water Congress and those who will have to implement the permit program “and we hammered it out and we got to an agreement.”

“Are there things in there maybe that they wish were a little bit different?” Kirkmeyer said. “Yes, but everybody’s got to give when we’re trying to get to something to ensure that we protect our streams and wetlands and our water resources here in the state of Colorado, and that’s what we did.”

The House will need to approve the Senate amendments on the bill before it goes to Governor Jared Polis for a signature.

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