Colorado Makes Significant Strides in Advancing Water Security, Species Conservation, Pollution Reduction & Environmental Justice


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Colorado Makes Significant Strides in Advancing Water Security, Species Conservation, Pollution Reduction & Environmental Justice
Legislative Accomplishments
May 2024

The Second Regular Session of the 74th General Assembly proved to be another year showcasing the intrinsic value and priority the Colorado legislature places on our state’s natural resources. In partnership with legislative leaders, the state advanced landmark legislation that works to protect sensitive species and habitats, conserve land and water resources, and facilitate nation-leading, sustainable energy production that carves the path to meeting the goals of Colorado’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. In the face of dynamic energy economies, high-stake interstate water negotiations, habitat loss and associated species decline and extinction, the need for bold action continues, with significant strides made in the 2024 Colorado legislative session that position the state as a leader in solving some of the nation’s toughest natural resource challenges.

This year, the Colorado General Assembly approved a variety of strategies and almost $90 million in investments to equip the state with the tools and resources necessary to take on these challenges. These advancements will move Colorado into the future and towards our goal of developing, preserving, and enhancing our public lands, water, energy resources, and other natural resources in the state for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future residents and visitors.The Department of Natural Resources is proud to lead our state towards healthier forests and watersheds, a cleaner energy portfolio, and a more sustainable and accessible outdoor recreation economy that is core to many Colorado communities.

Protecting and Conserving our Water Resources 

HB24-1435, Colorado Water Conservation Board Annual Projects Bill
The General Assembly annually authorizes water projects from the Construction Fund and the Severance Tax Perpetual Base Fund. This year’s “CWCB Projects Bill” includes over $220M in funding for important CWCB Programs and Projects. This includes $23M in Water Plan Grant funding for water storage & supply, agricultural projects, engagement & innovation, conservation & land use planning, and watershed health & recreation; $2M for Turf Replacement Program; $2M for Innovative Water Forecasting; $4M for Drought Planning; $165M in loan funds for water supply projects; and $20M for Shoshone Water Right acquisition on the Colorado River.

SB24-005, Prohibition on Non-Functional Turf, Artificial Turf, and Invasive Plant Species
This bill will prevent a local government from installing, planting or placing or allowing any person to install, plant or place, any nonfunctional turf, artificial turf, or invasive plant species as part of any new project or development after January 2026. It also prevents the installation of non-functional turf at state facilities. This bill is a bold step in securing Colorado’s water future by helping our communities grow with water-efficient and climate resilient urban landscapes.

SB24-197, Colorado River Drought Task Force Water Conservation Measures 
This bill codifies the recommendations of the Colorado River Drought Task Force by expanding the ability to use reservoir water to restore environmental streamflow while protecting existing water rights, reducing or waiving the Water Plan Grant matching requirements for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and extending the Agricultural Water Rights Protection water-sharing tool statewide. It also provides abandonment protection for utility water rights in the Yampa Valley to preserve future clean energy development options and to promote a fair and Just Transition away from coal in Northwest Colorado.

Advancing Our Climate and Energy Goals and Reducing Pollution

HB24-1346, Energy & Carbon Management Regulation
This bill clarifies the authority the Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC) received last session over the injection and underground storage of carbon dioxide to include ancillary facilities. The bill also establishes the ownership of pore space in state law and creates a process to combine pore space owned by multiple parties. The bill provides additional enforcement abilities to the commission and charges the ECMC with evaluating the cumulative impacts. This bill continues to build on ECMC’s expertise in energy regulation to support the state’s climate and energy goals.

SB24-212, Local Govs Renewable Energy Projects
This bill provides local and tribal governments and industry with additional resources and support to make informed decisions about the design, siting and permitting of renewable energy projects. ECMC will provide technical support to local and tribal governments on the development of codes for renewable energy development and the review of individual projects. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will update Best Management Practices for renewable energy projects and tailor High Priority Habitat categories to the impacts of renewable energy projects. Finally, DNR will support the Colorado Energy Office’s work to evaluate the impacts of renewable energy projects on wildlife resources. The Department believes that expertise of staff in ECMC and CPW will contribute to meeting the state’s climate and energy goals and protect our wildlife resources.

SB24-230, Oil and Gas Production Fee
This is a major step forward for climate resiliency and biodiversity in Colorado. In order to partially offset oil and gas operations’ harm to lands and wildlife, it authorizes new fees on oil and gas production to fund comprehensive investments at Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). Investments will include creating new state parks and wildlife areas to protect habitats and ecosystems, slowing biodiversity loss and improving ecosystem resilience, improving wildlife connectivity and migration corridors, restoring lands and habitats, and continued research and monitoring of threats to Colorado wildlife. Fees will be paid quarterly by the oil and gas industry based on the volume of oil and gas produced, and the fee amount will be determined by the average price of oil and natural gas during the previous quarter. Revenue is likely to vary year-over-year. Based on the previous 5-year average, new CPW revenue would be $27.6M per year.

SB24-229, Ozone Mitigation Measures 
The bill makes significant strides to reduce air pollution in the state by improving  the oil and gas permitting process, strengthening ECMC’s enforcement authority, and codifying the State’s NOx Reduction Goals from oil and gas operations. The bill also provides additional protections for Disproportionately Impacted Communities (DICs), including by authorizing ECMC to hire at least 2 community liaisons to work directly with and advocate for disproportionately impacted communities. Finally, the bill expands the scope of the orphaned wells mitigation enterprise to help finance the plugging, reclamation, and remediation of marginal wells, with a focus on wells in DICs and near population centers.

HB24-1338, Cumulative Impacts & Environmental Justice
This bill initiated by the Department of Public Health & Environment creates the Office of Environmental Justice and directs for the development of two Environmental Equity and Cumulative Impact Analyses to support state agency analyses on cumulative impacts, among other provisions. The bill builds off of important work undertaken by the ECMC, the Division of Mining, Reclamation and Safety, and other Divisions across the Department all working to strengthen relationships with disproportionately impacted communities to advance shared natural resource and environmental justice goals.

Wildfire Mitigation and Forest Health

HB24-1024, Extend Outreach Campaigns Wildfire Risk Mitigation
This bill, initiated by the Wildfire Matters Review Interim Committee, continues the success of SB22-007, which created the Live Wildfire Ready Campaign, by extending the campaign through 2027. The outreach and education campaign garnered nearly 6 million impressions through radio, billboard, online, and printed ads in its first year in 2023 geared towards educating individual homeowners and giving them recommendations on how best to prepare their homes in the event of a wildfire.

HB24-1006, Assist Rural Community Wildfire-Related Grant App
This bill, initiated by the Wildfire Matters Review Interim Committee, creates a grant program to enable Non-Governmental Organizations to partner with rural counties to help access resources for wildfire mitigation work. Many smaller rural counties do not have staff capacity or expertise to identify and apply for grant opportunities, this bill will help those communities with fewer resources partner with experts in the field to strengthen opportunities to compete for state and federal grants.

Improving Science, Research & Conservation Efforts for Sensitive Species

SB24-171, Restoration of Wolverines
This DNR-initiated bill is a bipartisan effort to authorize CPW to restore the North American wolverine to Colorado’s landscape. Wolverines are a member of the weasel family and they were once native to Colorado before being extirpated in the early 1900s. Today, there are only about three to four hundred wolverines remaining in the lower 48 states. Colorado will be the first state to restore this incredibly rare species.

HB24-1117, Invertebrates & Rare Plants Parks and Wildlife Commission
As part of DNR’s goal to protect and enhance the state’s biodiversity, HB24-1117 directs CPW to conduct surveys of native invertebrate and rare plant species to develop population data and other biological and ecological information about distribution and habitat needs. This science and research will help us identify conservation measures to protect invertebrate and plant species, knowing the critical role they play in overall ecosystem health.

SB24-161, CPW Passes & Licenses
This DNR bill will allow us to get better hunting harvest data for white-tailed ptarmigan, greater sage-grouse, columbian sharp-tailed grouse, and other small game species, will make discounted CPW passes more accessible for seniors, income-eligible people, and disabled veterans, will clarify that Keep Colorado Wild revenue can be used for basic state park maintenance and infrastructure improvements, and take care of other needed clean up in CPW statutes.

SB24-199, Annual Species Conservation Trust Fund
This annual DNR department bill appropriates $5 million for research, study, and recovery programs dedicated to native species that are, or are likely to become, state or federally threatened or endangered. The bill funds aquatic and terrestrial wildlife conservation projects to protect and recover these sensitive species in Colorado, including $1,800,000 for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program; $1,700,000 for native terrestrial wildlife conservation; and $800,000 for native aquatic wildlife conservation.

Strengthening Outdoor Recreation Activities & Land Conservation

SB24-058, Landowner Liability Recreational Use Warning Signs
This bill adds landowner liability protections for landowners who allow for recreational use on their property.  Liability protections under the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (CRUS) are added through the use of signage which describes hazards which may be encountered on the property.  This bill will help restore public recreational access across private lands at locations where closures had been put in place by landowners with liability concerns.

SB24-126, Conservation Easement Income Tax Credit
This bill will remove the sunset date for the Conservation Easement Tax Credit Program, which provides willing landowners with tax credits in exchange for placing permanent conservation easements on their property.  The popularity of this program has led to annual requests for tax credits regularly exceeding the statutory cap of available credits.  This bill helps to meet unmet demand by increasing the available credits from $45 million per year to $50 million per year, and in doing so, will help to advance the conservation of critical fish and wildlife habitat, maintain working agricultural lands and advance DNR’s climate resiliency goals.

HB24-1257, Sunset Natural Areas Council
The Colorado Natural Areas Council is an advisory council to the Parks and Wildlife Commission that provides advice on the direction of the Colorado Natural Areas Program, which works to identify, evaluate, and protect specific examples of natural features and phenomena as enduring resources for present and future generations, through a statewide system of Designated Natural Areas.The Council recommends the designation of natural areas to the Parks and Wildlife Commission, and was scheduled to repeal on September 1, 2024. The bill continues the council for another 10 years.

Biodiversity, Water, State Parks and Wildlife Investments

HB24-1430, the Long Bill continued last year’s trend of investment in the Department of Natural Resources’ strongest asset--our human capital. 
Biodiversity (CPW and SLB) - $1.5 million cash funds and 13 FTE
- CPW Staffing to help with species conservation, aquatics, and land management
- Staff at State Land Board (SLB) to implement mitigation banking leasing and promote biodiversity enriching land stewardship practices 

Resources For Wildlife Management (CPW) - $3.4 million cash funds and 28 FTE
- Adds staff capacity including wildlife managers, aquatics and hatchery staff, K9 wildlife investigation teams, and a dam engineer to support the wildlife management     and habitat conservation goals of the Future Generations Act.

State Parks and Recreation Staffing (CPW and SLB) - $1 million cash funds and 8 FTE
- Staff capacity at CPW to support increased public use of AHRA, North Sterling, and Lake Pueblo State Parks
- Temporary staffing for Sweitzer Lake and Ridgway State Parks
- SLB staffing to support leasing opportunities for recreational use

Support for Colorado’s Water (CWCB and DWR) - $469,355 and 4 FTE
- Adds DWR River Operations Coordinators in the South Platte and Rio Grande Basins to administer complex water rights.  These additional positions will help support      ongoing viability of agriculture in the Rio Grande Basin, and new housing and renewable water supplies for new and existing housing in the South Platte Basin.
- Dedicates CWCB grant management staff to improve customer service and grant management efficiencies.