Water from Colorado rivers is more important than ever before for health and safety. As handwashing is a primary defense against the novel coronavirus pandemic, our connection to clean, reliable water is vital. Our lives have been upended and rearranged with the backdrop of COVID-19.
On March 14th the Colorado legislature suspended operations due to COVID-19. The state constitution requires the legislature to conclude its work after 120 days. There was dispute about whether the 120 days needed to be consecutive or not. In early April, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that Colorado lawmakers do not have to meet for 120 consecutive days during a public health emergency. So, lawmakers will be returning to work on May 18 for the 53 remaining days available to them.
Legislative priorities will be very different than when lawmakers left. The state economic picture is not looking good and legislative priorities will shift based on revenues available. An essential task for legislators still to come this session is to set the state budget for next year. This will be unique and challenging. Colorado lawmakers are looking at how to close a $3 billion budget shortfall.
However, we do have a very bright spot to celebrate! After a multi-year, multi-stakeholder effort from Audubon, partners, and other stakeholders to expand Colorado’s existing program to loan water to the environment, an instream flow bill (HB20-1157) passed both the House and the Senate and garnered wide bipartisan support.
On March 20th, thanks in part to more than 1,450 Audubon network members who sent letters to their legislators in support of this bill, Governor Polis signed this bill into law.
During this interrupted legislative session we saw another bill to authorize the Colorado Water Conservation Board to use augmentation water for instream flows (HB20-1037) pass both chambers and get signed into law. Another bill to study the strengthening of water anti-speculation law also passed. However, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s “Projects Bill,” which allocates funds to implement Colorado’s Water Plan, has not been introduced yet. We expect to see the “Projects Bill” introduced after the legislature reconvenes. We have welcome water victories to celebrate and an eye on the horizon for additional opportunities to work with priority bills.
Even in an unequaled human health crisis, rivers endure, as will the work of Audubon Rockies. We—people and birds alike—rely on our healthy watersheds. Those natural systems continue to provide us with clean water and clean air during these critical times. As snowpack turns to river flow, birds are migrating and nature is still happening.
We are all eager to get back to our normal lives. We will get past this. As we navigate these uncharted waters, please take care of yourself, your families, neighbors, and community