Bipartisan dredging and fill legislation gains support in the Colorado Senate

Lindsey Toomer

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

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

The bill would create a permitting program under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for dredging and filling activities that impact state waters, including streams, rivers and wetlands, with various exceptions related to certain activities, particularly those 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, which means states must enact new regulations if they want to protect these waters.

House sponsors Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon, and Republican Karen McCormick, a Democrat from Longmont, pushed 23 amendments through the House before the bill moved to the Senate.

The Senate bill, which Kirkmeyer originally supported, sought to place the permit program under the purview of the Department of Natural Resources and further limit the waters covered by the program. He is currently a co-author of the House of Representatives bill, while the Senate bill will not be the subject of further discussion this session.

One of the final amendments in the Senate Finance Committee led many organizations that initially supported the Senate version of the bill to support the House bill. Sen. Dylan Roberts, Friso’s Democratic and House sponsor of the bill, said the amendment is “crucial” to the overall support the bill currently enjoys.

This amendment clarifies that permits are subject to guidelines set forth in the Clean Water Act and states that future administrations cannot limit those guidelines, Roberts stated. Roberts said this was intended to avoid confusion that occurred earlier when Clean Water Act rules changed depending on who was in the White House and what his administration preferred.

“We want to establish where we are in Colorado so that we can provide certainty and not make any more changes,” Roberts told the Senate Finance Committee.

Roberts said the amendment also adds clarification on stream restoration, inclusion of existing projects and allowances for flexibility and maintenance of irrigation ditches. The amendment also requires CDPHE to submit quarterly reports to the Legislature to the Joint Budget Committee on program progress.

“We don’t want arrears in issuing permits. We don’t want things to slow down,” Kirkmeyer said. “We want to ensure that the Joint Budget Committee will need to provide additional funding, if necessary, to ensure that it has the resources necessary to successfully implement this program. That’s what we want to do.”

Kirkmeyer told Newsline that she and Roberts met with stakeholders, including the health department, environmental groups, the Colorado Water Congress and those who would have to implement the permit program, “and we worked it out and reached an agreement.”

“Are there things in there that they wish were a little different?” Kirkmeyer said. “Yes, but everyone has to do their part when we’re trying to accomplish something that will protect our streams and wetlands and water resources here in the state of Colorado, and that’s what we did.”

The House will have to approve Senate amendments to the bill before it goes to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.