Keeping Colorado mussel free

musselHB 18-1008 recently passed a key hurdle by passing out of the Senate Finance committee on a 4-1 vote. A product of the Water Resources Review Committee, the legislation  helps to ensure continued funding of Colorado Aquatic Nuisance Species program (ANS) and protection of the state’s lakes and reservoirs. The program was first implemented in 2008 to prevent the introduction of zebra and quagga mussels by inspecting watercraft before they enter our waterways.

Due to the volatility surrounding Colorado’s severance tax revenue in recent years, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife determined that using this revenue as it primary funding source left the program vulnerable and unable to confront the very real dangers an infestation might cause. The Mussel-Free Colorado Act provides a stable funding source of $2.4 million for the ANS program every year by requiring boat owners to purchase an ANS stamp ($25 for residents and $50 for non-residents).

After quagga mussel larvae were discovered in Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County last summer, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, state legislators, and local governments across the state acquired a heightened sense of urgency regarding the safety of our waterways and water infrastructure from these invasive species.

Zebra and quagga mussels are not native to the nation’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs and are considered our most serious aquatic nuisance species threat. They cause enormous problems for municipal water infrastructure by attaching to, clogging and impairing water storage, treatment and distribution systems.

Thus far, Colorado’s reservoirs have been able to resist a mussel infestation thanks largely to this vigorous inspection program. In states where infestations have occurred, controlling the damage that mussels inflict on municipal infrastructure becomes a permanent and expensive part of normal operations costing millions of dollars annually.

Without this important program municipalities and municipal water providers will be placed in the very difficult position of risking an infestation in its reservoirs or closing them off to recreational boaters entirely. With the recreational boating community contributing over $800 million to Colorado’s economy each year and much of those dollars going directly back to cities and towns in close proximity to these reservoirs – neither is a good option.

Fortunately, HB 18-1008 has received broad bipartisan support in both chambers of the general assembly with both parties acknowledging the importance of this program. CML will continue to support the legislation going forward and expects to see the legislation on the Governor’s desk in the next couple of weeks.

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Modernizing Colorado 811

A significant stakeholder effort that began shortly after the 2017 legislative session led to the recently introduction of SB 18-167 to modernize Colorado’s 811 Call-Before-You-Dig Program. The program was created to prevent personal injury and property damage resulting from unintentionally harming underground facilities and utilities during excavation.

Due to a number of extenuating circumstances, there has been a concerted effort to transform Colorado 811 into a true one-call program in recent years. Currently, Colorado is the only state in the country that does not have a notification program that alerts all relevant facility owners when a locate request has been received.

SB 18-167 would eliminate Colorado’s tiered membership provisions after a two-year phase in period, to ensure all facility owners are receiving locate requests directly from 811. The bill would also create a 12-member safety commission with broad oversight and enforcement authority over the 811 program.  The commission would be composed of representatives from local government, facility owners, excavators and the CEO of the Notification Association.

CML sees a number of upsides to the current proposal, including the improved public safety and enhanced protection of municipal infrastructure. However,  we have also shared concerns about how this new safety commission would oversee municipal utilities and the cost of the transition for some of our member municipalities.

Last fall, the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities (CAMU) objected to the prospect of a municipality being regulated by a state designated safety commission that they assert would have been an unconstitutional delegation of authority reserved to home rule municipalities and their respective utilities. Other municipalities have raised concerns that the changes would inundate their offices with an overwhelming number of locate requests that could cost municipal utilities hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

To address these issues, CML has advocated for exemption language in the bill to exclude municipalities from the commission’s oversight authority in exchange for a requirement that they implement their own set of enforcement guidelines. We are also in the process of negotiating an amendment to give the safety commission a more prominent role in increasing the efficiency of 811 and implementing new policies that will help save facility owners and excavators valuable time and money over the long-term.

SB18-167 recently passed the Senate Transportation Committee on a 4-1 vote and will have to go through the Senate Finance and Senate Appropriations Committees before it goes before the full Senate.  CML will continue to monitor the legislation, on which the League is now neutral, and ensure that the final result will be positive for Colorado’s cities and towns.