HB 121, as passed by the House Judiciary Committee (HJC), protects due process in water lease applications and also creates a new process for “expedited leases.” The bill creates a new tool for the State Engineer for certain leases to be fast-tracked while also ensuring the State Engineer may approve a lease application only after requirements for public notice, opportunity for protest, and mandatory public hearings are met. Water leases under a certain cap and timeframe are eligible for the expedited lease process.
The bill addresses the need for a lawful, expedited lease process. In recent years, the State Engineer was granting lease applications that skipped due process requirements through “preliminary approval.” This practice has been deemed unlawful by a District Court ruling and a recent Attorney General Opinion. The process outlined in HB 121 (as amended by HJC) is the result of a compromise with the State Engineer.
It is vital to to have transparency in any applications that could affect existing and senior water rights, as well as our rivers and aquifers. HB 121 ensures that communities potentially impacted by water leases are provided with public notice and due process protections.
HB 121 HJC CS Water Lease Due Process Protections Handout FINAL1