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The Hayward Hill portion of the Bowen Ditch was created with hand-built rock walls. Records show construction began in the late 1860s. Photo by Dierdre Wait.

Bennet, Buck, and Neguse Cooperate to Introduce The WATER Act

Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet alongside U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Colorado U.S. Representatives Ken Buck and Joe Neguse introduced the Water and Agriculture Tax Reform (WATER) Act. This bipartisan legislation reforms outdated tax provisions that hinder investment in needed agricultural infrastructure projects. It preserves tax-exempt status for mutual ditch, irrigation, and water companies that invest in maintenance and infrastructure improvements.

“As they face a 1,200 year mega-drought, farmers and ranchers in the West now more than ever are relying on water infrastructure to keep their land productive,” said Bennet. “Our bipartisan legislation helps ensure ditch and irrigation companies in Colorado and across the West are able to keep critical water infrastructure in good, working condition.”

“Thanks to skyrocketing costs, Idaho’s farmers and ranchers are being asked to pay more for everything—including maintaining and operating an aging water infrastructure system,” said Crapo. “This bill provides the necessary updates to tax code to meet water use needs in the West.”

“Farmers and ranchers in rural Colorado play a critical role in our country’s agriculture industry. They should never be penalized for maintaining and developing their own water infrastructure,” said Buck. “The WATER Act will reduce the cost of water by cutting the burdensome red tape that acts as a barrier to water infrastructure improvements.”

“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the WATER Act, a bill to support local farmers, ranchers, and communities across Colorado maintain their water infrastructure,” said Neguse. “This bill will cut red tape and ensure access to critical water resources for our rural communities.”

The cost of maintaining and operating aging water infrastructure has skyrocketed. This has made it impossible for many mutual ditch, irrigation, or water companies in Colorado and across the country to operate solely on member income.

The aftermath of wildfires and the flooding that can follow can also cause major financial hardship. Federal recovery funds can be used for new infrastructure, but there is no funding available for ranchers and farmers to repair their existing infrastructure, including what is often extensive ditch repairs.

As companies have been unable to meet the 85-percent source requirement, many have been forced to put off critical infrastructure improvements, while a number of others have lost their tax-exempt status.

This legislation would allow mutual water storage and delivery companies to maintain their tax-exempt status, even if they receive more than 15 percent of their revenue from non-member sources, as long as the monies are reinvested into maintenance, operations, and infrastructure improvements.

In addition to Bennet, Crapo, Buck, and Neguse, this bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). The bill is also supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation.