Joe Neguse, Ken Buck

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., left, and Ken Buck, R-Colo.

U.S. Reps. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican, and Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, on Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation to let irrigation, reservoir and water companies improve their infrastructure without raising rates or jeopardizing their tax-exempt states.

“Farmers and ranchers should be able to maintain and develop their water infrastructure without being penalized for it," Buck said in a statement. "The WATER Act will replace a burdensome restriction with a beneficial solution that will support America’s rural communities.”

The Water and Agriculture Tax Reform Act — dubbed the WATER Act — passed the House unanimously in 2018 but stalled in the Senate. This year, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, and Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican, are introducing companion legislation in the Senate.

Under current law, if more than 15% of certain rural water companies' revenue comes from sources other than members — like recreational leases or crossing fees — the companies risk losing tax-exempt status, the lawmakers said. If that happens, farmers, ranchers and communities must cover costs with higher assessments.

The bill would exclude some types of revenue from the threshold if the revenue is used for operations and maintenance.

Said Neguse: "This legislation will cut red tape and is a commonsense measure to support Colorado ranchers and farmers.”

Bennet called the bill particularly important amid the drought that is gripping the West.

"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," he said in a statement.

Co-sponsors include U.S. Reps. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat, and Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican.

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