Glen Fritzler, who runs the popular and nationally known Fritzler Corn Maze will be hosting a meeting of farmers and local officials this Thursday to discuss the concerns of rising groundwater and government restrictions on its usage to water their crops in the midst of an historic drought. The meeting will be held at the Fritzler farm located at 20861 CR 33 in LaSalle this Thursday, June 7 at 10:00 a.m. Organizers are encouraging anyone affected by the issue to attend the meeting. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Eaton are expected to attend, along with water experts and local producers and residents…
Many farmers in the area are facing the real possibility they could lose their crops this year due to a lack of available water from the South Platte following a lower than average snowpack last year. Some fields remain dry and farmers are having difficulty getting their crops to sprout to due to the water shortage…
Fritzler said what is so maddening is while the crops are suffering from a lack of water, the solution is literally right beneath their feet. In the years following the shutdown of the wells, the groundwater has since risen to where basements are now being flooded, septic systems are overflowing and there is a real danger to fields being destroyed because of high salt content. The volume of water discharged into the artificial recharge systems in the South Platte basin has since increased, reaching over 350,000 acre feet in 2009. Fritzler said over the past two years he has spent over $50,000 in basement repairs because of the water damage. When he noticed several of the leach fields on houses he owns on his farm were beginning to overflow, he contacted Northern Colorado Geotech, which conducts soil and percolation testing. Doug Leafgren, president of the organization sent Fritzler a letter advising him they had been observing higher groundwater levels during their subsurface investigations in the county over the past 4 or 5 years.
While the farmers have been trying to get relief for years, their efforts have often been stymied by the large such as Boulder and Denver who often have high paid lawyers at taxpayer expense [ed. in Denver the lawyers are paid by Denver Water ratepayers] who have vigorously fought any attempt to even study the issue. “These lawyers are paid for by the taxpayer and we as farmers are fighting them by having to pay out of our own pocket for our legal expenses. There is no way we can compete with that,” Hoshiko said.
The Colorado Statesman (Peter Marcus) is running an article about the initiatives. So far the proponents have little organization or money to get on the ballot according to the article. Here’s an excerpt:
Hamilton says Colorado law is already explicit in that the public owns the water in the state, and not the state itself. The goal of the initiatives is to amend that law to adopt a public trust doctrine in legislative, executive and judicial affairs to protect the ownership interests of the people. “You may use that water… but when you return that back to the public streams, you can’t load it up with crap, or burden it with chemistries, or ruin its temperature,” said Hamilton, who has raised concerns over uranium and other elements from mining activities ending up in Colorado streams…
“Who will watch the watchers themselves?” he asked. “This would force accountability on state government… If they crap in the water, the people of the State of Colorado have a right to say, ‘We’re going to curtail and minimize your use until you clean your act up.’”
Hamilton and proponents have begun collecting signatures to place the initiatives on the November ballot. Proponents must submit 86,105 valid signatures to the secretary of state by Aug. 6 in order to qualify for the ballot. The petition format was only approved on May 14, so proponents have only just begun collecting signatures and developing a plan.
Proponents have registered an issue committee, Protect Colorado Water, to advance their efforts. The registered agent is river conservationist Phil Doe, who is representing the initiatives along with Hamilton. So far, the issue committee has only filed a $100 contribution from Be the Change — USA, described as a Lakewood-based grassroots political organization dedicated to promoting progressive issues…
“It subjects every water right that we have in the state to being reconsidered, or curtailed, or denied entirely based on a determination of what’s in the public’s good,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress, which is opposing the initiatives along with the Colorado Water Conservation Board — part of the Department of Natural Resources — and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
Opponents point out that water frequently does not naturally exist in Colorado, and therefore government must step in to divert sufficient quantities to sustain human settlement and enterprise in Colorado. Critics say the state’s current appropriation system is “fair” and “orderly,” proving to be “flexible” and “successful.”
“The adoption of either of these initiatives would result in takings of private and public water rights that Coloradans rely on for beneficial uses for health and human safety as well as economic benefit,” states a resolution adopted by the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board has raised separate concerns about impacting more than 150 years of court opinions and legislation governing water rights. Kemper shares those concerns. “If you go down that path, then you turn 150 years of water law on its head, you just turn it upside down,” he said.
More coverage from Heather Hansen writing on the Red Lodge Clearing House blog. From the post:
…two motivated Coloradans have made news recently with controversial proposals to amend the state constitution, in a way that would dramatically change water management in the state. Phil Doe of Littleton and Richard Hamilton of Fairplay have introduced Public Trust Initiatives #3 and #45…
The first measure would apply the common-law doctrine of “public trust” to water rights, and make “public ownership of such water legally superior to water rights, contracts, and property law.” Initiative 3 would also grant unrestricted public access to natural streams and their banks.
The second measure proposes to amend Article XVI, Section 6 of the state constitution, which talks about the diversion of un-appropriated waters of natural streams. Initiative 45 seeks to limit, and possibly prohibit, stream diversions that would “irreparably harm the public ownership interest in water.”
Proponents of the initiatives insist that we’re at a crossroads in water control in this state, and that preparation for the future demands of, for example, climate change and fracking, require that a stand be taken for public governance of our most valuable natural resource. Opponents counter that the initiatives are a slash-and-burn assault on consumptive uses, such as agriculture, and that they would invalidate prior, vested waters rights, which have been in place since Colorado became a state.
I tend to agree with the latter if only because the initiatives aim to drain the baby with the bathwater but, what’s spot on about them, and what’s wrong with water allocation in Colorado compared to every other Western state, is that the public interest is not well represented in water law here, and it needs to be improved…
Water is our deliverance in the West, but it can also imprisons us, and establishing a new give-and-take that considers the public foremost will not be easy. But it is possible.
From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Doug Kemper):
The proponents of the Public Trust Doctrine Initiatives #3 and #45 are in the process of collecting signatures to get the initiatives on the November ballot. They have created a website (http://protectcoloradowater.org/), formed a campaign committee, and are soliciting funds and volunteers to support the effort.
We will have a workshop on the initiatives on June 18 from 1:30 to 4:30 at the offices of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in Westminster. Please see the [this flyer] for details.
You are invited to attend the workshop. Seating will be limited and attendees must register in advance for the workshop. To register to attend in person, click on the following link: Attend In Person
More 2012 Colorado November Election coverage here.
You will also have an option of attending the meeting via GoToWebinar. To register for the Webinar, click on the following link: Attend via Webinar
In a rare departure from tradition, there will be no charge for the workshop!
I met Ed Quillen via email in 2007 when he asked me if I’d be interested in writing a column about water issues for Colorado Central Magazine. I was jazzed that he would consider me as a freelancer. I had read his columns in The Denver Post for years and admired his analysis of current events and insight into Colorado’s history. It seems now that he never failed to make me laugh, often out loud, as I read his stuff.
I never asked him how he came to the decision to reach out to me, I always assumed that he had stumbled on Coyote Gulch while searching for water news on the Internet. I remember asking him in email, after I had told him that I’d love to be part of his magazine, “Is this a paying gig?”
Ed replied, “Colorado Central pays a nickel a word, often late.”
I finally met Ed in person at a Colorado Central potluck in October of 2010. I recognized him of course and said, “Hi, I’m John Orr.”
Ed stated, matter-of-factly, “The water guy.” That label meant more to me that he’ll ever know. As the Indian Summer afternoon wound down in the Quillen back yard I realized that most people there genuinely liked Ed and all were proud to be his friend. A few talked about what a pillar of the community he was.
At last year’s potluck I complimented him on his writing style and the use of humor to make a point. He told me, “I can’t sit down and tell you how I do it, it just comes.”
If there is a heaven I believe that Ed is probably rattling around in the mountains there driving an old Volkswagen bus just as he and Martha did in Colorado early in their marriage.