From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A former state Supreme Court justice who served as a water judge advocates more flexibility in water law as a way to preserve irrigated agriculture in Colorado. And some down-home schooling for water judges and justices.
“One of the challenges is to find a way to integrate the state engineer and water court into a framework that permits flexibility,” Rebecca Love Kourlis said during last week’s workshop on valuing agricultural water.
The workshop was hosted by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. Its goal was to provide policy makers with an economic basis for finding the true value of water used in farm settings.
State lawmakers today are not as connected to their farming roots as those who re-codified Colorado Water Law in 1969, said Kourlis, the daughter of former Colorado Gov. John A. Love and executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.
At the same time, Colorado has 13 water court judges or alternates and seven Supreme Court justices — just 20 people — to interpret the laws. So it is imperative that the judicial branch has a firm understanding of the needs of farmers when making water decisions.
“You in this room need to talk to water judges about the system. They need to know your concerns and have grounding,” Kourlis said.
She sparked some debate when she said that farmers and ranchers are wary of the court system and “avoid it at all costs.” One farmer replied that he sees the courts as a “safe haven” to protect his water rights, while a rancher said the cost of going to court for individual farmers is prohibitive. Colorado water law basically prohibits injury to other water rights in any change of use case, but engineering studies are expensive. Kourlis said those viewpoints need to be conveyed to judges and justices.
“The value of Colorado agriculture and the pivotal nature of water rights cannot be underestimated,” she said.
More water law coverage here.