2014 Colorado November election: Will the Public Trust Doctrine issue make the ballot this fall?

Justian I first codifier of riparian rights
Justian I first codifier of riparian rights

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Water initiatives that could have a significant impact on the San Luis Valley are still awaiting Colorado Supreme Court decisions before moving forward to the November ballot box. Still awaiting the higher court’s direction are two initiatives Initiatives 89 and 103 that advocate the Public Trust Doctrine, which would present a radical change from the current water administration throughout the state.

Another ballot initiative, Initiative 75, has already passed through the higher court and now has the green light to collect signatures to place it on the 2014 ballot. Although not directly related to water issues, Initiative 75, the Right to Local Self-Government , could affect water developments and investments. It drew a court challenge from the business community.

The ballot title states: “An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning a right to local self-government , and, in connection therewith, declaring that the people have an inherent right to local self-government in counties and municipalities , including the power to enact laws to establish and protect fundamental rights of individuals, communities, and nature and the power to define or eliminate the rights and powers of corporations or business entities to prevent them from interfering with those fundamental rights; and declaring that such local laws are not subject to preemption by any federal, state, or international laws.”

Initiative 75 was just one of more than 100 separate initiatives proposed or re-proposed this year. Eleven have been cleared so far to begin the signature-gathering process , and another 34 are still pending before the Colorado Supreme Court.

Those include Initiatives 89 and 103.

The Colorado Water Stewardship Project challenged the title-setting process for Initiatives 89 (Local Government Regulation of Environment ) and 103 (Public Trust Resources), arguing that the proposed initiatives did not meet the requirement of a single title.

These initiatives promote the Public Trust Doctrine. Since the 1800’s Colorado has operated under the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, rather than the Public Trust Doctrine, so passage of these amendments could radically change the way water is administered in the state. Public Trust Doctrine holds that natural resources such as water are common property, while the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation operates under the principle that the first to put the water to use has priority over subsequent water users on that stream.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs has described The Public Trust Initiative as dropping “what amounts to a nuclear bomb on Colorado water rights and land rights.”

Initiative 89’s ballot title is: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning a public right to Colorado’s environment, and, in connection therewith, declaring that Colorado’s environment is the common property of all Coloradans; specifying that the environ- ment includes clean air, pure water, and natural and scenic values and that state and local governments are trustees of this resource; requiring state and local governments to conserve the environment; and declaring that if state or local laws conflict the more restrictive law or regulation governs?”

Initiative 103’s ballot titles is: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning public ownership of natural and environmental resources, and, in connection therewith , creating a public trust in those resources, which include clean air, clean water, and the preservation of the environment and natural resources; requiring the state, as trustee, to conserve and maintain public trust resources by using the best science available to protect them against any substantial impairment, regardless of any prior federal, state, or local approval; seeking natural resource damages from anyone who substantially impairs them, and using damages obtained to remediate the impairment; allowing Colorado citizens to file enforcement actions in court; requiring anyone who is proposing an action or policy that might substantially impair public trust resources to prove that the action or policy is not harmful; and criminalizing the manipulation of data, reports, or scientific information in an attempt to use public trust resources for private profit?”

The Colorado Water Stewardship Project is supporting legal actions before the Colorado Supreme Court regarding these initiatives, and the higher court is expected to rule on these appeals before July.

In the meantime The Colorado Water Stewardship Project is continuing to bring awareness to these initiatives and what they could mean to the water community throughout the state.

About 70 groups ranging from municipal utilities and the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry to conservation and conservancy districts have approved resolutions opposing the Public Trust Doctrine.

San Luis Valley entities that have passed resolutions include: San Luis Valley Irrigation District, Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and the Commonwealth Irrigation Company.

If the Colorado Supreme Court confirms the contested ballot titles and their proponents receive the green light to proceed with acquiring signatures, they would have to collect 86,105 valid registered voters’ signatures to get these initiatives on the ballot this fall. The deadline to collect those signatures and turn them in to the Secretary of State’s office would be August 4.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage <a href="

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