“We are more connected than we’d like to admit” — Travis Smith (from the film “The Great Divide“)
The Colorado Water Congress folks have released the Wednesday workshop schedule for the Annual Convention. Here’s the email from Doug Kemper:
Colorado water community:
Wednesday Workshops Program
I am pleased to announce the program for the Wednesday Workshops on January 25 at the 2017 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center is now posted on CWC’s website. To view, click HERE. There are 25 opportunities for connecting with your colleagues as you learn about the latest happenings in Colorado water.
Annual Convention Program
The main program for the Convention is being built and should be ready next week. Our theme for the Annual Convention is Connectivity. We will go live with the new Colorado Water Congress Strategic Plan and link members with the future direction of our organization.
Flowing from the 2015 member survey, we learned that our outlook must be toward helping members feel connected to the Colorado Water Congress and engaged with our work to protect the interests of Colorado’s water community. And that is our goal!
The top thing that we will work on in 2017 is our communications. We will launch a new Communications Standing Committee at the Convention. Expressing your thoughts as to what you would like to see occur in this dynamic age of communications will be very helpful.
Annual Convention Registration
To receive the standard 10% early registration discount, register by December 31, 2016. Register for the Convention here – 2017 AC Registration
For room reservations at the Hyatt Regency DTC, please visit
From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Doug Kemper):
Excitement continues to build for our 2014 Summer Conference and Membership Meeting. It will be held at the Westin Snowmass Resort, August 20-22. Our theme this year is “Rallying Our Water Community.” To register please visit: Conference Registration.
We will know in a couple of weeks if enough signatures have been gathered to place Initiative 89, Local Government Regulation of the Environment, on the 2014 Ballot. Whether it does or not, the water community will need to develop a greater public presence on these issues. Our conference is designed to help develop your advocacy skills and knowledge base.
We want to ensure we are focused on our member’s priorities when the Water Congress Board sets our priorities this fall. Summer Conference activities are designed to give you the opportunity to provide direct input to our leadership. We hope that you will take this chance to engage with us.
Our exciting program will again include a session with the Water Resources Review Committee. Additional honored guests include both Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House Third District, and Attorney General. Don’t miss this chance to catch up with colleagues and meet new community members during our POND networking activities.
Highlights of our unique program sessions include:
Strategies for Finding Your Voice
Do you have adequate tools to advocate on behalf of Colorado’s water community? Practice conveying your message with other attendees and workshop leaders.
Senator Udall, Congressman Gardner, Congressman Tipton, and Former State Senator Tapia
We are pleased to host candidates for some of our top political offices as they address issues of keen importance to Colorado’s water community.
Costs of Doing the Right Thing
As we plan for our water allocation in the future, we rarely examine the full social and economic costs, including burdens on individual ratepayers. This panel will examine those costs, along with a brief overview of other economic challenges currently faced by Colorado water providers.
For 100 years, the L.A. Aqueduct has been the source of legend and controversy. Today, drought imperils much of California’s water supply. How is Los Angeles handling the drought within the confines of a Public Trust Doctrine?
Mitigation for Transbasin Diversion
Past Aspinall Water Leaders will discuss historic transbasin water projects and their mitigation. What can we learn from the past?
We are looking forward to seeing you in Snowmass, August 20-22. Additional conference information and registration can be found at: Conference Information.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):
Which is more important: The public’s enjoyment of healthy streams, or preserving private property rights and agriculture? Do we really have to choose?
Questions swirling around proposed ballot initiatives that assert public rights to Colorado’s water and environment reflect broader tensions between public and private rights that are inherent in our democracy, as well as changing public values regarding natural resources.
The U.S. Constitution barely mentions water, but the Colorado Constitution has an entire article (16) on “Mining and Irrigation,” which provides the underpinnings of Colorado water law. In summary:
• Water in streams is owned by the public: “The water of every natural stream, not heretofore appropriated, within the state of Colorado, is hereby declared to be the property of the public, and the same is dedicated to the use of the people of the state …”
• At the same time, individuals’ rights to take water out of a stream to use it are assured: “The right to divert the unappropriated waters of any natural stream to beneficial uses shall never be denied.” Further details explain that “priority of appropriation shall give the better right…” In other words, first in time, first in right.
• Rights of way have to be provided to move water from a stream to where it’s needed: “All persons and corporations shall have the right-of-way across public, private and corporate lands for the construction of ditches, canals and flumes for the purpose of conveying water … upon payment of just compensation.”
These provisions reflect the necessity of access to water from streams for life and livelihoods in semi-arid Colorado and, according to legal scholar David Schorr, a desire to prevent that access from being controlled by a privileged few. This is a very democratic kind of desire.
Over the last 100-plus years, public values related to water have become more complicated. We all still want to drink water and eat food, but water in streams for recreation and a healthy environment have also become high priorities. And sometimes water taken out of streams to serve those long-established values of domestic use, agriculture and industry, and the livelihoods related to them, ends up leaving streams depleted and unhealthy.
The constitution clearly provides for taking water out of streams, but gives no direction about when water should be left in. The General Assembly passed laws allowing water rights to be filed for environmental and recreational purposes, but most of these rights are very junior to others and vulnerable to going unmet.
Proposed ballot initiatives to establish public rights in water and the environment seek to reverse the priority of these values. Initiative 103, “Public Trust Resources,” which focused on water, was derailed from its track to the ballot by the Supreme Court, but Initiative 89, “Local Government Regulation of Environment,” was cleared for signature collection.
Initiative 89 would amend Colorado’s constitution by asserting that Colorado citizens “have a right to Colorado’s environment, including its clean air, pure water and natural and scenic values.” It directs the state and local governments to protect these resources, and says that when local and state laws conflict, the more restrictive or protective would govern.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Gregory Hobbs argued that the new public right to the environment “would override existing private and publicly held property rights,” and would require state and local officials “to act adversely to the interests of private parties …”
In addition to reflecting the ever-present tension between public and private rights, the dispute also reflects polarization between parties primarily interested in preserving the status quo and those seeking enhanced environmental protections.
Longtime environmental advocate and vice president of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District Steve Glazer, speaking at the Colorado Water Workshop in Gunnison in June, urged both sides in the conflict to “listen to each other more, and move together instead of apart” in order to find solutions that don’t sacrifice one set of values to serve the other.
Douglas Kemper, executive director of Colorado Water Congress, joined Bruce Whitehead of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, and elected leaders to educate the council on two initiatives that could change the state’s prior appropriation system for managing water claims. Prior appropriation is a way of water allocation that controls who uses how much water, the types of uses allowed and when those waters can be used.
The secretary of state’s website said any person can draft a statewide initiative to amend the state constitution. If proponents of the ballot measure gets enough signatures, about 86,105, all voters in the state would decide the issue. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed initiatives 89 and 75.
The Water Congress, a nonprofit group providing leadership on water issues, created a stewardship project that tracks, what it believes are, “public trust doctrine” initiatives that would change how Colorado allocates water. The group opposes public-trust initiatives. Switching to a public-trust system would mean the government would decide how to allocate water rights instead of who came first, according to Kemper.
Initiative 75 would give local governments the power to approve laws that would establish the fundamental rights of residents, communities and nature. It would give local governments expanded power over businesses, such as allowing local laws to establish or eliminate the rights of corporations and other businesses operating in the community to protect the rights of people, communities and nature.
“Those are some pretty far-reaching powers,” Kemper said. “Basically, it says those local laws would be superior to international, federal or state law.”
Initiative 89 declares that Colorado’s environment is the common property of all Coloradoans, including the clean air, pure water, and natural and scenic values. It makes state and local governments trustees of the environment and requires them to protect the environment.
Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs Jr. wrote in a dissenting opinion on Initiative 89 that the initiative would create a new common property right that would override existing private and publicly held property rights.
“Initiative 89 would upend the existing regulatory balance and thrust private-property owners and governments into an uncertain future,” Hobbs wrote…
State Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, urged city councilors to draft a resolution opposing these initiatives. The Southwestern Water Conservancy District has issued a resolution in opposition to public trust initiatives.
More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.
From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Fiona Smith):
The Colorado Supreme Court published an opinion today declaring that Initiative 103 (Public Trust Resources) may not proceed towards the 2014 Ballot. A 4-3 majority holds that the Title Board lacked authority to proceed with a substituted designated representative when one of the proponents could not attend the rehearing. This decision validates a May 1 appeal by the Colorado Water Congress (CWC) and Coloradoans for Responsible Reform.
Initiative 103, by Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria, proposed to establish an “inalienable right” of the people of Colorado to clean air, clean water (including groundwater), and the preservation of the environment and natural resources (called “Public Trust Resources”), as common property of all people, including future generations. It would require the state, as trustee of Public Trust Resources, to conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. CWC and over 70 supporting entities from around the state opposed this Initiative on the grounds that it was unwise, unnecessary, expensive and disruptive to the responsible allocation and stewardship of Colorado’s water resources.
CWC will now shift its energy towards Initiatives 75 and 89, both of which are of concern to Colorado’s water community. A 5-2 Supreme Court majority decided today that Initiative 89 may proceed towards the 2014 Ballot. The Court similarly confirmed Initiative 75 last month. Each will require 86,105 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot in November.
Initiative 75 would strengthen “local control,” allowing local governments to adopt environmental regulations that override state laws, including the laws that limit and balance local governments’ regulation of water facilities. Initiative 89 would combine this local control theme with a Public Trust Doctrine, declaring “common property” in Colorado’s water and environment and obligating state and local government to conserve these resources as trustees. In his dissenting opinion today, Justice Gregory Hobbs cautioned that “Initiative #89 proposes to create an entirely unprecedented form of public trust duty requiring state and local governments to ‘conserve’ what are predominately privately held resources… [It] would upend the existing regulatory balance and thrust private property owners and governments into an uncertain future.”
The Colorado Water Stewardship Project, a special project of CWC, will continue to monitor Initiatives 75 and 89 and inform water stakeholders of the serious implications of amending the constitution to create a Public Trust Doctrine in Colorado.
The so-called “public trust doctrine” measure, No. 103, had drawn opposition from the Colorado Water Congress, representing water users across the state, and the business-backed group Coloradans for Responsible Reform.
The high court ruled Monday that the Title Board, which reviews ballot proposals, made a mistake when it allowed the backers of No. 103 to have a substitute fill in during a hearing on the measure.
The court said that state law “does not allow designated representatives who are unable to attend a Title Board meeting to substitute alternates to serve in their place. Instead, the Title Board must delay its considerations until the next meeting at which both of the designated representatives who were so designated at the initial stages of the initiative process are able to attend the Title Board meeting.”
The ruling means that the proposal can’t be considered for the 2014 ballot because the Title Board is no longer meeting for the 2014 election cycle, said a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
The backers of the proposal were Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria. But Mills-Bria couldn’t attend a meeting of the Title Board because she as traveling to an out-of-state funeral, according to the court ruling.
The court said the Title Board should have postponed its hearing on No. 103 until Mills-Bria could attend rather than allowing a designee to fill in.
The proposal sought to establish a common property right to “clean air, clean water, including ground and surface water, and the preservation of the environment and natural resources.” It also would have required the state to conserve and maintain those elements for the benefit of all people.
The Colorado Water Congress said it opposed the initiative on the grounds that it was “unwise, unnecessary, expensive and disruptive to the responsible allocation and stewardship of Colorado’s water resources.”
The Colorado Water Congress said it would shift its resources to oppose Initiatives No. 75 and 89.
No. 75 is a proposal by the Colorado Community Rights Network that would allow cities to ban any for-profit business that community leaders don’t want to see in their towns.
No. 89, which says that Coloradans have a right to clean air, water and scenic values, is one of nine proposals that are backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.
The Colorado Supreme Court has rejected challenges to proposals No. 75 and No. 89, meaning supporters have until Aug. 4 to collect more than 86,105 valid signatures in order to have the initiatives placed on the fall ballot.
More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.
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="
From the Ouray County Plaindealer (Sheridan Block):
In an attempt to protect Colorado’s natural resources, the Public Trust Initiative is again trying to make waves and earn its spot on ballots this year. While the initiative aims to secure protection for the state’s precious resources — particularly water — many local ranchers and water users are vehemently against the proposed measure.
Initiative 103, also known as the public trust doctrine, is an effort to protect the state’s natural resources from pollution and irresponsible use. The initiative asserts that it is the state’s responsibility “to secure the rights of the people to protect natural resources” such as “clean air, clean water, including ground and surface water, and the preservation of the environment” which the public is entitled to.
More Public Trust Doctrine coverage here. Here’s the link for the Colorado Water Congress Stewardship Project website for more information about the Public Trust Doctrine.