Just treat water like a religion — Ed Quillen

The Quillen back yard — Salida

I was looking for Ed’s Water Law Glossary online and ran across this column from 2001 that ran in The Denver Post:

Back when I made editorial hiring decisions for various small-town newspapers, I theorized that I could simplify the process by requiring applicants to take a simple essay test: “In 200 words or less, explain the difference between a conditional and an adjudicated water right, and define what role is played by “due diligence’ in this process.”

The main reason that I never used this test is that anyone who could pass it would be someone I’d be in awe of, and that would have ruined office discipline in a workplace where I was supposed to be in charge.

But in recent years, I’ve decided that the best way to approach Colorado water law and administration is to minimize the legal and technical issues, and look at it as though it were a variety of religion.

After all, there’s a “doctrine” of prior appropriation, and old propaganda for various irrigation schemes speaks of “redeeming” land, as though the ter rain had somehow sinned but, with some reservoirs and canals, virtue would triumph and the prophet Isaiah would be right that “The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”

The Colowater religion has a priesthood of attorneys and engineers who understand important matters that are beyond the comprehension of mere lay people like us. It has synods, sees and presbyteries in the form of special water courts, conservation districts and conservancy districts.

Like all worthy religions, Colowater has a charismatic prophet, John Wesley Powell, and his utterances are like those of most oracles – subject to interpretation that can support just about any view you want to advance.

You can quote Powell about the scenic glories of the free-flowing Colorado River through its labyrinthian canyons, and you can quote Powell about how the West would become a better place after the last drop had been diverted from the natural channel of the Colorado River and put to beneficial use.

In other religions, people argue about the meanings of words and phrases in the sacred text, and the same is true for our Colowater denomination. The definitions of “diversion” and “beneficial use” are being examined again this week in the Division 1 water court in Greeley, which handles cases in South Platte drainage.

The city of Golden has applied for a water right in Clear Creek for a kayak course.

That raises some doctrinal questions. If the water is flowing through its “natural course” in the creek bed, how is this a diversion? In general, water has to be re moved from its natural course by some artificial means (dam, weir, pump, etc.) in order for there to be a diversion.

There have been some arguments that placing boulders in the stream and otherwise adjusting it for better kayaking does represent a change in the normal course. Thus it’s a diversion. That does seem like a stretch, but such extensions are not unusual in religious discussions. And is floating through the water in a small boat a “beneficial use”? Golden municipal officials point out that kayakers bring about $4 million a year into town, so there are economic benefits to this use of water, just as there are economic benefits to irrigating cornfields or supplying subdivi sions.

But the Colowater scriptures were formed in the late 19th century, and the revelations to the Founders did not include the vision that there was any economic value in leaving water in a stream.

To them, that was wasting a scarce and valuable resource that could be used in sluice boxes, long toms, rockers, stamp mills and potato fields.

But in modern Colorado, water in the banks leads to money in the bank. The most recent numbers at hand are from 1997, and they concern only Chaffee County (which, of course, is where people should go for kayak ing and rafting, assuming that they plan on spending a lot of money in the process).

Most water diverted here from the Arkansas River and its tributaries goes to agriculture, and total agricultural sales were $5.097 million – mostly cattle and calves, hay, and nursery and greenhouse stock.

Tourism, much of it based on fishing and float trips down the river, brought in at least $34 million – nearly seven times as much as agriculture.

Colowater doctrines will adjust. After all, there is one supreme commandment in our hydraulic religion, enunciated by former Gov. John Love: “In Colorado, water flows toward money.”

The “trails” and tribulations of Waterton Canyon – News on TAP

Why this wild retreat next to the city is such a great attraction — and why we’ve so often had to close its gates.

Source: The “trails” and tribulations of Waterton Canyon – News on TAP

Colorado Files Motion to Dismiss Water Access Case

Your Water Colorado Blog

By Larry Morandi

A February 12 blog entitled “Public Access to Water Flowing Through Private Property” describes a lawsuit filed by a fisherman, Roger Hill, against a landowner, Mark Warsewa, over Hill’s ability to wade the Arkansas River adjacent to Warsewa’s land. By wading the river, Hill touches the streambed, which Warsewa says belongs to him and makes Hill guilty of trespass. Hill claims the Arkansas was navigable at the time of statehood and, therefore, the state owns the streambed and the public has access to it for recreational purposes. The case is in the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

The litigation has taken a new twist with the state of Colorado filing two motions on May 7 to intervene in the case and then to dismiss it. The state’s argument is twofold. First, even though the suit does not name Colorado as a defendant, it is an essential party…

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Study Session with Karen Bish and Deb Parker

Your Water Colorado Blog

Water Educator Network Member Feature – May 2018 

Names and Positions: Karen Bish, Community Outreach Supervisor; Deb Parker, Public Education Specialist  
Organization: South Platte Water Renewal Partners
Became WEN Members:September 2017
Watershed: South Platte Basin
Favorite River: Karen- The Colorado River; Deb- The South Platte River
Favorite Water-Based Activity: Karen- Swimming; Deb- Kayaking
Our Favorite Quote From Karen:I actually went to the State of Colorado and I have a certified nose. We don’t get very many odor complaints, thankfully.”
Our Favorite Quote From Deb:
My proudest water-related accomplishment was the day that my granddaughter explained to her mommy why we turn the water off when we’re washing our hands… She’s 4 years old and she had her reasons together. It wasn’t just, ‘Mommy, we turn the water off after we get our soap and our hands wet and then we scrub and then we…

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Montezuma, Dolores counties renew debate over conservation status for Dolores River

Dolores River watershed

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:

Dolores and Montezuma County commissioners are debating whether a National Conservation Area designation for the Lower Dolores River is worth pursuing.

In the lively meeting at Bubba’s Restaurant in Lewis, commissioners juggled arguments about water rights, oil and gas revenue, environmental issues and federal influence. The complex land, fish, boating and water-management issues on the river below McPhee dam have been a topic of spirited debate for decades.

The Lower Dolores flows through both counties, but commissioners disagree on the merits of an NCA. Dolores County is willing to consider it, but Montezuma County is adamantly opposed to it.

A Natural Conservation Area is a federal land designation passed by Congress to protect sensitive lands. It creates a long-term plan for environmental protections plus preservation of multiple-use recreation, water rights, agriculture and industry.

The NCA idea for a stretch of the Dolores River below the dam was floated in 2013 as a negotiation tactic between environmental groups and McPhee Reservoir officials.

The goal was to add some long-term protection to the landscape in exchange for dropping the Dolores River’s long-time “suitability” status for a National Wild and Scenic River designation, which typically comes with a federally reserved water right.

“Suitability” for a Wild and Scenic River has not been designated by Congress, but federal land agencies must preserve the natural qualities that make it potentially eligible for the protectionist status.

The worry for farmers and water managers is that if the river did get congressional approval for a National Wild and Scenic River, a federally reserved water right could draw from upstream McPhee Reservoir…

NCA language can protect water rights, countered Dolores Commissioners Julie Kibel and Steve Garchar. But Ertel said “nebulous language” in NCA draft documents could be interpreted by lawyers to mean additional water flows down the road…

Dolores County Commissioner Steve Garchar said an NCA offers far more flexibility than a potentially Wild and Scenic designation in the future.

“We have Kinder Morgan interested in a possible pipeline across the river in the future,” Garchar said. “That type of development could be allowed for under NCA legislation, but maybe not under Wild and Scenic.”

Dolores Commissioner Julie Kibel agreed that an NCA was worth considering.

“Wild and Scenic is what scares me to death. With an NCA, we are able to put language in there protecting water rights,” she said, citing protection of a key pump station on the river that provides water for Dove Creek.

Don Schwindt, a board member for the Dolores Water Conservancy District that manages McPhee, was critical of earlier proposed NCA language.

He said it did not provide enough specifics to protect McPhee water rights.

Protection of native fish struggling in the lower Dolores River is seen as catalyst for conservationists to lobby the federal government for more water to improve habitat, officials said. If they became listed as endangered, it could also force more water from McPhee.