Richard Hamilton, a retired aquatic microbiologist from Fairplay, is renewing his efforts to introduce a ballot initiative to ask voters to enact the public trust water doctrine in Colorado. The notion that the public has an inherent interest in free-flowing water is well-established in some states, which embrace what’s known as the “public trust doctrine.” California, Wisconsin, Montana and New Jersey, for instance, have such a doctrine.
The doctrine conflicts with Colorado’s prior appropriation system, “first in time, first in right,” which favors the rights of water owners, especially those with older water rights. During drought periods, water is provided to those with senior water rights while those who have junior, or newer, water rights may not get water. The Colorado Water Congress, which represents private water-right owners, contends the Public Trust Doctrine runs counter to state law and 150 years of case law. The CWC’s handy initiative tracking is a great resource to follow this initiative: http://www.cowatercongress.org/state_water_activities.aspx
If the public trust doctrine were approved by voters, it would make rivers and streams public property. The Colorado Water Congress is spending $325,000 on a campaign to oppose any effort to launch a public trust doctrine initiative. The City of Greeley is the first local government in Northern Colorado to oppose the public trust doctrine. Both the City Council and the Water & Sewer Board voted to oppose the measure in early March.