Taking care of our water via the Colorado Constitution

“Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” is the name of an old country tune first made famous by the Carter Family in the 1920s. It just as well could be the theme song for two initiatives hoping to make the November ballot related to water rights through amendment of our state constitution. Will we miss clean water when it’s gone?

Sponsored by microbiologist Richard Hamilton of Fairplay and Littleton attorney Phil Doe, both of whom have been active in Park County and Colorado water issues for years, Initiatives 3 and 45 are looking to give us more control over our water and treat it as a public trust. The proposals require more than 86,000 signatures to be placed on the November ballot, and we strongly support the effort to put the issues to a public vote. The amendments would change our water laws away from just who owned the water rights first to one related to the public good – something that should be important for the more than five million citizens who call Colorado home.

One underlying theme in Amendment 45 is allowing for control of “fracking,” the process of injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals, some toxic, into the ground in an effort to induce natural gas back to the surface for profit, and returning that polluted water to large evaporation pools or, worse yet, dumping the contaminated water onto the ground.

We first wrote about fracking in The Flume two years ago this coming July. Since that early warning, the oil and gas industry has upped the assault on our health, environment and way of life by purchasing drilling permits on thousands of square miles of Colorado public land in an effort to capitalize on energy fears and most recently on manipulated higher gas prices. The theme is “energy independence,” while it is more about profits and a slash-and-burn mentality that puts at risk the lifeblood of Colorado – our water. We also strongly disagree with the support fracking has received from our former geologist-turned-governor, John Hickenlooper, and we hope to see his support for giving the public a voice to protect Colorado’s water via these amendments.

Initiative 3 also grants public access to streams and waterways while also requiring state government to act as steward of and to protect, enforce, and implement public ownership of water. Our understanding is that they would allow anyone to use the state’s water and then leave it up to the public to determine if the water is being used for the common good. If members of the public were to determine the water isn’t being used for the common good, they could file a lawsuit in an effort to curtail or prevent further water use in that capacity.

That puts fears into many of the big players around the state, who prefer to do as they see fit by using the power of the deepness of their wallets rather than the depths of their wells.

Those proposed pieces of legislation collectively seek to apply the public trust doctrine to Colorado water rights through a constitutional change, and would override the state’s current prior-appropriation system – law that states those who own older water rights have a higher priority in using them.

We must appreciate that growth will not come to a halt in Colorado. We must appreciate that without water that is clean and an environment that is pristine, these assets will be consumed, and the reason so many of us live here will be put at risk. We don’t want to miss them when they’re gone.

For more information about the amendments, please go to: http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/Initiatives/titleBoard/index.html. Click on Initiatives No. 3 and No. 45.

If you would like to volunteer to help gather signatures to be able to see these initiatives on the ballot in November, please email: ProtectColoradoWater@gmail.com.

Water is not a right. Water is our Responsibility.

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