Pine River Irrigation directors approved a resolution at their quarterly meeting Tuesday opposing a possible state ballot initiative to put "Public Trust Doctrine" in the state constitution.
Dam superintendent Brian Sheffield presented the resolution. Water attorney Amy Huff said she agreed with the position in the resolution. "It would be a disaster," she said.
The resolution says the public trust initiatives could take away agricultural users' rights to use their water.
Initiative 83 filed this year could destroy the existence, value, and predictability of the district's water rights, and require substantial time and expense to protect district water rights, it says.
The resolution says PRID "opposes the adoption of any public trust doctrine as unwise, unnecessary, disruptive to the fair and responsible allocation of Colorado's scarce water resources, and an unwarranted taking of vested property interests."
Water engineer Steve Harris said, "Just about every district in the state is in the process of doing the same thing," to oppose these ballot initiatives.
According to the Colorado Water Congress, which opposed related 2012 proposals, the current initiative proponents are Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria.
In the late 1990s, Doe was active with the Citizens Progressive Coalition which opposed construction of the Animas/ La Plata Project and suggested (as reported in the Times back then) that "excess" water in Vallecito reservoir, 45,000 acre feet, could be used to satisfy those water claims instead.
Doe, from Littleton, and Richard Hamilton from Fairplay started the public trust initiative effort in late 2011 with two ballot questions that did not gather enough petition signatures to make the November 2012 ballot.
The first one, Initiative 3, would have put public trust doctrine regarding water into the state constitution. The ballot wording (not the same as the initiative itself) said it would make "public ownership of such water legally superior to water rights, contracts, and property law..."
It also addresses conflicts between landowners along streams and boaters on water crossing private land. It would have granted "unrestricted public access along and use of natural streams and their stream banks up to the naturally wetted high water mark..."
The second one, Initiative 45, would have amended the constitution to allow "appropriative water rights to be limited or curtailed by prohibiting any use of water that would irreparably harm the public ownership interest in water; expanding the right to appropriate water for beneficial use to all water within Colorado, including nontributary groundwater and not limited to unappropriated water, subject to the public ownership interest; requiring water users to return water unimpaired after use to the public..."
The current proposal is Initiative 83. The wording, as reported in the Durango-based Water Information Project, is more general. It states the inalienable right of the people of Colorado, and of future generations, to clean air and water and preservation of the environment and natural resources as public trust resources.
It says the state and its agents shall protect those resources using the precautionary principle that "If an action or policy has a suspected risk of substantially impairing public trust resources, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those proposing to take the action."
Doe has been active in efforts to ban oil and gas fracking in Colorado, and efforts by some local communities to regulate oil and gas activity. A Huffington Post report on anti-fracking efforts around the country included Doe and indicated the public trust initiatives might be part of that, including concern that oil and gas companies have been out-bidding ag users for water rights for fracking.