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Observations about water and history in the Americas

Sidebar by Greg Hobbs

Drought – September 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

Observations about water and history in the Americas

Gregg Hobbs

Associate Justice, Colorado Supreme Court

Presented at the 27th annual Western Water Workshop in Gunnison, Aug. 2, 2002

Water is a public resource. Speculation and waste at the expense of community deserve no respect.

The construction and use of waterworks is a required adaptation to living in the Americas. Always has been, always will be.

The role of law in water resource policy is to allocate and administer the water by means of a fair system that promotes water planning and serves human and environmental needs.

Public debate about water law and policy must be free and open. The rights of individuals and the community must be respected in the discussion. The discussion must be reflected in decisions that are implemented certainly and have flexibility for further adaptation, based on experience.

At its core, prior appropriation is one of the most fundamental adaptations humans have made to living in the Americas. Prior appropriation is a drought-planning system. By study of the historic water data, planners and decision makers can determine what is available to a proposed community need, taking into account the use of others who have established their uses previously.

In the third year of a drought, the summer of 2002 demonstrates how reservoirs are fundamental to life in the West. Saving in the ample time for the lean time is civilization at its best and most necessary. When the snow pack diminishes and storage water is not available to be released into the streams, so that water might run through the river channels to its place of use, humans and the environment suffer greatly.

Our over-appropriated western and Colorado watersheds reveal the limits of our settlement. Now we must live with settling in. Local and state governments in all land use decisions must consider water use and its efficient availability. If not, the people will hold officials accountable for default in their elected and appointed community roles.

We must allow our water officials to make sound decisions that involve curtailment of uses in priority and that forward efficiency of use. A system of fair allocation demands fair enforcement and respect for the enforcers.

We must allow the market to function to redistribute water. We must employ reservoirs, including the storage opportunities available in our groundwater systems. We must negotiate and reach agreements that make Colorado’s interstate water allocations available to as many needs for as many benefits, locally and statewide in Colorado, as possible. Ducks and people need water.

We must pray for the blessing of insight, patience, and common sense-for what we must and must not do — as individuals in community. In scarcity is the opportunity for community. Civilized sacrifice is a sacrament.


A duck don’t know the difference

Between jurisdictional waters

And a pothole, if there’s water

He’ll land. Sometimes the law

Don’t know the difference

Between a duck.