By Tershia D’Elgin
University Press of Colorado, 2016
978-1-607-495-9; 287 pp, $29.95
Reviewed by Virginia McConnell Simmons
Although Central Colorado is the birthplace of three of Colorado’s major waterways – the South Platte, Arkansas, and Rio Grande – who owns the water seems puzzling except among water managers and farmers. Most consumers simply take it for granted that the liquid stuff for sinks and plastic bottles, rafts and kayaks, fishing, skiing resorts and wells will always be there. To get an inkling of how change can happen, read The Man Who Thought He Owned the Water, with its subtitle On the Brink with American Farms, Cities, and Food.
The author, Tershia D’Elgin, writes a compelling biographical account of what happened to her own father in the Platte River Valley near Greeley. A great-grandson of Colorado Governor Benjamin Eaton, Bill Phelps begins with ambition aplenty and surface water rights that promised success at Big Bend Station. Where he ran amuck was in the assumption that he, like many of his neighbors, could increase productivity by using wells that delivered underground water.