By Catherine Tsai
|Illustration:ddsnorth ddsnorth ™|
DENVER -- An opponent of hydraulic fracturing south of Denver is leading an effort to have voters decide on two proposals that critics say would change the way Colorado has handled water rights since 1876.
The Colorado Constitution says unappropriated water in natural streams is public property, but water can be diverted for beneficial uses. It then outlines the state's "first come, first serve" approach to having water users with older, or senior water rights take what they're due from limited rivers or streams before those with junior water rights.
Denver-area resident Phillip Doe has proposed amending the constitution to highlight the clause saying streams are public property -- and making the public ownership legally superior to longstanding water rights, contracts or property law. A related proposal would spell out in the constitution that water rights can be constricted to prohibit uses that would harm the public's ownership in the water, and water that goes back into rivers would have to be returned unimpaired.
"It reaffirms and reasserts that the public of Colorado owns the water, and the state has an obligation to protect the public's interests," said attorney Richard Hamilton, who is working with Doe.
But State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said ballot proposals 3 and 45 would turn the way Colorado handles water upside-down.
"It's the most devastating thing that could happen to the state of Colorado," said Sonnenberg, a farmer and rancher.