Hey Steamboat: Should the Colorado River enjoy the same rights as a person? | SteamboatToday.com

Hey Steamboat: Should the Colorado River enjoy the same rights as a person?

Tom Ross

The Colorado River immediately below Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell on its way to the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead beyond.
Tom Ross

Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan couldn’t resist asking visitors from the Colorado River District Oct. 31 for an update about their stance on a lawsuit seeking to secure human rights for the river.

“What’s your take on the lawsuit for personhood for the river?” Corrigan asked Zane Kessler, the district’s new communications director.

Kessler didn’t skip a beat.

“The board has not taken a position, but we’re keeping an eye on it,” he said. “The board hopes it won’t restrict our limited resources.”

It’s a fact that the environmental organization Deep Green Resistance has filed suit against the state of Colorado seeking to have the Colorado River ecosystem treated like a “person” with rights.

The Aspen Times reported Oct. 20 that the Colorado Attorney General’s Office had asked a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit. The AG argued that the “hypothetical future injuries” the river might someday suffer are not “redressable by a declaration that the ecosystem is a ‘person’  capable of possessing rights.”

The appropriateness of a little levity on All Hallow’s Eve aside, Corrigan acknowledged the vital importance of the Colorado River to Northwest Colorado in the bigger scheme of water supply in the region and all the way to the desert Southwest.

The river “almost touches Routt County on the southern border,” Corrigan said, “ it’s probably a matter of a half a mile.”

Corrigan irrigates a hay field with water from Bear River, just upstream from the town of Yampa, where the river takes the same name. He understands the health of all of the major rivers that rise on the state’s Western Slope are intertwined on their way to their confluence with the Colorado River.

He expressed concern over the longstanding water rights in place for the aging Shoshone Power Plant, which ensures that a significant amount of water flows downstream below Glenwood Springs, where the Colorado River District is headquartered. The original plant was completed in 1909.

Kessler said conserving the Shoshone plant is one of the top three priorities of the Colorado Basin Roundtable this year.

And fellow Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, who serves on the board of the Colorado River District along with former Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray, reassured Corrigan that the district is on the case.

“We’re working on protecting” that water right, Monger said. “It protects that water from another trans-mountain diversion (to the Front Range),” higher up in the drainage.

Kessler’s visit to Steamboat Springs on Tuesday comes as the river district undergoes a significant changing of the guard. Its general manager Eric Kuhn, who has been with the district for 36 years and has encyclopedic knowledge of water policy in the West, is retiring before the end of the year.

His successor, Andy Mueller, starts Dec 1. Mueller practices law in Glenwood Springs and is a former president of the water district’s board.

Also retiring at the end of 2017, Kessler said, is the district’s deputy general manager and former Steamboat resident Dan Birch.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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