Referendum A only hastens damages caused by Colorado water law
I was born in a high desert valley between the mighty San Juans and the narrow band of the Sangre de Cristos, near the source of the Rio Grande River.
My father, like our neighbors, attempted to tame the waters of that river to the needs of potatoes and barley, lettuce and field peas. Like so many southwestern deserts, it takes water – lots of water – to cause them to bloom with the produce to feed a nation.
The fragility of desert landscapes is belied by the gift of irrigation. The once-mighty rivers that gave them life through the bounty of water and sediment have been transformed into placid streams channeled and diverted until they are only the merest whispers of themselves. And the engineer of these changes is water law.
Prior appropriation, the water law of the West, says he who is first in time to claim the river’s waters is first in right and as long as this claimant puts the water to “beneficial use,” he need not concern himself with other needs for the water, junior to his.
Such laws, however, only recognize man’s rights and ignore that of the land and the creatures that long predated man in this landscape. It ignores the needs of an ecosystem that functions like a house of cards. Remove the wrong piece and the whole thing collapses.
While man ignores such consequences, man also sits atop the house of cards and cannot forever escape the destruction he engineers. This law sees water left in the river as wasted resource but the law gives no quarter to prime fishing grounds or to the thirst of migrating birds. It recognizes neither the needs of mule and whitetail deer nor those of beaver and muskrat. It values only the creations of man while ignoring the creations of God – including the logic of the cycle that creates the rivers.
It is the blooming of soy and the growth of cities that is protected by the law, while the blooming of larkspur and flaming paint brush and the growth of choke cherries and bear cubs are not considered beneficial unless you are the black bear or the mountain meadow.
States of the Southwest promote their dramatic landscapes – plunging narrow keyhole canyons and towering sandstone plateaus – to tourists, with dollars to fill starved local treasuries. Yet those same states try to control and channel and dam the wild turbulent rivers that created those valuable landscapes.
Meanwhile, the snow continues to fall on the mountains, melting in the spring and flowing downhill to have its power and beauty turned into money and property.
And Referendum A with no protection for the rivers or the regions through which they flow will only increase the damage by putting the control in the hands of fewer and fewer people. It is time the people of Colorado speak with one voice to defeat a referendum that would further endanger our shared waters.
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