Reversing a Supreme Court Decision on Reservoir Water Storage

According to a recent Durango Herald article, Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) recently won unanimous support for Senate Bill 41 in the agriculture committee. Her bill counteracts a 2011 Supreme Court ruling on the Yampa River that said reservoir owners cannot get an absolute right to water in their reservoirs unless it is all put to beneficial use. Colorado law has a use it or lose it approach to water in order to prevent hoarding or speculation. But legislators and their allies in the water business think the court took that doctrine to an extreme. “The Supreme Court basically issued us an invitation to do something different than what their case came up with,” Roberts said. Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said that unless the bill passes and reverses the Supreme Court ruling, utilities would have to suck their reservoirs dry before they could get new water rights. “It’s hopefully stepping back to a time where it’s a much more practical reading of the law,” Lochhead said. The bill says storing water for firefighting and drought mitigation is a beneficial use, and that water rights can’t be considered to be abandoned when the water is in long-term storage.