Public Trust Doctrine

As the water management sector had anticipated, Phil Doe and Barbara Mill-Bria introduced a Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) Initiative #83 in February to the Colorado state legislature. In an effort to inform the public as well as the water community, in 2013 the WIP ran a four-part PTD series in their quarterly newsletter. Keeping with that vein, Doe and Mill-Bria’s Initiative is provided here in its entirety:
Article XVI, Section 9—The State’s Duties Under the Public Trust Doctrine
to Secure the Rights of the People to Protect Natural Resources
(1) The people of Colorado have an inalienable right to clean air, clean water, including ground and surface water, and the preservation of the environment and natural resources, referred to in this section as “public trust resources,” on which we all depend and that provide for the health, safety, and happiness of all natural persons, including future generations. Public trust resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the state shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
(2) The state government and its agents, as trustees, shall protect these public trust resources against substantial impairment, including pollution from external sources. In satisfying the state’s trust responsibilities, the precautionary principle shall always be applied; if an action or policy has a suspected risk of substantially impairing public trust resources, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those proposing to take the action. The state shall seek natural resource damages from those entities that cause substantial impairment of public trust resources and use such funds to remediate the harm.
(3) Any Colorado citizen, as a beneficiary of these public trust resources, may petition a court of competent jurisdiction to defend and preserve such resources against substantial impairment, and to ensure that the state is meeting its obligations to prudently manage such resources as a trustee. Remedies may be granted in both law and equity. Citizens are entitled to recover all costs of litigation, including, without limitation, expert and attorney’s fees, should a court find that the state has not fulfilled its duties as trustee.
For more information on the PTD and/or the Colorado Water Congress’ Colorado Water Stewardship Project visit their website at or contact Meg Meyer at [email protected] or 303-837-0812 x2.