Gunnison River Basin Recent News

Colorado’s ornery, independent water guardians finally agree on one thing: Wall Street can look elsewhere

It’s rare to see Front Range water managers like Denver Water and Northern Water joining counterparts on the Western Slope

The calls came in shortly after the story in The New York Times announced Wall Street was on the prowl for “billions in the Colorado’s water.”

“Can you help us? How do we get started?” wondered the New York financiers, pals of Andy Mueller, the manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

“My response was really that if you want to invest in Colorado, you might want to look at something other than water,” Mueller said. “There is nothing to see here.”

The national story raised hackles across Colorado. It defined agriculture as a “wrong” use of Colorado River water and detailed a growing swarm of investors eager to inject Wall Street’s strategies into the West’s century-old water laws. The idea of private investment in public water has galvanized the state’s factious water guardians.

Population growth and persistent drought exacerbated by climate change are stressing the Colorado River, which supports 40 million people in seven states and Mexico and irrigates some 5.5 million acres of crop land. Now, the increasingly parched communities along the 1,450-mile river can add an additional threat: speculation.

It’s rare to see Front Range water managers like Denver Water and Northern Water joining counterparts on the Western Slope. Heck, neighbors on the Western Slope don’t often agree over agricultural, municipal, recreation and tourism-based uses of water. But everyone involved in the perpetual tug-of-war over Colorado water is ready to fight Wall Street investors eyeing “billions” in the state’s most precious resource.

“We have different interests and we have different things we use water for on the Western Slope,” Martha Whitmore, the Ouray County board member on the Colorado River Water Conservation District Board, said during the board’s quarterly meeting last week. “but the one thing we are really unified on … is we don’t want this to be a New York hedge fund’s new thing.”

Water law requires beneficial use
Colorado has some of the toughest laws to prevent profiteering on water in the West, anchored in a nearly 160-year-old state water law that requires users to put their rights to beneficial use. That definition has expanded from irrigation and home taps to include snowmaking, protecting wildlife and even kayaking in a whitewater park. Beneficial use does not include making money.

Even with the state’s strict law preventing a gold rush on water, an 18-member Anti-Speculation Law Work Group created by Colorado lawmakers last year is studying how to give the law preventing water profiteering even more teeth.

-Read the full article by Jason Blevins in the Colorado Sun-