June 2, 2014
By Bob Cox
Some opinions, comments and links relating to what is happening in this great nation and, in particular, in Western Colorado.
Many times over the past 40 or so years, I have heard the cliché that there are more fights started in Colorado over water than over unfaithful spouses. My adult beverage research crowd assures me that the saying started at about the same time Colorado became a state, and maybe even before that.
While that is somewhat of a joking phrase, it tends to show just how important water is to the people of Colorado. I would be impossible to put a number on exactly how many landowners in Colorado have some sort of dry wash, arroyo or old ditch running through their property. Many people will probably curly their brows in disbelief if they were told that all of these depressions in the earth could be considered to be part of the “navigable waters” of the United States, but every time some government agency extends its tentacles into our otherwise private lives bad things happen.
When the Rivers and Harbors Act was passed in 1899, it prohibited anyone from obstructing (building a dam) on “navigable waters” without first obtaining a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. USACOE subsequently described in their code that, “Navigable Waters” are waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, and those inland waters that are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign material into such water, or the accomplishment of any other work affect the course, location, condition or capacity of such waters.
As states became states, even prior to the Rivers and Harbors Act, they assumed the ownership of roads and highways as they were constructed for transportation purposes. Included in that assumption for most states was any flowing water that had, for any reason been used for transport of commodities of any sort. So, a Native American paddling a canoe up the Uncompahgre River at any point made the entire river navigable waters. The term has been expanded by one government agency after another. Now the Environmental Protection Agency, under the guise of the Clean Water Act is changing the terminology even more by referring to “traditional navigable waters.” They are in the process of really putting the screws to the ranchers and farmers in Arizona, and Colorado is sure to feel the impact. Their goal is to see to it that every ditch, canal, dry riverbed and adobe arroyo will fall under their jurisdiction through the CWA. The people in Arizona, particularly the farmers and ranchers are right to be concerned and the people of Colorado had better stand up and be counted right along with them. It is time to get back some of the controls that these out of control government agencies are taking from us, one piece at a time. EPA Region 9 administrator Jared Blumenfeld says that the Arizona move does not expand the EPA jurisdiction. Sound a lot like, “If you like your water, you can keep it.”
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© Robert R. Cox 2014