Letter: Betraying the public trust
A concept in common law that goes back to the Magna Carta, and even to ancient Rome is, that the resources of “the commons,” resources like clean water and wood and game from the forests, should be preserved for the people and for generations to come. This Public Trust Doctrine puts a burden of responsibility on the powers that be to protect and conserve.
This doctrine has been dusted off and is now working its way through the courts. In an Oregon case, the plaintiffs are a group of young people who claim that their government has not taken necessary steps to ensure their future. They are looking at global warming and all other, ongoing insults to our environment.
For the last couple of years, a few Coloradoans have been working to get the Public Trust Doctrine on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. One of the effects would be to turn Colorado water law on its head. That is why an association representing water districts in this state has so far successfully opposed it. Transmountain diversions of river water to the Eastern Slope could easily come into question.
I thought of this doctrine when I read the recent letter from Chris Hassig about the newest talk of development of the former Sanders Ranch on Highway 82. Chris comes from the same point of view as the Public Trust Doctrine. A few days ago I was on a hill looking down over Highway 82. It was morning rush hour and a cloud of blue auto exhaust rose in the valley. I recently read a study of Spanish children whose elementary schools were located next to busy roads. Their memory tested 13 percent worse than kids whose schools were farther from the traffic. They also had trouble paying attention in class. The effects were believed to be permanent. This is just one of the many negative effects of urban growth; especially in a narrow valley like ours.
Global warming is here. The world’s scientific community is already documenting the effects. The pine beetle devastation of our forests is one. The smaller snowpacks are another. Colorado’s environmental scientists have published a very dire report. The simple fact is that we are in a water shortage now and it is getting worse. They call it the “gap.” We do not have the water resources for more development. We do not have enough water now. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are draining out. The water you see flowing down the Roaring Fork and the Colorado belongs to somebody else.
What kind of future are we leaving? We are betraying the public trust.
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