Derek L. Turner


The prior appropriation doctrine is partly founded upon a concern with the speculation and monopolization of scarce water resources. This "anti-speculation doctrine" is anchored by the principles of public ownership of water and the beneficial use element of an appropriative water right. It is a progressive doctrine used by Colorado courts to prevent the public's water from being claimed for personal profit rather than actual beneficial uses. In the modern, high-stakes competition for water supplies needed to serve future population growth, Colorado municipalities and quasi-governmental water agencies have long escaped scrutiny for appropriations to serve undefined future populations. Under the "great and growing cities" doctrine, Colorado courts essentially rubber-stamped applications for water rights for future populations. Until now. In 2009's Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District v. Trout Unlimited, the Colorado Supreme Court restated the standard of proof that municipal water providers must satisfy to conditionally appropriate publicly owned water for future populations. Public water agencies now must prove their future water needs with substantiated evidence and must accurately account for future water savings through water conservation efforts. This case represents the latest evolution of Colorado's anti-speculation doctrine, signaling a new era of water supply planning-an era that will involve greater water supply planning collaboration and a heightened focus on conserving our most valuable resource.

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