For generations, the water under a landowner's property was owned by the landowner. Then companies with mineral rights
were allowed to use that water to extract gas. Two local ranching families took the matter all the way to the state
Supreme Court, where it was ruled in April of last year that the surface owners did own the water and their permission
is needed to use that water.
Owners could ask for compensation. They could decide the water could be used only in certain ways. They could protect
that water. But once again, these rights have been stripped away from the landowner.
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the state engineer decided to find another way for the gas industry to be
allowed once again to use that water without consideration of the landowner. The state dusted off a law from the 1970s
and applied it to this situation.
The law says there are nontributary waters. The state engineer maintains all that is required to access nontributary
water is to be the first to have a permit and show to the state that the water will be used for a beneficial purpose.
And it is first come, first serve.
Landowners need to be aware of what is happening. The gas industry then gave the state a map it had developed showing
where the nontributary water is, which our state government chose to adopt. That makes water under the southeastern
portion of La Plata County fair game.
The gas companies filed for the water rights, the same rights the Supreme Court said belonged to the landowners. Now
the companies will be able to own the senior rights to the water, to use that water before anyone else can. Now
landowners not only do not have to give permission for the use of the water, they no longer even own it.
If you make me your county commissioner, I will fight this decision.
Chris Dolphin, Durango