Environmental Group Launches Lawsuit Seeking Rights For Colorado River
**Update: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office weighed in late Tuesday night.
A radical environmental group that is advocating to “do away with civilization” joined forces with a Colorado attorney to file a lawsuit this week seeking “rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate, and restoration” for the Colorado River.
The Colorado River—the plaintiff in the lawsuit Colorado River v. State of Colorado—is being assisted by anti-fossil fuel group Deep Green Resistance and represented by Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver-based lawyer, and Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund as legal advisers. The suit was filed yesterday at the federal district court in Colorado.
If successful, the state of Colorado would be held liable for violating the rights of the Colorado River, according to CELDF.
In reaction, the Colorado Farm Bureau is “disappointed that public resources will be expended on a lawsuit that clearly has no chance of success. CELDF and its “rights of nature” lawsuits have been rejected by courts all over the country and it is unfortunate that their brand of legal activism is being forced on the residents of Colorado,” Don Shawcroft, President of Colorado Farm Bureau, told Western Wire.
“The plaintiff’s professed goal is unraveling our very civilization–ironically by seeking human rights for an inanimate object,” said Ken Holsinger, a Denver-based attorney specializing in land and water law.
The group Deep Green Resistance stands apart from most environmental groups by calling for “sabotage and asymmetric action” to further its goals in bringing about the end of civilization. “Life on Earth is more important than this insane, temporary culture based on hyper-exploitation of finite resources. This culture needs to be destroyed before it consumes all life on this planet,” the group writes.
The group has also posted an extensive infographic explaining what it calls the “Four Phases of Decisive Ecological Warfare,” as it attempts to move away, “weary from never-ending legal battles and blockades.” Phase 4, according to the group, “dismantles critical infrastructure required for industrial civilization to function,” including what appears to be oil pipelines and electricity generation, along with wireless internet.
Holsinger told Western Wire the lawsuit should be seen as a publicity stunt, but the underlying issues remained complex, including extensive water law issues and the importance of the river to the entire Western region.
“The plaintiffs’ shallow publicity stunt would seek to do away with it all to the detriment of our communities and the environment,” Holsinger said.
“Water is unquestionably precious and water law in the West developed with that firm understanding. Contrary to the goal of these radical litigants, Western water laws promote the conservation, development and use of water for the comfort, welfare and safety of its peoples,” said Holsinger.
The development of those laws has been able to strike a “balance,” according to Holsinger.
“Along the way, our laws have brilliantly evolved to balance human uses with recreational and environmental purposes, and include complex interstate and international agreements that govern the allocation of the Colorado River,” Holsinger said.
Shawcroft said the lawsuit would “do nothing to protect natural resources” of the river.
“Taxpayers have again and again called for legal reforms that would put an end to frivolous lawsuits which drain public coffers and do nothing to protect natural resources in real terms. We hope the judge in this case dismisses the suit out of hand, and recognizes that Colorado’s water laws, users and administrators work every day to protect this valuable natural resource,” Shawcroft said.
For its part, CELDF claims to be “at the forefront of the growing movement to recognize the rights of nature.”
“This action is the first of its kind in the United States, and comes as courts around the world are beginning to hold that nature and ecosystems possess legally enforceable rights,” said Mari Margil, Director of CELDF’s International Center for the Rights of Nature in a statement. “Recently, courts in India and Colombia held that rivers, glaciers, and other ecosystems possess rights of their own. Building on ongoing lawmaking efforts, we believe that this lawsuit will be the first of many which begins to change the status of nature under our legal systems.”
The Colorado River’s impact throughout the West is enormous, as it is the watershed and source of riparian ecology for seven states beginning in the Rocky Mountains—Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California—and flowing beyond the United States-Mexico border to the Gulf of California.
The Colorado River Compact and an extensive series of other compacts, federal laws, and court decisions collectively called the “Law of the River” govern the river’s vital water resources, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Reed Benson, chairman of the environmental law program at the University of New Mexico told the New York Times the case was a “long shot,” but stopped at calling the suit “laughable.”
Flores-Williams told the Times the groups were insistent on the seriousness of the case.
“We’re interested in preserving the dynamic systems that exist in the ecosystem upon which we depend,” he said.