Loose Ends: Water Rights

MEEKER | “You don’t understand. My grandfather lost his life over who owns the water from the river.”

Listening to a friend’s story about her grandfather’s struggles to get enough water to his crops and cattle to survive struck a chord with me. While we no longer hear of someone getting shot in the back by his neighbor over water rights, we do hear of the vituperative disagreements and subsequent lawsuits over the water rights of rural communities.

I try to keep up with all of the studies and statistics presented by the various governmental entities each year about streamflow. I find it all so daunting. I admit that it is often too much for me to process on a regular basis. I have found the only way to keep my interest is to make it personal somehow. Those of us who are part of the agricultural community understand the importance of protecting water rights. The urban water districts are getting thirstier every day.

Town residents are used to paying their water bills monthly. Most of us take turning on the tap and using as much water as we wish for granted. During these increasingly hot and dry summers, everyone’s water bill balloons up.

When the town was newly formed more than one hundred years ago, complaints about paying for more water than they used were just starting to flow. The government officials responsible for enforcement of those fees hadn’t turned off the taps yet. One editorial comment in the Meeker Herald during that time reflected some of the frustrations the town board faced. The editor put it mildly when he reported, “The management of the town’s water works faced an enforcement problem. The town council’s subsequent conversations about the issue of stolen water indicate that being a “water wrangler” is never easy.

Ever notice how difficult it is to find volunteers to serve on the boards of our local governmental districts? It gets more difficult every year. Some of us have either served previously or heard stories about all of the time and energy given to what many conclude is a thankless task.

The stories told by the old-time ranch hands who spent many of their days “riding pool” in the high country recalled those days when property owners kept an eye out for the water rustlers, but they took matters into their own hands to make sure their water wasn’t stolen. Thinking about them keeps me interested in the water rights issues we face today.

By DOLLY VISCARDI – Special to the Herald Times