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Mesa Land Trust Prevails at Trial and on Appeal in Water Rights Case

June 13, 2012 | Washington, D.C.

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the judgment of the trial court ruling in favor of Mesa Land Trust on all issues in its multi-year case to prevent a landowner from severing water rights from conserved land.

The Court ruled as follows:

  • Colorado's 1976 conservation easement statute allowed the encumbrance of water rights in a conservation easement;
  • The United States (a former owner) validly encumbered the disputed water rights in 1990 with the conservation easement pursuant to the existing statute;
  • The legislature's 2003 amendments to the statute clarified rather than changed existing Colorado law;
  • The notice requirements added by the 2003 statute that apply to water rights represented by shares in a mutual ditch and reservoir company apply prospectively and not retrospectively (this was one of the successor landowner’s major arguments);
  • Colorado common law did not require the United States to give notice to the mutual ditch and reservoir company to encumber the water rights;
  • The United States gave the only notice required when it properly recorded the conservation easement pursuant to the conservation easement statute; and
  • Shares in a mutual ditch and reservoir company are not subject to the Uniform Commercial Code.

A broad coalition of dozens of conservation organizations, including The Land Trust Alliance, established a significant precedent for conservation in Colorado. Rob Bleiberg, Bill Prakken, Diana Cort, Ilana Moir and all the folks at Mesa Land Trust did a terrific job on this matter, as did their legal team of Allan Beezley, Peter Nichols, Bob Trout, with Peter as the lead attorney on the appeal, Melinda Beck as the lead attorney on the two amicus briefs, Larry Kueter who testified at the trial and helped on the strategy throughout, Amy Beatie, Zach Smith, Chris Mills, Steve Imig on the amicus brief, Marie Vicek on the briefs and trial preparation, Bill Silberstein, Andy Hamano and the Land Trust Alliance team, who helped on strategy. 

We can accomplish great things for conservation permanence working together. If your land trust has not committed to participate in Terrafirma yet, you still have time. Check the information on the website or call:

Leslie Ratley-Beach
Conservation Defense Director
Land Trust Alliance
802-262-6051 | lrbeach@lta.org

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