Saturday, January 22, 2011

What We are Reading

A selection of recent articles that caught our attention:
  • Shai Agassi, "What China and Israel Will Teach the World About Electric Cars," The Economist: The World in 2011
  • "Climate Science: A fistful of Dust," The Economist, January 8, 2011
  • "Greenhouse-gas Monitoring: Not Hot Air," The Economist, January 15, 2011
  • Sylvia Pfeifer, "Investors Weigh up Rosneft's BP Tie-Up," Financial Times, January 18, 2011
  • "Innovation in Energy: Special Report," Financial Times, January 18, 2011
  • "China Shapes the World," special five-segment report, Financial Times, January 18-22, 2011; more at
  • Naomi Mapstone, "Chinese Cash Flow into Peruvian Mine Brings Fear for Erosion of Rights," Financial Times, January 20, 2011
  • Joshua Chaffin, "Hackers Cast Cloud Over EU Emission Trade Scheme," Financial Times, January 20, 2011
  • William Wallis, "Intrigue Surrounds Oil Windfalls in Nigeria," Financial Times, January 21, 2011
  • Leslie Hook, "Energy Rivals Scramble to Secure Resources: China's Rapid Growth puts in on a Potential Collision Course with the U.S. Over Oil and Gas," Financial Times, January 21, 2011
  • "Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor? No, if the West Makes Sacrifices," Peter Singer; "Yes, if We Listen to Green Extremists," Bjorn Lomborg, The Wall Street Journal, January 22-23, 2011
There is also a fascinating video that anyone interested in global resources may want to watch:
  • "Interview With James King, editor of the FT China Confidential Report," which can be found at; Mr. King talks about resources-related issues associated with China's economic growth

Friday, January 21, 2011

North American (Pacific) Rounds of the International Environmental Moot Court Competition to be Hosted at DU on January 28 and 29

On Friday January 28 and Saturday January 29, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law will host the North American (Pacific) Rounds of the International Environmental Law Moot Court Competition.

The winners of these rounds will go on to compete at the University of Maryland in March against teams from around the world, including teams from Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.

Now in its 15th year, this is the largest international environmental moot court competition in the world and the College of Law is excited to be hosting these rounds.

Professor Annecoos Wiersema said, "The topic this year is very timely: addressing oil pollution and the marine environment in the context of international law. The event should be an exciting and engaging one."

If you are interested in attending to watch any of the rounds, please contact Professor Wiersema at

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Overflow Crowd at Sturm College of Law Attends Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Of "Water Case of the Century"

Nearly 500 students, faculty, the state's leading water attorneys, undergraduate university students, high school students, and members of the community at large watched today as the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Burlington Ditch (also known as FRICO) case.

The case, which some have described as "the water case of the century," attracted enormous attention because of a series of interrelated water issues that involve some of the state's largest irrigation districts as well as a whole group of municipalities including the city and county of Denver. The water involved in the case is located near Barr Lake, a large reservoir a short distance north of Denver International Airport.

Nearly 200 packed the Sturm College of Law courtroom, with another 150 in an adjacent room that had live streaming video. When that room filled to capacity, a third room was opened for those interested in hearing the argument.
Before the oral argument began, Dean Marty Katz welcomed the Supreme Court and noted that having the court hear arguments at the College of Law reflected DU's commitment to bringing the practice of law closer to students. This is part of the College of Law's objective to prepare "practice ready" lawyers, Dean Katz said.

Dean Katz also said that the day represented an especially proud one since the College of Law has "one of the oldest and best natural resources programs in the country. The University of Denver began teaching about natural resources in the late 1800s, and water law has been one of our offerings."

Following the oral argument, the lawyers who argued both sides of the case re-assembled in a nearby room where they fielded questions from students about appellate advocacy and what lessons the students could take from what they had just seen in the courtroom. The attorneys who took part in the question and answer session included John P. Akolt III, David C. Hallford, Willam A. Hillhouse II, Brian M. Nazarenus, Steven O. Sims, and Star L. Waring.

Student volunteers from the College of Law's Water Law Review escorted the justices around the law building.

Following a second oral argument, which involved a matter of statutory interpretation, the Supreme Court, members of the faculty, and student volunteers had lunch in the faculty library.

Don C. Smith, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the College of Law, said the day had been of enormous value for the entire law school community. "What our students saw today was appellate advocacy at its finest before the Colorado Supreme Court. So much can be learned from watching oral arguments before a court of the Colorado court's stature.

"There can be few more influential learning experiences than that provided by observing a skillful court posing insightful questions to advocates involving one of the most important cases the Supreme Court will rule on this year. The fact that the attorneys who argued the case were willing to entertain nearly one hour's worth of questions from students exemplified the tremendous professionalism of this stellar group of water lawyers, who together represent a "Who's Who" among water experts in the American west."

In summary, today was a tremendous experience for everyone at the College of Law, Mr. Smith said.

"I think it is safe to say that today's event will long be remembered by those who attended. The lessons learned will be of use to all of our students throughout their entire careers," Mr. Smith said. "It was a distinct honor and pleasure for the College of Law to host this important case and the Colorado Supreme Court."

Editor's note: In the top picture, the Colorado Supreme Court hears an argument from one of the attorneys. In the second picture, the attorneys participating in the oral argument respond to questions from students. Photos by Wayne Armstrong, University of Denver.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Looking Ahead to the Oral Arguments in the "FRICO" Water Rights Case: Regardless of Outcome, the Case Has Major Implications for State's Water Law

Tomorrow the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law has the distinct honor of providing the venue for a session of the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court will hear argument on Case No. 2009SA133, an appeal from a decision by the District Court, Water Division 1—encompassing the entire South Platte drainage, an area extending generally from the Continental Divide east to Colorado’s border with Nebraska and from the Palmer Divide north to Colorado’s border with Wyoming—regarding an application seeking changes to certain historical agricultural water rights.

The Court’s opinion will be a landmark in Colorado water law, and represents the increasing scrutiny applicants before the Water Court face. The water rights at issue are substantial legal and physical rights within the South Platte basin, and the parties—the applicants and the several opposers—represent significant water users and water rights owners in the metro-Denver area.

As is becoming typical for water rights applications in Colorado, and particularly in the South Platte Basin, the application giving rise to this appeal involves a complex system of water rights and parties. The application was filed in 2002, later to be amended, and opposed by forty-five parties. This application involves historical agricultural water rights operated within the FRICO-Burlington system just northeast of Denver (“FRICO water rights”).

These water rights and their proposed changes are generally one element of a large, regional municipal water supply proposal, which is addressed in a handful of still-pending cases before the Water Court. After disentangling and reorganizing some of these issues into a new, partially consolidated case, and after settlement with many of the parties, trial to the Water Court lasted sixteen days in the spring of 2008. The Water Court issued its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order on the issues and evidence presented at trial; the order, which is indicative of the complexity of this case, is 154 pages in length.

To provide some general context, water rights are established by diversion of water from the public waters of the state and placement to beneficial use; the Water Court only confirms the use and administration date by its decrees. Upon diversion and beneficial use, the water right develops the parameters by which the right is defined, including the location of diversion, the location of use, the type of use, and the seasonal timing of the use.

Any owner of a water right—water rights are freely alienable, as any other real property right, and may be transferred separate from ownership of adjacent land—may change any aspect of the water right on application to the Water Court for a change of water right and published notice of the proposed change. It is the Water Court’s duty to determine whether the proposed change will materially injure other vested water rights. One means of protecting other water rights from material injury is to limit the amount of water after the change to the quantity of historical consumptive use.

Colorado’s prior appropriation system governs a system of property rights that are extraordinarily valuable and to which owners have strong and emotionally-charged connections. Our water law has a history dating back to the claims and practices associated with mining as the territory developed in the 1860s, and the practice of water law routinely involves reliance on and reference to judicial opinions entered just after statehood, in 1876. Similarly, water rights in the state, operated according to the prior appropriation system, carry priorities dating to the earliest adjudications, in 1862.

As greatly steeped in this long history as both the rights and the law by which they are governed are, the rights and the prior appropriation system adapt as our society and water needs change. Using the Water Court process, users may apply their water rights to new and changing uses. As pressure on the State’s water supply mounts due to increased demands and recent dry years, other water users, the Court, and state officials view proposed changes with a keen eye. This increased scrutiny together with advancing sophistication within proposed water projects continues to raise questions our long history of water law has yet to address. The Water Court and the Supreme Court—appeals of Water Court decisions are taken directly to the Supreme Court; the Court of Appeals does not have jurisdiction over water matters—advance our system of water law by interpreting how such new questions fit within the prior appropriation system of law and policy.

Tomorrow’s argument to the Supreme Court presents such questions for review. The application, while encompassing a more extensive scope of water rights, issues, and parties than the average application for a change of water right, is surely representative of a change of historical agricultural water rights to municipal uses. Particularly given the geographic proximity of the FRICO water rights to the Denver metro area, as well as the significant extent of the operations to proceed from this change, the application is hotly contested.

Several of the issues the Supreme Court must decide result from physical changes in the 1960s and the 1990s impacting the operation of the FRICO water rights. Changes by the City of Denver to accommodate sewer and flood concerns redirected the supply of water in the river in the vicinity of the FRICO water rights. The Water Court must approve any changes to the location from which a water user diverts its water right; here the Water Court refused to permit continued diversion of greater than the amount of water physically available—now greatly reduced as a result of the changes—at the original headgate. Further, the Water Court refused to include in the calculation of consumptive use the water diverted under the FRICO water rights within the new configuration. As is evident based on its detailed findings, the Water Court meticulously considered the evidence and argument it received on the issues. The Water Court’s decision is soundly based on Colorado water law precedent protecting other water rights. These are unique circumstances, however, and may be distinguished from prior decisions.

With this appeal, the Supreme Court must balance competing protective measures: those protecting the entire system of water rights and those protecting continued use of a water right within an ever changing society. While the weight of Colorado’s water law has developed to protect water rights and maintain water supplies legally available to users, this case presents a unique question regarding changes for which an applicant seeks approval but did not independently implement. Regardless of the outcome of this case, it will impact future water operations and proposed changes presented to the Water Court.

If the Water Court’s determinations are affirmed, future change applicants will face an even greater burden to support their claims and water users may be reluctant to enter into arrangements intended to maintain the flexibility of what is generally a user-enforced system. If the Court overturns the Water Court’s determinations, individual water users may have greater confidence to enter into agreements with other users, but any such bargain will be rigorously reviewed and likely contested by non-participating users.

Marjorie L. Sant
Panorama Law Practice, LLC
Sturm College of Law LLM Student

Editor's note: Marjorie Sant, a graduate of the University of Colorado School of Law, is an experienced Colorado water lawyer. Currently she is pursuing a Masters in Environmental and Natural Resources Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law

New Book About Colorado Rivers by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs Reviewed by DU Professor Tom I. Romero II

A new book about Colorado rivers written by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs has been described as “…one man’s lifelong journey to understand and come to grips with the wonderful but often inequitable bounty of Colorado’s rivers and its people,” by Tom I. Romero II, an Associate Professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Professor Romero, who teaches Water Law, recently reviewed Living the Four Corners: Colorado, Centennial State at the Headwaters for The Colorado Lawyer (December 2010 pages 59-60), the journal of the Colorado Bar Association.

Justice Hobbs has been a long time friend of the College of Law and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law program in particular. He regularly speaks at the University of Denver Water Law Review Annual Meeting as well as to various water law-related courses.

Professor Romero writes that “Once majestic and unpredictable bodies of water, the headwaters of the Centennial State have become tightly controlled, over-managed cisterns on which every single drop is drained.”

In commenting about Justice Hobbs’ book, Professor Romero says:
“Justice Greg Hobbs reminds us…these rivers continue to inspire awe and wonder, perhaps because of our deep-rooted reliance on the river systems for our economy, politics, and culture—or perhaps because we simultaneously recognize and take for granted each river’s persistence and durability.”
Moreover, Professor Romero suggests that the book is a “teaching text” for all those involved in water issues:
“It shows us how to breathe life into our endeavors; it implores us to suck the marrow out of our shared experiences; and it empowers us to drink liberally from those water that have cut such deep canyons in the history, lives, and culture of Colorado."
Living the Four Corners is published by Continuing Legal Education in Colorado. For information about how to order the book, please click here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Becky Bye, 2005 JD Graduate, Interviews Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter for the Denver Bar Association's "The Docket"

Becky Bye, a May 2005 JD graduate of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, recently published an article titled "A Conversation With Attorney (and Governor) Bill Ritter" (pictured left) for The Docket, the publication of the Denver Bar Association.

Among other things, Ms. Bye asked Governor Ritter about his enthusiasim for promoting the "new energy economy," a term that many ascribe to the Governor himself. During his term in office, Governor Ritter was widely credited for promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency through various executive level decisions as well as legislative initiatives.

As reported by Ms. Bye, Governor Ritter said, "I think I had the ability to...say we can produce energy differently, we can consume energy differently. It would be good for our energy portfolio, and it would be good for national security if we found a way to produce energy domestically more than we currently do." To read the full text of Ms. Bye's article, please click here.

Ms. Bye serves as legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. She has also worked for Holland & Hart and as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Colorado. In the latter role, Ms. Bye provided legal advice to the Commissioners of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: A Beacon of Equality and Hope for All Americans and Beyond

Today, January 18, is a U.S. national holiday, and fittingly so as the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered.

Through enormous personal courage and leadership, Dr. King worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to take his message of nonviolent opposition to segregation to every corner of America. In recognition of his efforts and passion, Dr. King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

In a 2007 speech, Warren M. Washington, a world renown expert on climate change and senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, located near Denver, reminded all of us of Dr. King's concern "about environmental issues and public health" and noted that these issues have disproportionately harmed minorities and the poorest in the U.S.

The University of Denver is closed in honor of Dr. King.

May Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and inspiration burn brightly for those of us who remember him and for all of those yet to come in America and every country in the world.

Don C. Smith
Environmental and Natural Resources Program