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What Happened To Rights of Nature in Nederland?

Our organization, Save The World’s Rivers (formerly named “Save The Colorado”), has been active in Boulder County for our entire 15-year existence. We’ve helped lead the fight against Denver Water’s Gross Dam expansion on South Boulder Creek by fighting through the entire permit process and now in court. We have more members in Boulder County than any other community, and so it was a natural fit for us to expand in the County, including addressing:

  • the problem of E. coli pollution in Boulder Creek in the city of Boulder,
  • the threat of a major proposed new dam on South St. Vrain Creek outside of Lyons,
  • the pollution of Boulder Creek’s headwaters by a mine upstream of Nederland,
  • the recent proposal by Eldora Ski Area to build several new small dams on its property to divert more water out of creeks.

We’ve done all of this work because our members and supporters in Boulder County have educated us about these issues and invited us to help address them. Further, the Town of Nederland has joined us in opposing the Gross Dam expansion, in expressing serious concerns about the mine upstream of town, and in our concern about the environmental impact of Eldora Ski Area’s growth ambitions.

Back in 2020, a member of the Town Board of Nederland learned about our work supporting Rights of Nature and invited us to work with the Town to help pass a “Rights of Nature for the Boulder Creek Watershed” resolution. The first of its kind in Colorado, the resolution passed unanimously and made headlines. Earlier this year, the Town Board also unanimously passed a resolution appointing “guardians” for the Creek, which are volunteers from the Town’s Sustainability Advisory Board who were given direction to make recommendations to the Town Board about threats and opportunities to protect the watershed. These appointed guardians were the first such appointment in U.S. history, which also made national and even international news.

Over the last 2 years, we’ve also had members and supporters in Nederland ask us to learn more about, and engage around, the Town’s proposal to permit and build “Nederland Reservoir,” a small dam and reservoir that would be built about 1.5 miles upstream of town on Boulder Creek. Our organization took an initial look at the proposal and had several concerns about it, and so at the end of April we filed a “statement of opposition” (posted here) in the water court process that the Town had begun to further their permit process.

Our statement of opposition has nothing to do with Rights of Nature, but more simply allows us to raise concerns and ask for conditions and stipulations to make sure the reservoir project is needed, to make sure Nederland ratepayers can afford it, and to make sure that other less damaging alternatives (like simply storing the water in Barker Reservoir) are considered. We are not “litigating,” but are doing exactly what state law allows us to do to serve our Nederland members’ interests. We believe that our engagement in water court around the proposed reservoir will make a better project — one that could be a lot less expensive and more environmentally sustainable — that benefits ratepayers as well as the environment.

Although Nederland’s Rights of Nature resolutions were non-binding and have no legal standing, at the first meeting of the newly elected Town Board in May, they repealed the Rights of Nature resolutions because they perceived them as a threat to the Town’s water rights. Our legal team sees it differently, but we are the first to admit that if you really want your watershed protected by Rights of Nature, then proposing to build a new dam is probably incongruent.

We will continue to support our members in Nederland and Boulder County regardless of the Town’s stance on Rights of Nature. The area truly is a spectacular natural resource whose watershed deserves the best possible protection.

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Gary Wockner directs Save The World’s Rivers. Contact Gary@SaveTheWorldsRivers.org

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