Gov. Hickenlooper/Western Wire

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office responded Tuesday night to a controversial lawsuit brought by anti-fossil fuel groups’ ‘first-in-the-nation’ lawsuit calling for recognition of inherent “rights” for the Colorado River.

While Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper declined comment on pending litigation, Hickenlooper’s office told Western Wire the Colorado river’s legacy is one of Western states and citizens “working together” to protect the river.

“Colorado and countless partners have long understood the significance of the Colorado River system and the need to balance our needs for water with conservation and enhancement of the river ecosystem,” Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, Jacque Montgomery, told Western Wire. “This extends from efforts to protect—and improve habitat for—endangered fish in the river over the course of decades to the recent development of Colorado’s Water Plan.”

The lawsuit is also drawing criticism as a publicity stunt from Western land and water attorneys.

Filed Monday in federal district court in the state of Colorado, the lawsuit is led by a coalition of environmental groups including Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), attorney Jason Flores-Williams, and the radical environmental activist group Deep Green Resistance.

Deep Green Resistance advocates “sabotage and asymmetric action” in a four-phase plan of “Decisive Ecological Warfare” in hopes it “dismantles critical infrastructure require for industrial civilization to function.

CELDF said the “lawsuit Colorado River v. State of Colorado seeks a ruling that the Colorado River, and its ecosystem, possess certain rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate, and restoration.”

The state of Colorado is the defendant, said CELDF, and “may be held liable for violating the rights of the River.”

But protecting the river has been the cornerstone of Colorado’s mission, Hickenlooper’s office argued.

“That plan’s very essence is about working together to ensure sufficient water supplies for agriculture, cities, recreation and the environment as our state continues to grow,” Montgomery said. “The Colorado River, and its protection, has been a fundamental focus of Colorado as a state, but also of local governments and water utilities who themselves depend upon the river’s health and function as necessary for their own success.”

Mountain States Legal Foundation President William Perry Pendley was critical of CELDF’s mission and the lawsuit itself, calling it a “stunt.”

“The CELDF does not believe in private property, corporate entities–such as those established by family farms and small businesses, or that those seeking redress in federal court must meet the Constitution’s requirements—including a specific injury, traceability, and redressability, before doing so,” Pendley said.

“It [CELDF] seeks to turn the judicial system on its head and destroy the confidence that American people have in that hollowed institution.  This is a stunt that was rejected by federal courts in New Mexico, but it is a dangerous one nonetheless,” Pendley said.

Land and water law attorney Kent Holsinger previously told Western Wire that while the lawsuit should be seen clearly as a publicity stunt, it threatens current complex legal arrangements designed to promote, not hinder, conservation and multiple use for residents in the West.

“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.

“We must have strong and sensible laws to provide for a clean and healthful environment,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in an email to Western Wire.

But, Daines said, “rivers and trees are not people.”