District Court dismisses Colorado River “personhood” lawsuit

Author: Marianne Goodland - December 5, 2017 - Updated: December 8, 2017

Water CongressThe Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. (m-kojot, istockphoto)

A federal court Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed against the state for “personhood rights” for the Colorado River. 

The lawsuit was filed in September by attorney Jason Flores-Williams for the environmental group Deep Green Resistance (DGR) as “next friends” on behalf of the Colorado River ecosystem.

The lawsuit originally intended to provide the Colorado River with the same rights as people, as a way of protecting the river.

Mari Margil, director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund International Center for Rights of Nature, said in the statement in September that the river and its ecosystem “possess certain rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate and restoration.” In addition, the group wants a ruling that the state can be held liable for “violating the rights of the river.”

On Monday Flores-Williams withdrew the lawsuit and a U.S. District Court judge agreed to the dismissal.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, in a statement Monday, said that under the terms of the dismissal, “the case cannot be brought again in federal court. I do not doubt the personal convictions of those groups and individuals who claimed to speak on behalf of the ecosystem. However, the case itself unacceptably impugned the State’s sovereign authority to administer natural resources for public use, and was well beyond the jurisdiction of the judicial branch of government.”

Last week, Coffman’s office announced she would seek federal sanctions against Flores-Williams for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

Flores-Williams told Colorado Politics that “at this point in U.S. history and our courts, natural entities don’t have standing.” He acknowledged the lawsuit was going to be an uphill battle, and that he wished they had gotten rights for the Colorado River. Such rights would have been a valuable tool for the courts to prevent environmental degradation and over-allocation of the Colorado River, Flores-Williams explained.

“The courts aren’t ready for it yet,” he added. “All we can do on our end is keep fighting” and to continue to raise awareness around the issue.

Flores-Williams said he will move on to deal with a class-action lawsuit filed against the city of Denver, and that he hopes other lawyers, working with groups who support the movement around protecting the river, will pick up the gauntlet.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.