Jay Fetcher - Access Batles in the Water War
Jay Fetcher rests against the rail at his North Routt County ranch. Photo courtesy of Jay Fetcher.
By Amanda Devos
Boating and tubing require access to and from a river. Occasionally that involves crossing private land.
Disputes flare at the intersection of Colorado’s commercial and recreational rafting and boating activities and ranchers’ private property rights. Conflicts over river access were magnified last fall, prompting Governor Bill Ritter to create the River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force. The group met to clarify liability issues, educate boat owners and landowners and to establish a permanent dispute resolution commission.
Routt County rancher Jay Fetcher was on board to represent Northwest Colorado, providing personal perspective as a landowner with waterfront property. Fetcher’s involvement in this issue is just one of many demonstrations of his passion and willingness to seek ways to improve ranching, the environment and society.
Periodic disputes between ranchers and other water users in Routt County often revolve around trespassing and liability – particularly when people get injured on private property. Fortunately, several successfully resolved trespass disputes surrounding access to the Yampa River in the past year have created a precedent for resolution.
Overall, local landowners are cooperative, Fetcher says. “The general attitude is, ‘if you ask, you can float.’”
Although the task force primarily focused on settling river access issues affecting rafters and boaters, there are other sources of controversy. Conflicts over fishing – that is trespassing by walking in the riverbed – may have to be specifically addressed in the future. Additionally, many of Fetcher’s peers contend that people do not have the right to float on the river that runs across their property, even though the Colorado State Supreme Court has affirmed otherwise.
“The water in Colorado is a really valuable asset,” Fetcher says. “Residentially, commercially, agriculturally, for energy and more.”
The present and future success of Colorado revolves around water. Interests will undoubtedly remain varied and conflicting. River access disputes, as Fetcher recognizes, are one battle in the widening war over water rights. ■