Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jarndyce v. Jarndyce

Charles Dickens's novel, Bleak House, contains a delightful satire on the legal profession regarding a lawsuit in the Court of Chancery in London. Jarndyce v. Jarndyce had been under litigation for over a hundred years and showed no signs of being settled. That suit in Chancery had provided generations of solicitors with a very good living, and seemed destined to provide their issue unto the seventh generation with equally comfortable incomes. I'm fuzzy on the details, being more interested in the novel's description of an alcoholic woman who spontaneously combusted due to too much GIN in her system (I read it in graduate school and was pretty starved for entertainment), but I'm pretty sure the suit was a metaphor for the complexities of life in Victorian England and the disconnect between human community and the institutions we create to facilitate that community.

Lordy, lordy, if Dickens were only alive today and living in Colorado, the novel that man could write about Colorado water law!

A few months ago, out of the blue, we were contacted by an attorney regarding the need for a "due diligence" filing in Water Court to make our "conditional" water rights "absolute." OK. Seems the former owner's petition got lost in the Water Court and never was acted on. Initially, I dismissed her as an ambulance chaser (or, in this case, a "drip" chaser), but the longer we talked, the more alarmed I became. We retained our own attorney and got the filing done with one day to spare!

"Whew," I thought. "Now guests at the High Mountain Lodge won't have to worry about their showers running dry before they rinse the soap off.

Then, just yesterday, this young, beaded guy with a pony tail (far too cool-looking to be a bureaucrat) shows up at the lodge and introduces himself as the Water Commissioner who has been working his way through a 3-year backlog of cases, and our Water Court filing brought us to his attention. Lucky us. He tried to explain that the water rights on our well were "junior" to water rights of people down the valley from us. It seems that, 9 months out of the year, demand for water in our drainage exceeds the capacity of the existing water rights, so those holding "junior" water rights are expected to sequester water in case of demand from senior holders.

And it seems that the ponds down below the lodge are there to sequester water for just such occasions.

"We don't own them," sez I, going into my best "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies" mode.

No matter. The fact that water necessary to guarantee my water rights is on another person's property makes no nevermind to the State of Colorado. That person is obligated to release water when the state tells him to to preserve my water rights.

And they wonder why that GIN-soaked person exploded.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. haha! even I cant get this right!!!!
    meaning no offence to you, it's spelt

    Jarndyce an Jarndyce

    But it is a good example of the twisted law and brings much truth to the saying.

    That Law is an Ass!

  3. Thanks for the correction, texasrose.

    In the case of Colorado water law, it's a result of a scarce resource being over subscribed by interested parties. You can read about it here:

    And here:

    And here's an an amusing editorial published in the Denver Post after John McCain suggested renegotiating the Colorado River Compact while running for president:

    In Colorado history, probably more people have been shot over water disputes than over any other political wrangling.