In early July, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling against Coors Brewing Co. that could shape the way we view water reuse in industrial facilities. The company had established a water right for its brewing business and sought an amendment that would allow it to reuse water leaving its facility by leasing it to other companies.
The city of Golden, Colo., objected to the company’s plans, and others soon joined the opposition, citing that the company did not have the right to resell the water. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the opposition, noting that the original water right provided to Coors Brewing Co. required the company to discharge water back into Clear Creek, from where the water was originally pumped. Coors, the court said, would need to apply for a new water right to reuse and lease excess water from its processes.
This development highlights that despite it going through several processes of treatment for potable use and then treatment for discharge, the water is still not the property of the treatment provider, but rather the property of the waterway from which it came. Indeed, the Colorado Supreme Court said as much in its ruling opinion—“the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan does not change its character. Accordingly, the general rule, which provides that water return flows belong to the stream, applies.”
Now, of course, this could simply be related to the way the water right Coors had in place was written, but I’m willing to bet there are other industrial facilities in the country with a similar right. This could present a barrier to facilities looking to maximize their water use.
Ultimately, it sounds like the major opposition is the resale of the water from the plant to other users, as it would impact the rate structure for municipal plants in the vicinity, namely the city of Golden water utility. Perhaps there is a compromise to be had between these entities. Just what shape that will take remains to be seen.