David E. Steiner

Retired USAF, Teacher, Dad, Grandfather, Curmudgeon

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Riparian Rights [1989]


If you really want to pick a fight in our mountains, just threaten to take away somebody’s water. If you live here, you know all about it and if you’re a snowbird you’ve read about it in the Wind and you’ll hear more about it this summer.

Back in 1913, when old Johnny Grant homesteaded the place my grandfather bought four years later, nobody cared much about water rights. Nobody knew what a water court was and when Johnny wanted water he had all he wanted flowing in Roaring Fork 30 feet in front of his 15 X 15 foot cabin.

For a long time most people got their water by gravity in the summer and by busting a hole in the ice and using a bucket in the winter. I don’t know when the first real well was drilled, but it must have been sometime in the 1930s.

Now, of course, there are all kinds of rules about water. You can build only certain kinds of outhouses, and septic tanks are a thing of the past; you have to have a leech field that conforms to about six pages of rules set out by Boulder county. I’ve kept our old outhouse as a reminder of how things were, but I finally had to nail it shut because passersby on Big Owl Road thought it was a convenient comfort station in the wilderness.

Edward, my grandfather, decided the civilized thing was to have a flush toilet, so he installed a septic tank about 40 feet from the stream in the early twenties. Not to worry; that house was torn down years ago. Today, of course, the health department would have a fit, shut it down and then fine you. But in those days it seemed okay; the nearest people downstream were at the Robinson Ranch, about a half mile away, and they had animals that did unspeakable things right in the stream!

Since those days we’ve continued to take water from that stream for all our cabins, first by gravity, then by surface pumps and finally by submerged pumps in shallow wells. And we’ve never filed for water rights. We always just assumed that since two streams crossed our land, we were entitled to the water. Now the government says that’s not so. The water, 50% or 85% of it, depending on whose engineers you believe, belongs to the government.

So there’s a lawsuit, with 51 parties objecting to what the government wants and the Forest Service lawyers came up to face the assembled populace. One of them said she was “feeling a lot of hostility in the room.” I expect if she felt someone was trying to take water she’d thought was hers for the last 72 years she’d be hostile, too.

I used to be more even more protective about our water. We drank it right out of the stream. My grandfather had a little wooden house in the middle of Roaring Fork where meat, poultry, eggs, milk and butter stayed cold all summer long. There was a blue enameled dipper on the side of the brook house, and you could get water anytime you wanted it, and I often did. It was so cold it hurt my nose.

But now the water’s polluted, so we can’t drink it. It has too many E. coli bacteria in it. Maybe that stuff was there when we drank it, in the days when nobody tested their water, and maybe not. At any rate, we worry about it more these days. When I was a kid we’d never heard of giardia. So, like many others, we get our drinking water from Crystal Spring.

I hope the Forest Service loses its case, for a bunch of reasons, but I’ve seen the government legal juggernaut at work close up for a number of years in dozens of cases and I don’t like our chances. Still, for most of us, I doubt it will matter much.

I figure, just by guess and by gosh, that I use maybe 5,000 gallons a year, which isn’t much, even in a stream you can spit across during the spring flood. And I figure the government can

spare it. If there’s a drought and they want my 5.000 gallons I guess we can arm-wrestle for it. Call me naive if you want to, but I expect they’ll be too busy with other things to send the Water Police down Big Owl Road .




© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner

Allenspark Wind Columns:


Why Allenspark?

Going Riding [August, 1985]


Used Cars

Peace and Quiet [1986]

Liberals & Conservatives

Going to the Movies

The Screened Porch

The Beginning of The Season

The Weather

The Hilltop Guild Bazaar

The End of The Season

The Gift of Time

The Beavers

Addresses [1987]


Watching the Trees Grow

Postal Rates

Changes in Estes Park

Square Dancing at the Pow Wow

Back to the Hilltop Guild Bazaar

The Solstices

Bird Feeders


The Estes Park Hardware Store [1988]


Limousine Service

A Memorial Service

A Hummingbird


A Hiking Trip

The Estes Park Public Library

Wild Life

Riparian Rights [1989]




Mountain Friendliness

A Motorcycle Trip

Satellite Television

“Weaving Mountain Memories”

Hotel Rates in the Old Days

The Price of Propane [1990]

The Front Range Almanac


Modes of Transportation

Miller Moths

My 50th Column

Modern Conveniences

Rock Climbing

On the Death of Otto Walter, Postmaster

Otto’s Memorial Service

A Big Owl Pot-Luck Dinner

A Whine About Telephone Service [1991]

After the Persian Gulf War

Some Changes in the WIND

The Trip to the Mountains

The Mountains in the Summer


Of Dogs, Music, and Children

Muhlenburg County

To My Grandson

The Sale of Longs Peak Inn

World War II  [1992]

Murphy’s Law and the Computer

The South St. Vrain Canyon


The Hazards of Volunteering

Crime in Our Valley


On the Death of Charles Eagle Plume

Can We All Get Along?

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Lost Horizon [1993]


Rumors About a Visit by the Pope


More About Fences


The Visit of Pope John Paul II

Forest Fires

The New Sewage System

The Snow Pool

The Good Old Days [1994]

The WIND’s 20th Anniversary

The Bunce School

The Shooting Gallery

The Estes Park Museum

Our Government

U.S. West Takes a Hit

The Year of the Hummingbirds

A New “Yield” Sign

Growth in Allenspark

Private Telephones?

The Salvation Army

Creation Science [1995]

Devolutionizing Big Government



Fort D.A. Russell

Domestic Terrorism

Old and New

Barney Graves

Life in the Wilderness

What’s In a Name?

Arthur C. Clarke


The Estes Park Trail-Gazette Columns:

July 1983


Estes Cone

Johnny Grant

Observations in Estes Park

The Bath House


The Sutherland’s Ice House

How Old is Charles Eagle Plume?


Christmas Trees

Tree Murder

Mountain Driving


Mail Boxes

More About Mail Boxes

“Are you related to ....?”


An Accident

The Wild Cat

A July Reunion

A Visit to Baldpate Inn

Opening Cabins


The Times, They Have Changed

Death and Transfiguration

The Population Explosion

The March of Time

Faith-Based Social Services

Looking for Pitch

Recent Writings I

Recent Writings II

Recent Writings III

Recent Writings IV

Recent Writings V

Recent Writings VI



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