Symposium 2018


Forging Sovereignty, Self Determination, and Solidarity

through Water Law



All-Day Conference

Friday, March 30, 2018

8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Register here

Water has long served as a source of both great conflict and critical collaboration in the history of the United States. Especially for historically marginalized communities of American Indians, Latin@s and Blacks, ownership, control, access and distribution of water rights has often been fleeting and limited in both scope and duration. Though these same communities have contested their marginalization in the realm of water law and policy sometimes through courts and other times through political and social mobilization, they have encountered apathy, resistance and sometimes hostility to their claims. The consequence is a contemporary United States where insecurity and uncertainty over water rights and quality are represented in the on-going struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux to assert their sovereignty over the Missouri River, the political and legal fight of the majority Black residents of Flint, Michigan to expect clean water to be distributed by its municipal government, and the vocal efforts of Latin@ farmers to maintain centuries old communal and cultural practices to their ditches.

The Denver Water Law Review’s Annual Symposium will bring these issues together. In collaboration with the University of Denver’s Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the Study of (In)Equality and the Center of Sustainably, as well as the University’s strategic commitment to inclusive excellence and community engagement, the WLR Symposium will explore how Indigenous, Latin@, and Black communities have used water law individually and collectively with others to empower themselves to achieve equitable water rights and water quality outcomes.  Using IRISE’s framework of sovereignty, self-determination, and solidarity, the Symposium seeks to identify how and in what ways water lawyers, policy makers, and DU Law can work for and in collaboration with underserved communities on issues of water rights and water justice now and into the future.

For more information, contact Lindsey Ratcliff at

Panel 1. Federal Reserved Tribal Water Rights

The federal reserved tribal water rights panel will address how water justice issues for tribal communities are questions of tribal sovereignty rather than racial or social justice. Panelists from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Tribe, and Navajo Nation located in in the American Southwest will share stories about their water settlements and current problems they face in securing water infrastructure to recognize their water rights. Panelists will also discuss the importance of government-to-government consultation.

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Moderator: Justice Greg Hobbs
  • Peter Ortego, General Counsel for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
  • Ernest House, Jr., Executive Director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs
  • Steve Moore, Native American Rights Fund

Panel 2. Latino Community and Agricultural Water

The Latino communities’ cultural, class, and racial justice panel will focus on agricultural water governance in Southwest Colorado and Northern New Mexico. The panel will foster storytelling, discussions around why water is a social and economic justice issue, and how control of water can be viewed as power, access, and culture.

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Professor Devon Peña, Professor at University of Washington and Executive Director of the Acequia Institute in the San Luis Valley

Panel 3. Municipal water pollution

The municipal water pollution panel will explore how and in what ways underserved and minoritized communities in the Denver Metro area use, access, and are impacted by contaminated water. Grassroots organizations in the Denver Metro area will describe problems communities face in terms of access to clean and safe water for drinking, but also to recreate and enjoy the natural world.

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Moderator: Professor Tom Romero
  • Khyla Craine, Assistant General Counsel, NAACP
  • Lizeth Chacon, Colorado People’s Alliance

Lunch Keynote

Professor Camille Pannu, Director of the Water Justice Clinic at UC Davis School of Law will give a lunch keynote to explain the role of water law clinics in creating more equitable water governance for underserved communities. She will also address the current political climate and the importance of looking at water through a racial and social justice lens.

Panel 5. CLE Ethics Panel 

Panelists will explore real-world ethical challenges water attorneys face regularly: unbundled legal services, pro se applicants and opposers, and conflicts.  Panelists will provide hypotheticals and will encourage audience participation in issue-spotting and developing strategies to overcome these challenges.

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Zach Smith, Staff Attorney, Colorado Water Trust
  • Jamie Sudler, Executive Producer of H2O Radio

Panel 6. A Call to Action

The “Call to Action” panel will close the Symposium. We intend for this panel to “tie together” everything discussed in the preceding panels. A moderator will address the Symposium and then facilitate a conversation with attendees and select panelists about actions moving forward––particularly the role of the Colorado Water Bar and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law––to help underserved communities with their water challenges.