FEATURED VOLUNTEER: Myrna Poticha,
Co-Chair of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter
By Mary Coday Edwards
been a Sierra Club member for some time, but 20 years ago Mike Mueller
and Club mainstay Charlie Oriez urged her to channel more of her
environmental activism into the Club’s priorities. Involved ever since -
Myrna is also a member of the Legislative, Political, Administrative,
Personnel and Membership Committees - she continues to remain committed
because “it is effective. The Sierra Club commands respect, even from
our opponents, because of its reputation for winning environmental
– not a conservationist! - once complained to me that it was not fair
that a heavyweight like the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program always wins its
battles because ‘it is so well-funded and attracts these passionate
lawyers’. This may not always be true, but it [SC] commands respect in
the legislative arena, and among the general populace,” Myrna said.
attracting “passionate lawyers” isn’t enough, Myrna added. “An
over-riding goal of mine is to let people know how desperately we need
more hands, more brains, more energy, more involvement and enthusiasm
from a larger group of people. We need younger people who are willing to
pick up the torch and protect this unique state that we live in.”
Stepping into the waters - emerging a standard bearer
a community organizer by education and experience, her environmental
expertise in the field of water quality and habitat came about due to
her work as a neighborhood activist when the group “brought a lawsuit
against Arapahoe County for a development issue that had to do with
“Someone who was in the legislature at that time asked me if he could file an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) brief.
It went all the way to the Supreme Court. We ended up not winning at
the Court level, but that legislator was then elected governor – Richard
Lamb. As governor, he called me and said ‘I need you’ and put me on the
Water Quality Control Commission.”
Myrna served on the Commission for 10 years, four terms, from 1975 to 1985.
was a lot of work, but it was a very exciting time, as that’s when
Colorado was given the program to put together a water quality plan
under newly enacted federal legislation Public Law 92-500, the Clean
pun intended, but these standards have not been watered down. Lamb’s
five appointees put together the entire Colorado regulatory framework, and
it’s still in existence, “almost exactly the same way as we wrote it.... This was the first such standard to be adopted in the United States, and
set a precedent for other states. Our model was used by EPA throughout
the rest of the country.”
further, Myrna said the state regulations are very interesting.
“First you classify all the waters for whatever they’re suitable to be
used for; for example, is this water good enough to be drinking water?
Is it primarily for recreation? Is it for aquatic life, for fishing? So
first you put those classifications on the water, and then you say what
level of pollution the water could handle in order to keep those uses
viable.... And the standards were so carefully researched that very
little has changed.
more important part is that we had what is called an anti-degradation
policy. You can’t lower usage just because someone wants to pollute so
much that no one, for example, can swim there anymore. You cannot
degrade water beyond for what it was originally suited.”
continues to immerse herself in Colorado water issues; she is a
National Board Member for Colorado for Clean Water Action and was
recently appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper to the Cherry Creek
Basin Water Quality Authority.
Constricted by structure: Water laws from the 1800s
Water law and water quality law are very complicated and complex fields in Colorado.
question is does water law trump water quality law? In Colorado, water
is a property - people own water - and just about all the water in
Colorado has been appropriated. In many of the eastern states you
wouldn’t find something so ridiculous, but here there’s a whole system
dating back to the 1800s on water law, with established senior and
junior rights, which is enshrined in our State Constitution. But the
Federal Law requires certain standards in terms of water quality, such
as an upstream user may not degrade a downstream user’s water source.
This results in a huge disconnect between what you have to do to protect
the quality of the water and your right to own the quantity of the
water,” Myrna explained.
[disconnect] has never been tested in court … we just all manage to
live within these two legal systems that sometimes don’t work very well
addition, before 2009, “you couldn’t put out rain barrels [for
rainwater harvesting] - it was against the law because somebody owned
all that water that was falling on your land. Now there are laws which
allow for very limited rainwater harvesting in certain regions of the
National Hero Status
Myrna’s environmental efforts have not gone unnoticed – or unrewarded.
2002, “I was named one of ‘Thirty Heroes for 30 years of the Clean
Water Act’ by a national organization for my work to protect Cherry
Creek Reservoir, and for my leadership on the Water Quality Control
Commission. Barbara Boxer [U.S. Sen, D-CA] was one of the 30, as was one
of the Kennedy’s; it was overwhelming to me.”
noted were Myrna’s efforts “in researching, proposing, and helping to
ensure adoption of a protective standard for soluble uranium in drinking
Anyone devoted to preserving our natural heritage must live with personal limitations and society’s hurdles.
Myrna feels very fortunate to be able to work with colleagues on the
Executive Committee and in other leadership roles, it’s a challenge to
“keep up with all the issues we deal with…. I struggle to find time to
keep up with water issues. They are critically important, as water is
truly the lifeblood of our State. We need more people to become
involved,” she stressed.
thinking of the future, “my frustrations with Americans who would sell
off resources today and don’t realize they’re selling off their
grandchildren’s heritage really bothers me. It’s the attitude that this
little nibble and that little bite out of the environment and this
little road into the wilderness – all these little things don’t matter.
It’s sort of like fracking [oil & gas industrial hydraulic fracturing] – they tell you that
it’s using maybe only 2 percent of Colorado’s available water supplies.
Well, that’s 2 percent on top of all the other percentages for different
usages and each one of these little nibbles leads ultimately to
tremendous degradation of the natural environment.
are very shortsighted about all these various activities, the ‘I don’t
make a difference’ kind of attitude, what I do in my little bit of dirt
doesn’t matter. As hard as we work, it’s difficult to get people to see
that that little bit of extra traffic on the highway, or whatever it may
be, might be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
you would like to make a difference and give more of your time, talents
and energy to the Rocky Mountain Chapter’s efforts to preserve
Colorado’s natural environment, contact Myrna.
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