Sarah Klahn has more than 20 years’ experience trying complex water cases, including matters in state district and water court, federal court and before administrative agencies. To her trial practice, she brings a technical background in science and mathematics, and is especially adept at working with technical and engineering experts. Her clients value her willingness to take cases to trial, as well as her ability to identify negotiated solutions that result in elegant resolution of complex matters.
Sarah’s clients include municipalities, ranchers and private entities in Colorado, New Mexico and Idaho, for whom she has tried cases of first impression, settled large complex matters with durable negotiated solutions, and won appeals in both Idaho and Colorado Supreme Courts. In addition to her expertise in water law, she has also litigated cases involving the extent of agency authority, state/federal jurisdictional questions, water quality, municipal law and Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) issues.
She was an expert witness in the Colorado redistricting case Hall v. Moreno. Recently, she was selected as the first hearing officer for the Truckee River Operating Agreement, which provides for prospective means to resolve disputes under this complex agreement dividing up the waters of the Truckee and Tahoe basins.
Sarah also makes time to give back to her profession in various writing and speaking engagements; annually she is also the editor of the Water Law Chapter of Colorado Methods of Practice, editor of the RMMLF Mining Law chapter on water rights, and is one of the co-authors of Law of Water Resource Utilization to be published by the ABA in 2018.
In her off hours, Sarah stays immersed in the water world — over the summer, she pursues long distance marathon swimming and has completed several 10k races. She swam the width of Lake Tahoe in 2018. During the winter months, Sarah takes snow water equivalent measurements during backcountry telemark ski expeditions.
Sarah has represented the City of Pocatello, Idaho in a series of matters of first impression involving the development of conjunctive management of ground and surface water rights.
Sarah also represented the City of Pocatello, Idaho to prosecute a water right claim in the Snake River Basin Adjudication seeking water rights for the City under a federal law theory based on the 1888 Pocatello Township Act. This case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which denied certiorari.
In 2005 Sarah brought suit against the Colorado State Engineer for failure to protect vested water rights of ranching interests from the impacts of groundwater diversions associated with oil and gas development. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the water court that the State Engineer had an obligation to regulate oil and gas groundwater diversions.
The Engineers determined to regulate oil and gas groundwater diversions by regulation, but gave a pass to regulation of tribal oil and gas development despite the fact that the Southern Ute Indian Tribe had adjudicated rights under the McCarran Amendment as well as state water rights. The Supreme Court reviewed this decision and determined that Tribal development leading to groundwater diversions was susceptible to regulation.
A case similar to Vance was also brought in Wyoming seeking protection of vested water rights for ranching interests.
Sarah has extensive experience in Colorado Water Court, including cases involving diligence, augmentation change of water rights, and the intersection between water quality and water quantity.
Sarah represented the Yellow Jacket Conservancy District in diligence cases in which the primary issue was whether the District, sitting with “holdover” board members, was authorized to seek diligence in the first place. The Supreme Court agreed that it was, and that the “holdovers” retained authority to act on behalf of the District so long as there was no showing of fraud.
Sarah has extensive experience dealing with Colorado Designated Groundwater issues, and has worked in a variety of the designated basins seeking to protect the interests of designated basin-water right owners.