Colorado Water

History: Water in Colorado

Canoeing on a lake at sunsetThe history of the Colorado River mirrors the history of the American west. Competing water uses from the Colorado River system have defined Colorado history for over 100 years. The legal right to divert and use water in Colorado has been deliberated and defined from before the time of statehood in 1876. Article 16 of the Colorado constitution defines the water doctrine known as "prior appropriation", which has stood the test of time as Colorado developed from a frontier western state to the modern era of the late 20th century. Since 1876, the constitution and subsequent water court rulings have governed the use, diversion and storage of water in Colorado. "Prior appropriation shall give the better right as between those using the water for the same purpose...." is a Colorado constitutional excerpt that is the basis for the first in use, first in right doctrine of water appropriation. This Colorado water doctrine has become one of the legal foundations upon which water is governed, managed and distributed in Colorado.


Water Resources in the Four Corners Region

A number of natural resources are required for uses in agriculture, residential, business and industry. Among these resources that are needed by communities are electricity, land, water, sewer services and natural gas. In the Four Corners region, water resource management is critical for agriculture, business, industry and communities. Rather than debate the politics of water, we will focus on the management of the resource and how it impacts the communities in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.


Law of the River

The Colorado River Basin covers seven states and parts of Mexico, a drainage area of over 244,000 square miles. Precipitation ranges from 30 to 45 inches in mountainous headwaters areas to less than five inches in desert areas. The historic flows of the Colorado River havevaried considerably, both seasonally throughout the year and in dry as opposed to wet periods.


Dolores/San Juan/San Miguel Basin Facts to Know and Tell

Supply and Demand 

According to the Colorado Water Conservation Boards’ Statewide Water Supply Initiative Studies, the Dolores/San Juan/San Miguel River Basin is projected to experience an increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) and self-supplied industrial (SSI) water demand of 18,800 acre-feet (AF) by 2030. Of the 18,800 AF of increased water demand in the Basin, the majority is proposed to be met through existing supplies and water rights and through the implementation of identified projects and processes. However, there are still some anticipated shortfalls expected in certain portions of the basin.


Ditches & Diversions

Irrigation DitchPeople need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities in order to avoid the conflicts which commonly erupt between neighbors over the fair sharing of a scarce supply of water. Statutes are also in place to define the relationship between the water user, the state administrators and the private ditch companies. If you have legal questions, a water attorney can be very helpful in explaining your rights under Colorado water law. The Colorado Division of Water Resources is the state agency charged with the administration of the state's rivers and reservoirs and the enforcement of Colorado?s water laws and statutes. Water in Colorado is treated as a private property right that is bought and sold and, at times, can be separated from the land on which it is used. The owner may sell or lease the water rights to others, separate from the land. Sale transactions are recorded at the county where the sale occurs and tracking the ownership of the rights is done through title and deed research, just as with land transactions.


Syndicate content