What Does That Mean?
Water Rights for surface and ground water in Colorado can be very complex. In 1879, Colorado legislature created the division of the state into ten water districts. Each district was delegated a Water Commissioner to divide the water in accordance with the Prior Appropriation Doctrine (first in time, first in right). Unfortunately, the was no way to measure water usage.
In 1881, The Office of The State Engineer was created. The function of this government entity was to measure the water in each stream and how much was being diverted for irrigation and other uses. Water districts were also created being the South Platt, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. Today, the Division Engineer supervises Water Commissioners within each division.
At the end of the 1800’s, surface water was over-appropriated and new methods for acquiring water were being pursued such as dams and reservoirs to collect Spring runoff, rainfall and pumping into ground water tributaries.
Prior to 1957, there was no monitoring of pumped ground water. The 1957, Colorado Ground Water Law required a permit to drill a new well and permit any existing wells. These permits exempted water usage for stock watering, domestic and artesian wells.
In 1965, The Colorado Ground Water Management Act created the Ground Water Commission to manage all ground water basins to prevent overuse and lowering water tables. As a result, the State Engineer’s office was battling existing surface water rights ownership according to the Prior Appropriation Doctrine and permitting ground water usage. The court decided that beneficial use would be attached to every ground water well permit to protect senior water rights and overuse of ground water.
In 1969, the Water Rights Determination Act was created to administer surface water rights and ground water together. Ground water rights are required to be adjudicated to protect their priority. Plans for augmentation were also allowed to protect senior vested water rights.
The Division of Water resources and State Engineers are constantly working toward solutions to make Colorado Water Rights more clear. Basins of origin issues, reserved rights, wetlands, endangered species recovery and interstate water issues are new pressures being imposed on an existing water shortage problem.
Before you buy any property not based on city water usage, make sure you contact the State Engineer’s Office or a Water Rights Attorney. It’s better to be safe than sorry when planning your future where water rights may be involved.