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Water Rights in Colorado

Water rights in Colorado provide you a share of this sacred resource. Water is powerful and precious. However, in the state of Colorado, water is considered public. 

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3

The Water We Share

Knowing the difference between senior and junior shares could make a difference down the ‘stream.’

Water is significant source in Colorado. Did you know that our colorful state is considered the seventh-driest in America? With that in mind, approximately 70% of Colorado’s water sources are located on the Western Slope. As a result, knowing the regulations surrounding water access is important when purchasing a ranch.

For example, look our bountiful Blue Creek Ranch listing. It’s water-rich features include over 3.8 miles of Blue Creek, and approximately 47 mountain ponds. Purchasing a spectacular property such a Blue Creek Ranch, you’ll need some background knowledge of the water rights on the Western Slope. It’s time to take a closer look at the water shares associated with your property. Are they senior water shares or junior shares? The difference could matter in the long run.

Let our farm and ranch real estate experts at Eagle Land Brokerage guide you through some of the more basic regulations pertaining to water access.

Headwater History

Colorful Colorado is considered a headwater state because several rivers are born from our Rocky Mountains. When Colorado became a state in 1879, the legislature created a system for distributing the scarce source of water. Divided into ten water districts, the majority of the districts are in the South Platte Valley and one is from the Arkansas drainage. In each district, the statute appointed a Water Commissioner to divide the water according to the priorities of the ditches within each district. All of these priorities fall under the Prior Appropriate Doctrine, which enforces a first-in-time, first-in-right policy.

While much of the legislation has been modified to fit modern times, the first-in-time, first-in-right policy still exists today. How could this impact your source of water? If there is ever a serious water shortage, whoever is the senior right holder will have priority access. Therefore, newer–or junior–water shares must wait for the senior share to be fulfilled before they could access the water source. It’s important to understand the status of your water rights prior to purchasing a large lot of land. In fact, this should be one of the first questions that you should ask when inquiring about a ranch property!

Colorado is a headwater state, that's why it's important have water rights

Many beautiful rivers are born in the Rocky Mountains.

A Drenched Doctrine

The nuances of Colorado water access and water rights encompasses all forms of water. When you purchase your slice of heaven on the Western Slope, you may need a water right, a well permit, or an approval of a water replacement plan. For example, if you were planning to use, divert, extract, or move any surface or tributary groundwater for beneficial use. All of the above would be examined by either a water court, the Colorado Groundwater Commission, or the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

Furthermore, the Colorado Doctrine governs all surface and tributary groundwater; it contains four essential principles:

  1. “All surface and tributary groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies and private persons;
  2. A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources;
  3. Water right owners may build facilities on the lands of others to divert, extract, or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place use; and
  4. Water right owners may use the streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of water.”

Water Rights and Ranches

In summary, we’ve only discussed the tip of the iceberg of water rights in Colorado. Water is essential to ranching, and it’s a question that should come up when contemplating purchasing a large plot of land. The farm and ranch specialists at Eagle Land Brokerage would be glad to walk you through the unique water shares that are associated with your potential property.

Come enjoy God’s bounty on the Western Slope. Peruse our listings, and reach out if you have any questions about the water rights in Colorado.

Our team is looking forward to working with you.

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Isaiah 44.3