Water Rights

Nationwide, there is no water rights management system in place, which leaves it up to individual states to govern their own resources. Each of the fifty states falls under one of three systems, each with specifics based on climate and location. Riparian rights dominate the East, with the rights of use of stream or lake water being shared by a succession of downstream land owners, beginning with the party who claims ownership of the land on the bank of the water body for what is termed “reasonable use”. Specific rules are in place to keep a handle on the natural flow of the water and keeping successive owners from disrupting other owner’s use of the water.

The second system, the Appropriation Doctrine, dominates the dry Western states which require more irrigation. The invention of early miners, this system involves water rights acquired by appropriation, or diverting water from a main source for beneficial use as long as the need exists, and is independent of land ownership.

Regulated Riparianism, the third system, is a variation of Riparian rights system, and involves a government regulated system of permits for tighter control of water distribution. The state of Colorado falls under the Appropriation Doctrine and has a system that dates back over 150 years that is based on the priority of a party's appropriation of a specified amount of water, at a specific location, and for specific uses (called a "water right").

A water source is defined as both surface water and well water that can be drawn to the surface. The "First in Time equaled First in Right!" was established in the late 1800's to manage water allocation in times of draught. Because of the drier climate in Colorado, a senior right has the authority to place a "call" on a water source in order to secure a full beneficial supply.

An appropriation in Colorado is acquired through a series of actions. First, a ground action, like a survey, is conducted. An application of intent for beneficial use is determined. Next, an appropriation is confirmed and the priority of a water right is determined via state Water Court. An application is submitted to the appropriate division out of seven water divisions into which Colorado land is divided.

The applicant must outline:
Since 1972, Colorado Domestic Well permits have been a part of this system. Colorado property owners are required to own at least 35 acres of Colorado land in order to obtain a Domestic Well permit from the state for household water use. This covers water supply to a house, outbuildings, and includes minimal irrigation. In contrast, lots smaller than 35 acres are issued a "House Hold Use Only" permit. Commercial water rights in Colorado are permitted separately.

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