Practice Areas

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Water Law and Water Rights in Colorado

Water law pertains to water rights, a separate and distinct form of property right in Colorado. The rights to use water flowings within and connected to the surface streams of Colorado is obtained by adjudication of a water right before one of the Water Courts in the State.

After a water right is adjudicated, it is a vested property right that may be sold or otherwise alienated as any other real property. If the owner of a water right wishes to make a new or different use of the water right from that originally decreed, any such changes of the water right must be approved by the Water Court. Water Court approval is also required for the manipulation of water rights, for example, the right to exchange water (i.e. move it upstream), or to provide for a plan for augmentation (withdrawing water at one particular time and location upon the duty to replace it without injury to other water rights at another time and location).

Colorado also recognizes a form of water referred to as nontributary groundwater, typically found in deep, bedrock aquifers. The Water Court also has jurisdiction over this type of water. On the eastern plains of Colorado are several areas known as Designated Basins. Water law and rights in these areas are not handled by the Water Court but are instead controlled by a Groundwater Management District.

Members of this firm are engaged in all areas of Colorado water rights law practice, ranging from assisting with the investigation and purchase of water rights, transactions wherein water rights act as security with or without the land on which the water historically was used, to changes of water rights and adjudication of new water rights, to protection of water rights by participating in the water court applications of others, to appeals of such matters. This includes cases involving nontributary water rights as well as cases before the Groundwater Management Districts. Our Practice also includes administrative matters before the office of the State Engineer who is the administrator of water in Colorado.

Apart from the adjudication, purchase and sale of water rights, our firm has represented numerous governmental entities in the negotiation of Intergovernmental Agreements pertaining to the joint use and operation of water rights, as well as agreements for the acquisition, joint use or operation of storage and conveyance facilities. Moreover, our firm assists with review and analysis of proposed legislation, the handling of various property rights such as easements, rights of way, covenants, etc. having a collateral relationship to water law and rights, and administrative and permitting work before state and federal agencies.