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Commentary and Analysis Regarding Colorado Law

Protecting Water Rights from Calls

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Water rights in Colorado are prioritized and administered based on the year of their decree and date of appropriation. The oldest decreed water rights are most senior and are entitled to divert their decreed flow rate when water is in short supply. If there is not enough water in the stream at their diversion point, they can place a call for the delivery of water against junior water users to satisfy their full demand. The State Engineer and Division Engineers can also shut down water diversions that cannot be adequately administered to protect other water users.

In many parts of Colorado, the streams have been over-appropriated for 100 years or more at certain times of the year, and calls for water rights may be as senior as the 1860s. Water rights on the main stem of the Yampa River had never been called out until 2018. It happened again in 2020. Those highly publicized calls were placed to protect water rights decreed in 1951 through 1963 near Dinosaur National Monument. The calls lasted about 23 days in 2018 and only ten days in 2020, assuming the early September snowstorm puts an end to calls this year. Those calls would have lasted longer if it had not been for tremendous cooperation between the water users, Division Engineer, Tri-State, Colorado Water Trust, and the Colorado River District.

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Do You Feel Well-Protected?

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Many  landowners and small businesses use wells that provide a vital water supply for their property.  Some wells are used for watering livestock, for drinking water inside homes, for irrigation of lawns and gardens, or for drinking and sanitary purposes inside a shop or other business.  People often take for granted their right to use their well, and don’t realize that use may be threatened.  Finding out you don’t have the proper permit or decree after your well goes dry from a nearby construction project, or after the state orders you to shut down the well, may be inconvenient, expensive, and difficult to fix. 

In Colorado, water rights outside the Designated Basins are administered based on “first in time is first in right”, with many of the first rights dating back to the 1860's.  In order to establish the priority of your water right and protect it from new uses, you must have a court decree.  No diversion is allowed from a well unless the owner also has a valid permit from the Division of Water Resources (DWR). If you own a small well that is important to your home or business, you should make sure you have a valid well permit and your use falls within the permit limits.  If you don’t have a well permit, or if your use is out of compliance, the State may shut down your well.  For questions about administration of wells or questions about your individual well permit, you can call DWR’s groundwater information desk.  However, before talking with them, you may want to consult with an experienced water attorney.

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Longmont, CO 80501
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