Colorado Water Law Legislation Update

Submitted by Jeffrey J. Kahn

Proposed Water Legislation and Ballot Initiative

Legislation:  The 2014 Colorado Legislative Session convened on January 8th and several pending bills appear headed for enactment, including:

  • Relocation of Headgate without a Change Case.  HB-1005 clarifies that relocation of a headgate upstream may be allowed without a change of water right if a lowering of the stream channel has required the movement upstream.  This is in reaction to the September 2013 floods.
  • Water Flexible Markets HB-1026 would allow the water court quantification of agricultural water rights without the requirement of a pre-existing contract or lease for a new use.  After the quantification, water could be leased for municipal or other use in some, but not all, years depending on the demand and the water continued to be used for irrigation in the other years.
  • Increase Water Right Diligence to 10 Years.  HB-1320 would increase the diligence period on conditional water rights from the present 6 years to 10 years.

The fate of several other water related bills of interest is less clear at this time, including SB-103 (Phase In High Efficiency Fixtures); SB-017(Limit Use of Ag Water for Lawn Irrigation); HB-1052 (Ground Water Management District Enforcement Authority); HB-1002 (Water Infrastructure Natural Disaster Grant Fund);  and SB-023 (Transfer Water Efficiency Savings for Instream Use).

Ballot Initiative:   At least one group is pursuing a ballot initiative to impose the public trust doctrine for water rights by amendment of the Colorado Constitution.  The proposed amendment, if accepted by the State Title Board and if backers collect sufficient signatures, would go to a state-wide vote this November.  Such an initiative may threaten the reliability of decreed water rights.  Many nonpublic water rights organizations are mobilizing to oppose the initiative.  We will keep you updated on developments in this arena.

 If you have questions about the above legislation, initiative or any legislative matters, contact attorneys in the Lyons Gaddis Water Law group.

 Controversy Over Previously Quantified Water Rights.

The State and Division Engineers have taken several controversial positions concerning the continuing validity of quantifications of the historical consumptive use of water rights previously changed, including requantifications in ditch systems that have already been  subject to a ditch-wide analysis.  Members of the water community have requested the State Engineer reconsider these positions.  As a result, a meeting with attorneys representing interested water users is scheduled for April 10, 2014 in Denver. A second meeting with the broader water community, including the general public, is scheduled for April 15, 2014 at the Southwest Weld County Services Building from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.  RSVPs for that meeting are requested from Linda Korf at or by phone at 970-352-8712.

If you have any questions about any of these issues, contact attorneys in the Lyons Gaddis Water Law group.