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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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