Water Law & Compacts
The Citizen's Guide to Colorado's Interstate Compacts contains all you need to know about the history and administration of our downstream obligations in 32 pages.
Colorado straddles the Continental Divide, giving birth to four great rivers - the Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande and the Colorado. They nourish cities and farms, industry and recreation, and tens of millions of Americans living in 18 states. But in the arid West, there is rarely enough water to satisfy all desires.
Colorado and its neighboring states have argued for more than a century over who gets how much water from these rivers. Nine interstate compacts and two U.S. Supreme Court equitable decrees govern how much water Colorado is entitled to use and consume within its boundaries. These water-sharing charters have fashioned enduring relationships between sister states.
New in 2010, the Citizen's Guide to Colorado's Interstate Compacts explores how they came into being, how they succeed and fail and how we adjust to them -- and they to us.
Want to learn more? Purchase the Citizen's Guide to Colorado's Interstate Compacts
The Citizen's Guide to Colorado Water Law contains all you need to know about the legal aspects of water in 32 pages.
Water is a limited resource, vital to Colorado. In light of its scarcity and value in this arid region, Colorado adopted a set of laws in the 1860's designed to guarantee security, reliability, and flexibility in the development and protection of water resources.
Colorado water law has four essential principles:
1) All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies and private persons;
2) A water right is a right to use a specified portion of the public's water resource;
3) Water right owners may build facilities on their own lands or the private lands of others, upon payment of just compensation, to divert, store and use water; and,
4) Water right owners may use streams and aquifers to transport and store water for beneficial use.
The prior appropriation system regulates the use of surface water and tributary groundwater connected to rivers. The phrase "first in time/first in right" is a shorthand description of the prior appropriation doctrine. Water users with earlier court-decreed rights (senior rights) can divert in times of short natural supply before later-acquired rights (junior rights) can begin to use water. Appropriation occurs when a business, public agency or private person places available unappropriated surface or tributary groundwater to a beneficial use according to procedures prescribed by law.
As Colorado's water needs continue to grow, efficient water management will become even more critical. Colorado has always been good at adapting its water law to accommodate scarce supply and changing needs.
Want to learn more? Purchase the Citizen's Guide to Colorado Water Law.
Colorado water law is often studied and updated. Below are recent happenings within this important area of Colorado water resources:
The Western Water Assessment in Boulder, CO provides climate change information designed to assist water resource decision makers. They have compiled a list of documents and organizations associated with the legal and policy arrangements for allocating and managing water that is available here.
In 2007, the Colorado Supreme Court established the Water Court Committee. The Committee reviewed the water court process; identified possible ways to achieve efficiencies in water court cases; and ensured the highest level of competence in water court participants. The committee provided its recommendations on Aug. 1, 2008. Information on the committee is available here.
Support for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is tax-deductible and provides numerous benefits, including discounts on publications and event registrations. Your membership supports development of new publications, outreach efforts across the state, and critical operational needs.