Water Rights - What the Prior Appropriations Doctrine Means to You


Water rights are a topic that can be confusing to many people. Water Colorado is here to assist in all things related to water rights.


The Prior Appropriation Doctrine, also known as the Colorado Doctrine, is everything when it comes to dealing with water rights in Colorado. The doctrine came to pass after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Wyoming v. Colorado case over the allocation of water rights. The ruling was “first in time, first in right.” Meaning, the closer you were to the source of the water, the higher the priority was on your water right.


This is when water rights get a little tricky... To obtain the right in the first place, you must prove that you will be using the water for a beneficial use. Each water right has a quantity and appropriation date attached to it. If you do not use all of the water you are allocated, you lose it to the next person who has right to that water.
Essentially, it is like a water hierarchy. The senior water rights holder(s) have priority to the water that is available before the junior water rights holder(s) do. In the event of a shortage, the junior rights holder(s) are never guaranteed that they will actually be entitled to the water they have been allotted in their right. The rights that are designated above them in the hierarchy are entitled to their water share first. This is how water law is governed in the western United States, as several states rely on the water that comes from Colorado.

Generally, a beneficial use includes water used for industrial, agricultural, or household purposes.

If you are buying a water right, you will be happy to know that once a water right is sold, it retains its original appropriation. That is why it is important to know what the appropriation is when it comes to buying, selling and renting water rights. However, you must still be using the water appropriated in the right for a beneficial use – if not it falls under the Doctrine of Abandonment.

Interestingly enough, Colorado’s Prior Appropriations Doctrine has also had a strong influence on how other commercial activities are governed. First in time, first in right has been applied to the California Gold Rush of 1849 which later became the Mining Law of 1872 and also the Homestead Act of 1862 which was applied to agricultural production to name a few.

To find out more about the Prior Appropriations Doctrine or to find out more about the water right/rights that you have or may be considering purchasing, please contact us at Water Colorado today. You can call us at 970.493.4227 or email us at info@watercolorado.com.

Water Colorado is a water rights brokerage firm that is looking out for your well-being. We have an honest, hard-working and knowledgeable staff, which means quick and smooth water rights transactions so you can spend more time doing what you enjoy! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please contact us at anytime.

We want to remind you that Water Colorado is not a legal firm or water engineering company, we are water brokers and we can help you navigate through the complex process of buying, selling or renting water rights.