Water Rights Getting A Water Right


Water rights in the Western United States are extremely complex and are governed by prior appropriation. Water rights are granted to individuals or institutions that will be using the water for domestic, municipal, agricultural or industrial uses. In order to obtain a water right in a state that is governed by prior appropriation individuals or institutions must file a claim for that right in the state water court. Each state typically treats water rights in a different manner, but what is similar to all states is that to have a valid claim for a water right a beneficial use for the water must be proven. It is possible to get a water permit before one finally obtains their water right. In most states, having a water permit grants the owner of the permit permission to use the water until the terms and conditions of their water right application are complete. Water permits are only temporary and are not the same as actually having a water right.


Water rights are treated as a property right rather than an individual right. If you are moving to a city or town, water is typically supplied from a water supplier or the municipality – they are responsible for the water right. Rural and suburban landowners should be concerned with whether or not they have a water right. Most of the time, the water right will transfer with the land upon purchase. The realtor should be well aware of any water rights and the priority date and seniority that accompany the water right(s). If you are in need of acquiring a water right for your property, it is imperative to contact the appropriate management agency, water engineer, water rights brokerage, or water lawyer for the state in which you reside. In the state of Colorado, the agency should be within the district in which you reside. If you need help determining if you already have a valid water right attached with the land that you have purchased, you should also contact the appropriate management agency.


Every water right includes the allocated amount and priority date for the right. A prior appropriation deems that “first in time is first in right.” Water right holders that filed first have senior rights over those who have filed at a later date. The responsibility of the senior water right holder is to use their allocation before their priority date; after that date has past, the next or junior right holder is then entitled to their share. This is where the term “making the call” becomes important to a senior rights holder who feels that they will not get their share of water within their priority date because of the use of a junior rights holder. In this case, one would contact their water district or state water authority with their request for priority ranking to be enforced.


Depending on your state’s legislation, you may or may not be allowed to change or transfer your water right. Changes to a right typically are allowed as long as it does not hurt the rights of other holders. In most states, if a water right is not used it is lost. The state will declare it abandoned or forfeited water rights.


To find out more information about obtaining a water right, or if you need to buy, rent, or sell your water right please contact Water Colorado, a water rights brokerage. We specialize in knowing the ins and outs of water rights to make obtaining and dealing with water rights easier for the holder.


Water Colorado is a water rights brokerage based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Water Colorado specializes in helping residents buy, sell, and rent water rights in any of the seven major basins in Colorado. If you have any further questions about water rights in Colorado please contact us at 970-493-4227 today.


References and Resources include “Western Water Rights” by Mary Ellen Wolfe and the Colorado Division of Water Resources.