Water Rights – Colorado Water Rights Information


Water rights in Colorado are based upon the Prior Appropriation Doctrine, which states “first in time, first in right.” Water right holders who filed for their rights first have a higher priority or senior right compared to those right holders that filed at a later date. Colorado’s water rights can be found in the State’s Constitution, statutes, and court records. Water rights are extremely vital to Colorado as its typography is unique throughout the state and relies heavily on water in order to ensure that its residents can maintain their way of life.


Water rights applicants in Colorado have to prove that the water allocation they have asked for be used for a beneficial use. Beneficial use is typically classified as use for agricultural, domestic, industrial, and municipal uses. Surface and groundwater typically have to be diverted, generally it is important that the applicant know the exact location where they plan to divert the water, how much water they want to divert, the flow rate of the water being diverted, and when they would like to divert it. For more specifics regarding the information required when filing for a water right it is best to look up the appropriate water form on the Colorado State Judicial Branch website. Water engineers, water rights attorneys, and water brokers may also be helpful in helping you understand the water right application process.


Water rights holders know the importance of the phrase “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” According to the “Landowner’s Guide to Western Water Rights,” if an absolute water right is subject to non-use for ten consecutive years it is presumption to abandonment. Intent is required in the State of Colorado in order for a water right to be deemed “forfeited.”


Colorado is home to seven district water courts that issue water rights amongst the seven major river basins. Water Division One’s Court, which handles water rights for the South Platte River Basin, is based out of Greeley, Colorado. Handling the water rights for the Arkansas River Basin is Water Division Two’s Court, which is located in Pueblo, Colorado. Water Division Three’s Court is found in Alamosa, Colorado and handles the water rights for the Rio Grande River Basin. Water Division Four’s Courts, handling the Gunnison River Basin, are located in Delta, Gunnison, and Montrose, Colorado. The Court for Water Division Five is located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and is responsible for the water rights in the Colorado River Basin. Steamboat Springs, Colorado is home to the Water Court for Division Six which handles the water rights for the White River Basin. Finally, Division Seven’s Water Court is located in Durango, Colorado and is responsible for the water rights for the San Juan River Basin.


Other organizations that are important to water rights in Colorado include:

  • The Colorado Division of Water Resources is home to the State Water Engineer. Information regarding many facets of water rights can be found on this website, both ground and surface water.


  • The Colorado Water Conservation Board is responsible for the conservation, planning, and protecting the natural flow of rivers. Created in 1937 the CWCB is a vital part in maintaining the vested interests of water rights holders in the state of Colorado.


  • The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District provides engineer services, land and water contract services, operations and maintenance, and public information when it comes to water, water rights, water quality, and other water related topics. A project that NCWCD is responsible for the is Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT Project), which is responsible for transferring water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope to help supply the water rights of holders in the South Platte River Basin.


Article Resources:

Colorado Division of Water Resources – www.water.state.co.us

Colorado State Judicial Branch – www.courts.state.co.us

Colorado Water Conservation Board – www.cwcb.state.co.us

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District – www.ncwcd.org