Colorado is a “first in time, first in right” state. This means it is ruled by the theory of “prior appropriation”. Prior appropriation means the first person to use water from a particular source has “first right to it”. All subsequent users may use the water but not to point where it affects the first user.
The Colorado Doctrine was created in the 1860s and is the law of water rights of the state. It was first initiated due to farmers redirecting water from streams to use for irrigation. The Colorado Territorial Legislature furthered this Doctrine in 1861 to include being able to divert water through land owners by others, for the goal of utilizing the water. In 1872, the supreme court decided that the 1861 law should remain because water is an “imperative necessity” for settlement in this arid climate.
Colorado water law states that all water in Colorado is owned by the public and given to those with water rights. You only have water rights if you legally received water rights through adjudication. Having a well permit does not mean you have rights to water.
United States legally requires Colorado to share our water with six other states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico. This law also limits the amount of water Colorado can take from its own streams and aquifers. Colorado can only use 1/3 of the water produced in its streams from precipitation.
Colorado is one of only two states in America where water flows out of our states borders, but doesn’t flow in. Snowfall in Colorado sends water to 18 other states.
The Colorado Ground Water Law of 1957 made it necessary to obtain a permit from the state prior to drilling a well and required registration of existing wells. Household wells were not at that time required to be permitted or registered.
The Colorado Ground Water Management Act of 1965 designated the current ground water basins as well as allowing for overseeing of the wells on those basins and limiting the rate of water usage.
It was not until the mid 1980s that there were permitting requirements regarding groundwater usage of non-tributary water
No Natural Resource Has Greater Significance For The Future Than Water