Water Rights in Colorado

Dated: May 12 2022

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Colorado has a long history of economic expansion and contraction based on natural resources – the gold Rush, the oil boom, and so on. Today, the most sought-after resource in Colorado is not fossil fuels or minerals, but water. Water distribution is governed by water rights that allow homeowners to use a portion of the water supply from the public water system. The rules built around these rights are complicated, especially when building a new home on acreage. Homes on land can be significantly affected by these laws, and if not handled appropriately, can end up costing the homeowner.

Where does Colorado’s water come from?

While Colorado is known for its stunning mountain ranges, 40% of the land is in a high plains desert. The dry air affects many aspects of life here. For example, in Colorado a wet towel is dry within a few hours, whereas in Florida it would still be wet the next day. Water evaporates much faster here due to the arid climate making it harder to secure groundwater stability compared to many states with lover elevations or higher humidity. Additionally, Colorado receives less annual rainfall than the national average; Colorado receives 17 inches of rain per year on average, whereas the national average is just over 32 inches of rain per year.

Certain areas in Colorado have limited water usage. If you are expecting to raise livestock or grow crops, you will need to be aware of this. To find the water limitations on a property, you will have to research what city, county, and state regulations apply to the specific plot of land. It is also important to know that the regulations concerning water usage limitations are not at all static and can change at any time based on water availability.

What does Colorado do with its water?

About 80% of the water in Colorado is allocated for Agricultural use. Of what is left some is sold to other states like Wyoming or California, who have even less water available than Colorado. The remainder goes to residential use and, according to Colorado State University, about 55 percent of residential water is used for landscaping. Water scarcity is leading to restrictions on outdoor use of water for lawns and landscaping along the front range in an attempt to conserve our limited water supply.

Snowmelt accounts for 70% to 90% of the water in Colorado. This is a problem as over 70% of the population of Colorado lives on the front range. Colorado has to continuously engineer systems to move water from the mountains to the front range. Colorado has plans to create more basins and reservoirs to collect and hold water, and these proposals may extend our water usage during years of abundant precipitation but will offer little relief in times of extended drought.


Aquifers are underground lakes, rivers, and streams that are created by rainwater and melting snow. Some areas in Colorado have large healthy aquifers, but other areas may only have small streams that can be difficult to find. Aquifers in Colorado are a big topic because of how they can affect homeowner’s daily water usage. A healthy aquifer can produce as much as 15 gallons per minute – the State of Colorado’s limit for well water pressure in most areas.

It is essential to know how many gallons per minute your well is producing. Water pressure information is found on the original well permit, but keep in mind this can also fluctuate over the years. If the well was drilled in the 1980s when the water table was higher, it might not be producing the same pressure today.

Production as low as 7 gallons-per-minute would allow you to have adequate water usage, but anything less would likely require a cistern. A cistern is a large container that is filled slowly by the well to address a deficiency in the gallons-per-minute rating. Having a system like this can leave you in a situation where you must manage the daily use of water. You also have to maintain the water holding system and keep everything from freezing in the winter.

Domestic and Household Wells

Domestic wells allow usage for animals and irrigation, whereas Household wells only allow for water use within the home. If a property is issued a Household permit, you are not allowed to use the water for domestic animals, landscaping, or other uses exterior to the home.

Domestic wells may allow you to irrigate a portion of your land or water domestic animals like horses, however, “domestic” does not cover all uses of a well. Most Domestic wells will not allow you to board horses on your property or water plants for profit. This activity may require a commercial well permit.

Well Permits

A well permit grants use of the water by the State, who still technically owns it. The type of well permit provided for the home should give you a good idea of whether the current well is able to meet your needs. For example, horses are considered a domestic animal, and require a domestic well. On the Northeast side of Colorado Springs, the Dawson Aquifer may be the best option for this kind of well. However, they are no longer giving out domestic well permits on land less than 35 acres without maintaining a “Well Augmentation Plan” that consists of using a water engineer and water attorney to buy rights from someone upstream. This can be extremely costly and difficult to attain. Another option is to apply for a “Determination of Water” that could allow you more water usage but can take several months to be approved.

Colorado Water Rights issues are complicated in the best of situations. Knowing the right professionals to help you navigate these issues is imperative, and the experienced agents at Sellstate Alliance Realty and Property Management have the knowledge and resources to help you find the perfect place.

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