What You Need to Know About Colorado Water Rights and Your Ranch

Confused about water rights in Colorado? Well, you’ve come to the right place. When it comes to Colorado ranch ownership, you’ve got to be up to snuff with your property’s water rights. Colorado water rights are a funky set of laws that often need a professional to help you understand them. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this guide to water rights in Colorado and what it means for your property.

About This Guide to Water Rights in Colorado

As expert Colorado ranch brokers, we understand the unique needs of ranches and the vital role that water rights play in land ownership. With experience in virtually all of Colorado’s seven Water Divisions, we understand water rights. In this guide we’ll dive into:

  • The two major types of water rights
  • The Colorado Doctrine
  • Advice for buying a Colorado ranch and water rights

The Two Major Types of Water Rights for Ranches

When it comes to buying Colorado ranch land, start with the basics of water rights. In the US, there are two types of water rights Prior Appropriation and Riparian Rights.

Riparian Rights

Riparian Rights refer to the right of a landowner whose land is next to a body of water to access rights to that water source. These types of rights are common in the easter US, but they are not seen in Colorado thanks to the “Coffin v Left Hand Ditch Co” ruling that says these rights aren’t applicable due to the lack of water in Colorado.

Prior Appropriation

Prior Appropriation follows the thought that if it’s “first in time, first in right.” In other words, a citizen has a right to a portion of the state’s water the first person to appropriate or divert water for beneficial use (think diverting water for domestic, commercial, fire protection, irrigation, etc).

The first to appropriate a portion of state water the earliest gets priority. However, you must apply for conditional water rights for these beneficial uses. The earlier you’ve applied, the better in the eyes of the court. This is typically a more common water rights situation in the west. 

So what does this mean for Colorado ranches? Well, Colorado follows it’s own set of water rights. Clear as mud right?

Colorado Water Rights

The Colorado Doctrine

The Colorado Doctrine or the basis of water rights in Colorado is somewhat of a hybrid method between the two major water rights. In this doctrine the state spells out the following:

  • First, all surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource. Meaning the government has the rights to use, divert, and hold the water that falls on your property for public use.
  • If you have water rights associated with your Colorado ranch property, this means you have a right to use a portion of this water.
  • Water right owners may use streams and aquifers to transport and store water. Meaning you can manipulate certain aspects of your land to manage your water.
  • Along those same lines, water right owners may build on the lands of others to move their water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use.

As you can see, water rights are imperative for proper ranch management. It’s no wonder that certain water rights held on Colorado ranch land can add tremendous value to purchasing a Colorado ranch. 

Water Rights and Land Value

There are several different types of water rights in Colorado and each of those water rights has a different effect on the value of ranchland in Colorado. When it comes to buying a Colorado ranch, you’ll want to know the basics. For example, does your potential property come with absolute or conditional rights? Developed or imported? Under or over appropriated? 

Each of these different types of water rights means different things for your property. In order to fully understand what you’re dealing with, you’ll want to hire an expert land broker as well as a water lawyer to help you understand what specific rights mean for your prospective ranch property.

water rights in Colorado

What Do Water Rights Mean for My Colorado Ranch?

One of the biggest tips for buying a Colorado ranch is to understand property rights. This not only affects the value of your property, but it plays an impactful role in your ranch management plan too. You’ll need an in-depth explanation of the particular benefits and challenges of your property’s water rights and topography in order to make informed buying decisions. From there you can develop a comprehensive ranch management plan that encompasses the unique set of rights for your ranch property.

Hire an Expert

Unlike buying a traditional house, purchasing a ranch requires an entire team of experts. When millions of dollars trade hands, you want to make sure you’re well taken care of. Hire an expert Colorado ranch broker to help you navigate the unique Colorado water laws. You’ll also want to enlist a water lawyer to review and explain the most intricate parts of your property’s water rights. Together, you and your expert team can guide you to make the most informed decision that’s best for you.

Water rights in Colorado are exceptionally complicated, thanks to a variety of state supreme court rulings. In order to fully understand which water rights are available, do your homework and hire the experts. We are here to help make your Colorado ranch ownership dreams a reality.

We have over 30 years of experience throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and New Mexico. We know these states well, including some “undiscovered” places. We are offering best hunting ranches for sale along with other premier properties
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