Understanding Water Rights
irrigation ditch valves

Understanding Water Rights

In Colorado, there is no ownership registry for water rights. The Office of the State Engineer does not have any ownership information. If you want to find out which water rights go with your land, you must research the deeds at your county clerk’s office.

If you want to find out how many shares of water rights you have in a particular ditch, contact the ditch company.

Using Water that Runs Through Your Property

Abandonment of a water right is defined as “. . . the termination of a water right in whole or in part as a result of the intent of the owner thereof to discontinue permanently the use of all or part of the water available thereunder.”

It is very important to note that the intent to abandon is required concurrent with non-use for a water right to be declared abandoned.

Also note that if a person who owns a conditional water right fails to file a timely application with the court fulfilling the diligence requirements, that water right can be declared abandoned.

Every ten years, the Division Engineer prepares an abandonment list which contains water rights that are believed to be either completely or partially abandoned.

Contact the Division of Water Resources to determine if your water rights have been placed on the abandonment list.

Transfer of Water Rights

Water rights are conveyed as real property interests using the same formalities as real estate, with certain exceptions. Transfers are done typically with a deed, which is recorded in the clerk and recorder’s office, just as with deeds for land. Conveyance of a groundwater right requires that a “Change of Ownership” form for the well permit be submitted to the State Engineer’s Office. Mutual Ditch Company shares are transferred by completing an assignment form or slip assignment for the stock certificate. The Ditch Company will issue a new stock certificate and record the change of ownership in its stockholder registry. Conveyance of stock should also be mentioned in the vesting deed so as to provide notice in a recorded instrument.

When purchasing land with a well or surface right, the water right must be identified and understood so that both seller and buyer can agree on what rights are to be conveyed in the transaction. A buyer must obtain as much information as possible about the water right to ensure that the seller has adequate title to the water right that they purport to own. Recorded documents do not always reveal the full picture for chain of title or conditions of use. Records for water rights are notoriously sloppy and incomplete. Research into the records of the State Engineer’s Office and Water Court is often required. A skilled water law attorney may be required to locate the necessary documents or and to issue an opinion regarding chain of title and use restrictions for a water right.

Learn more about records

Repair to a Ditch Running Through Your Property

Contact the ditch company or the owner of the ditch. According to Colorado law, the owner or person in control of any canal or ditch used for irrigation is responsible for maintaining the ditch or canal.

The ditch or canal must be able to receive water by April 1 of each year, so far as reasonably possible. All necessary outlets must be in good repair. The ditch owners must also maintain the embankments of the ditch in a manner that prevents flooding or damage to the property of others.

A number of additional regulations regarding ditches, headgates, and measuring flumes exist. For more information, contact the Office of the State Engineer or your Division Engineer.

Please Note: This information is intended to provide a better understanding of the functions of onsite wastewater treatment and the need for proper design, installation, and maintenance. Always consult a licensed professional or public health official with questions regarding engineering, installation, and servicing of onsite wastewater systems.

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