Water Rights in Colorado can be as valuable as gold, sometime more valuable than gold!  In order to develop land or build upon it, an owner is required to supply water.  Due diligence should be exercised when buying a property with water rights, a well or municipal water.  Diverting or storing of water (catching rain runoff, snow melt, etc.) is illegal; enforcement of water rights is very active and the penalties for violating water laws are severe.  Note, well rights are junior to river rights (unless exempt).

The major division between rules and regulations is determined where the well is located.  If located within the “Denver Basin” check with the Colorado Ground Water Commission who has sole authority to grant permits and water rights.  If located outside the “Denver Basin”, the following applies:

There are two main types of wells – Exempt & Non-Exempt.  Exempt meaning not subject to the priority system of water rights AND permitted by the State Division of Water Resources.  Non-exempt are governed by the priority system and are under the jurisdiction of the courts.

Domestic well is used if you have 35 or more acres to supply the property.  With a domestic well, you can supply water to the property, animals or irrigate up to 1 acre of land for garden or lawn.  This is a very desirable type of well to own.  This is “exempt” from the priority system of water rights in Colorado.  (These wells are capped at 15 gallons per minutes, gpm, if drilled after May 1971, 50 gpm if drilled before May 1971).

Household well is used if the land mass is less than 35 acres.  The well can only be used to provide water to the household.  No exterior watering is permitted (no outdoor animals, no irrigation, etc.)  This is also “exempt” from the priority system of water rights in Colorado.

A Grandfathered well is a well that was in use prior to 1976.  It is exempt from the 35 acre rule and should be recorded with the state water board.  This is also “exempt” from the priority system of water rights in Colorado.

Diverting (pumping, damming, funneling, etc.) water from a river, stream or ditch without appropriate water rights is against the law.  Storing water (from rainfall, snowfall, etc.) is also against the law.  You must let the water (in whatever form) freely flow.  As you can see, because of water law & water claims, water becomes more valuable as demand for water increases.

As the owner of any well in Colorado, you should make sure the well is recorded with the State Division of Water Resources (water.state.co.us).  All wells should periodically be tested for flow rate, proper operation and the presence of bacteria and contaminants.  Typically, the local health department can advise on testing procedures and requirements for safe drinking water.

In the event a well can be drilled but doesn’t supply enough water directly (flow rate is too slow), the water can be pumped into a storage tank (cistern) for later high-demand use. These are common in mountain homes and cabins where drilling deep into granite and rock can be very expensive.

If planning to build or develop property in Colorado, you should account how water will be supplied.  If the water is supplied by a municipal provider (city, county, etc.), then you will pay to “tap into” the water source.  The fees are known as “tap fees” and can be quite expensive.

If municipal water is not available then a well is typically the next reasonable solution.  An alternate (and very expensive) solution is to “truck-in” water.

When buying or selling a property with a well, care should be taken to make sure your real estate agent knows the right questions to ask before considering a property to purchase (or sell).

Note:  Information Believed To Be Accurate, But Not Guaranteed.