Colorado Irrigation Water Law

Colorado water law governs many facets of the use and conveyance of water, as well as the easements and rights-of-way that protect ditches. What follows are excerpts from case law and the Colorado Revised Statutes which are the most salient for shareholders to be aware of.

Colorado Supreme Court case law addresses “the unilateral alteration of irrigation ditches” (Roaring Fork Club v. St. Jude’s Co., 2001). In that decision, the Colorado Supreme Court states,

“We now hold that the owner of property burdened by a ditch easement . . . may not move or alter that easement unless that owner has the consent of the owner of the easement . . . ; OR unless that owner first obtains a declaratory determination from a court that the proposed changes will not significantly lessen the utility of the easement, increase the burdens on the owner of the easement, or frustrate the purpose for which the easement was created.”

grand valley irrigation water canal

Some of the most applicable water laws for shareholder purposes can be found in Articles 84 and 86 of CRS Title 37. State water law can be read here or can be downloaded below.

The CSU Guide and Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Law can be downloaded below.

Maintenance of embankments and tail ditch. The owners of any ditch for irrigation or other purposes shall carefully maintain the embankments thereof so that the waters of such ditch may not flood or damage the premises of others, and shall make a tail ditch so as to return the water in such ditch with as little waste as possible into the stream from which it was taken. (CRS § 37-84-101)

Bridges over ditch – maintenance.  All bridges constructed over any ditch, race, drain, or flume crossing any public highway, street, or alley, after construction, shall be maintained by and at the expense of the county or municipality in which such ditch, race, drain, or flume may be situated. (CRS § 37-84-106)

Owner of ditch must prevent waste. The owner of any irrigating or mill ditch shall carefully maintain and keep the embankments thereof in good repair and prevent the water from wasting. (CRS § 37-84-107)

Running excess of water forbidden. (1) During the summer season a person shall not run through his or her irrigating ditch any greater quantity of water than is absolutely necessary for irrigating, domestic, and stock purposes to prevent the wasting and useless discharge and running away of water. (CRS § 37-84-108)

Penalty for violation of sections. Any person who willfully violates any of the provisions of sections 37-84-107 and 37-84-108, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars. (CRS § 37-84-109)

Amount of water taken. It is the duty of every person who is entitled to take water for irrigation purposes from any ditch, canal, or reservoir to see that he receives no more water from such ditch, canal, or reservoir through his headgate, or by any ways or means whatsoever, than the amount to which he is entitled. At all times, such person shall take every precaution to prevent more water than the amount to which he is entitled from such ditch, canal, or reservoir from coming upon his land. (CRS § 37-84-124)

Receipt of too much water. It is the duty of every such person, taking water from any ditch, canal, or reservoir, to be used for irrigation purposes, on finding that he is receiving more water from such ditch, canal, or reservoir, either through his headgate or by means of leaks, or by any means whatsoever, immediately to take steps to prevent his further receiving more water from such ditch, canal, or reservoir than the amount to which he is entitled. If knowingly he permits such extra water to come upon his land from such ditch, canal, or reservoir, and does not immediately notify the owners of such ditch or take steps to prevent its further flowing upon his land, he shall be liable to any person, company, or corporation who may be injured by such extra appropriation of water, for the actual damage sustained by the party aggrieved. The damages shall be adjudged to be paid, together with the costs of suit, and a reasonable attorney’s fee to be fixed by the court and taxed with the costs. (CRS § 37-84-125)

Right-of-way through other lands. Any person owning a water right or conditional water right shall be entitled to a right-of-way through the lands which lie between the point of diversion and point of use or proposed use for the purpose of transporting water for beneficial use in accordance with said water right or conditional water right. (CRS § 37-86-102)

No land burdened with more than one ditch. No tract or parcel of improved or occupied land, without the written consent of the owner thereof, shall be subjected to the burden of two or more ditches or other structures constructed for the purpose of conveying water through said land when the same object can feasibly and practicably be attained by uniting and conveying all the water necessary to be conveyed through such property through one ditch or other structure. (CRS § 37-86-105)

Shortest route must be taken. Whenever any persons find it necessary to convey water through the lands of others, they shall select for the line of such conveyance the shortest and most direct route practicable upon which said ditch can be constructed with uniform or nearly uniform grade. (CRS § 37-86-106)

Incorporation of lateral ditch owners. Whenever the owners of sixty percent or more of the area of lands served by any one lateral ditch used for the delivery of water for irrigation from a common source organizes a corporation having for its object the taking over and owning of all of the interests of the incorporators in said lateral, said incorporators to receive shares of stock in said corporation for their holdings, the corporation as organized has power, under the eminent domain laws of the state of Colorado, to condemn the interest in said lateral belonging to the owners of the remaining forty percent or less of the lands so served by the lateral. (CRS § 37-86-108)

Penalty for interfering with adjusted headgates. (1) Every person who willfully and without authority opens, closes, changes, or interferes with any headgate of any ditch, or any water box or measuring device of any ditch for the receiving or delivery of water, after the headgate of the ditch has been adjusted by and is in the control of the division engineer, or after such water box or measuring device has been adopted by the ditch officer in charge, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than sixty days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

(2) Any person who is found using water taken through any such headgate, water box, or measuring device so unlawfully interfered with shall prima facie be deemed guilty of a violation of this section. (CRS § 37-89-103)

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