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Water Law

Headwaters Summer 2009--Water Administration Issue

Admin Hw Cover

In this issue of Headwaters, CFWE explores water administration in Colorado.  In a water scarce environment, enforcing the law of "first in time, first in right" can get sticky.  The men (and women!) who allocate Colorado's most precious resource work long days to make sure it gets done properly, dealing with changing technology, angry water rights owners and environmental protection along the way. Read featured articles below, or view the magazine online here.


Summer 2009 Web Extras!!

Scott Hummer

 View photos and listen to Water Commissioners Brent Schantz and Scott Hummer describe their work.

Toward a Sustainable Horizon

By Jayla Poppleton | Photo by Kevin Moloney

Much like the current recession has forced Americans to think about living within their means, Colorado's brush with drought and past interstate river compact violations have led its top water administrator to preach sustainability. In every water division, no matter the diversity of water's interplay between surface and groundwater or the various river compacts that must be considered, sustainability is State Engineer Dick Wolfe's overarching goal. Here's Wolfe's take on how to get there.

Read more: Toward a Sustainable Horizon

Water Underground: Optimizing use of an unseen resource

By Joshua Zaffos | Photo by Kevin Moloney

Growing up on his family's ranch along the Rio Grande River near Alamosa, Ken Knox got an early education in the contentious field of groundwater use. The San Luis Valley is a high-altitude desert that averages just 7 inches of precipitation a year, so every drop of water—from the sky or the ground—is precious. Knox recalls neighbors fighting over rights to one-quarter of a cubic foot per second of water, equal to about 180 acre feet per year. The argument landed in court, and by the time it was resolved, the only way the families could pay off their legal bills was to sell their land.

Read more: Water Underground: Optimizing use of an unseen resource

Right to Remain: Non-consumptive water rights pose a worthwhile administrative challenge

By George Sibley

‘It's a work in progress.’

That's how water commissioner Richard Rozman describes Colorado's ongoing efforts to fit a river's instream flow rights into a legal system originally designed to govern the removal of water from rivers.

Read more: Right to Remain: Non-consumptive water rights pose a worthwhile administrative challenge

A Stream of En-Gaugement: Water measurement's ongoing evolution

By Jerd Smith

In 1881, Colorado's first State Engineer, Eugene Stimson, rode 30 miles each way on horseback between the Big Thompson River and the Cache La Poudre checking gauges he had set in the rivers. He carried a tent and a portable drafting table.

Read more: A Stream of En-Gaugement: Water measurement's ongoing evolution

Water's Top Cop: Policing scarcity from the State Engineer's Office

By Allen Best

If water were eternally abundant in Colorado, no dams would be needed for storage, their structural safety in annual need of inspection. Anyone could drill a well because, well, why not? Monitoring the allocation of streams, rivers and ditches would be unnecessary. Interstate water compacts—what are those?

Read more: Water's Top Cop: Policing scarcity from the State Engineer's Office

Reservoir "Rules"

Westerners prudently store water from each spring's abundant runoff to use throughout the year. Colorado now has about 2,000 reservoirs statewide, which the Division of Water Resources must administer. In an attempt to informally codify the state's reservoir administration practices, Water Division 1 Assistant Division Engineer Claudia Engelmann and Division Engineer Jim Hall, along with Water Division 5 Division Engineer Alan Martellaro, assembled a set of guidelines intended to provide a common starting point for the many difficult decisions DWR staff must make every day. The guidelines are currently being reviewed by State Engineer Dick Wolfe. Here is a sampling of the issues covered:

Read more: Reservoir "Rules"

The Yampa's First Lady

By Jerd Smith

Erin Light oversees the remote, lush Yampa River Basin, one of the last places in the American West where almost anyone can take water without a water right. Because of increasing use, however, the river is slowly being integrated into the state's regulatory system, and Light, the first and only female division engineer in the state, is charged with bringing the wild-charging Yampa in line.

Read more: The Yampa's First Lady

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CFWE Law Resources

Guide to Colorado Water Law explores the basics of Colorado water law--learn how it has developed and how it is applied today. This, CFWE's most popular Citizen's Guide, was authored by Colorado Supreme Court Justice, and CFWE Board Vice President, Gregory Hobbs. Take a look or purchase a copy.


Law Supplement Headwaters magazine a special edition of Headwaters that provides an in-depth look at Colorado water law. Browse the magazine to supplement our Citizen's Guide and your knowledge. View it here

Administration Headwaters magazine read how enforcing the law in our water-scarce state can get tricky and meet the men and women who allocate Colorado's most precious resource. Browse the issue here.