Text Size

Site Search

Water Planning & Distribution

Colorado's Water Users

Click the Fluent Water Facts below to learn more about where your water comes from.


Please update your Flash Player to view content.

Who uses water?

How Coloradans use and consume water is a reflection of our climate, landscape, and changing social values. Under Colorado water law, in order to claim a water right and divert water, the user must put the water to beneficial use. Colorado broadly defines beneficial use as a lawful appropriation that employs reasonably efficient practices to place water to use.

Below are the top types of water use in Colorado:

Agricultural Use

Agricultural production of food and fiber diverts close to 86% of Colorado’s deliverable water.

With the exception of dryland wheat, most of Colorado’s agriculture and green industry (nursery and greenhouse) production requires irrigation to generate the desired yields and products. To learn more about agricultural use of water, check out the Fall 2012 Headwaters.

81% of irrigation water is usually supplied by rivers, and 19% by aquifers.

Municipal Use

Colorado’s cities and towns use about 6-7% of Colorado’s water.

In 2000, 87% of Colorado’s population was served predominantly by municipal utilities, water and sanitation districts and rural water districts. (Check out the Winter 2013 Headwaters to learn more about them.) Residential use isn’t just for drinking, dishes, laundry, and showers – during Colorado’s warm, dry summers, lawns, gardens, and trees consume as much as 70% of the water delivered to residences.

94% of public supply comes from rivers, and 6% from aquifers.

Industrial Use

Businesses and industries use approximately 2% of Colorado’s water.

Industrial users frequently rely on municipal water systems. For example, 18-36% of municipal deliveries in Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs are used for commercial or industrial purposes. Roughly half of this water is used for cooling, heating, and indoor plumbing. Landscape irrigation, manufacturing, and miscellaneous uses make up the other half. Check out the Fall 2013 issue of Headwaters to learn more about the water-energy nexus.

80% of industrial water comes from rivers, and 20% from aquifers.

Environmental Use

Approximately 3% of Colorado’s water is used for recreation, fisheries, and in-stream flows – uses that typically leave water in the rivers.

Not all of Colorado’s water can be consumed. Some of it must be left in the environment, to sustain Colorado’s 22 million acres of forest and more than 30 million acres of rangeland. This water also allows fish and wildlife, including several endangered species, to thrive. Many environmental uses are ensured by the Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program, overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). This program is intended to preserve the natural environment by maintaining minimum flows in streams and minimum levels in lakes.

Interstate Compacts

Environmental uses aside, Coloradans still cannot consume 100% of river water – some of it must be allowed to flow downstream to other states, for their use. Learn more about the specific rules that govern Colorado’s interstate compacts.

Water Origin Resources

The Citizen's Guide to Where your Water Comes From explains how weather patterns and aquifers supply the water we use. Learn more about the intricate distribution systems Coloradans have developed to deliver water to our farms and cities.  Flip through the online version or purchase a copy.

Citizen s Guide  4a40f4c93383c

The Citizen's Guide to Colorado's Transbasin Diversions highlights the history, costs and benefits of these controversial water projects, from both an historic and current point of view. Flip through the online version or purchase a copy.

Transbasin Diversions


1750 Humboldt Street, Suite 200
Denver, CO 80218