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Water Planning & Distribution

Beneficial Use of Water Rights

Click the Fluent Water Facts below to learn more about Colorado water law.

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Claiming a Water Right Requires Planned Beneficial Use

All surface and groundwater in Colorado belongs to the public, but holders of water rights may use this public resource. A water right is a special kind of property right that allows the holder to use a resource without actually owning it. The holder of a water right may be a private person, a public agency, or a business. 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. This ensures against water waste, so that the water resource is available to as many as possible.

Appropriation was originally understood to mean diverting water from a stream for some human purpose. Originally, this would be a consumptive use (where the water is permanently withdrawn from its source) such as water for drinking, irrigation, or mining. Over time, Coloradans’ changing economic and community values have led to new uses being considered “beneficial.” Recognized beneficial uses under the prior appropriation doctrine now include, among others:

  • Augmentation
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flows and natural lake levels
  • Commercial
  • Domestic
  • Dust suppression
  • Evaporation from a gravel pit
  • Fire protection
  • Fish and wildlife culture
  • Flood control
  • Industrial
  • Irrigation
  • Mined land reclamation
  • Municipal
  • Nature centers
  • Power generation
  • Produced water from gas production
  • Recreation on reservoirs
  • Recreational in-channel diversions
  • Release from storage for boating and fishing
  • Snowmaking
  • Stock watering

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