Colorado Water Law: An Historical Overview

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Hobbs has written a series of Colorado Water Law updates, published in the University of Denver Water Law Review. This article and the Appendix- Colorado Water Law: A Synopsis of Statutes and Case Law was published in Volume 1, Issue 1, in 1997.

Colorado Water Law: An Historical Overview


Rivers, plains, and mountains make us Coloradans. Residing on one of two sides of this Continent’s backbone, some of us, look to the West to the Great Divide, others to the East. When our hearts follow our eyes, when we think about this magnificent land and our fellow

Coloradans on the other side, we truly gain the power of this rivered place. Thomas Hornsby Ferril called on us-his fellow Coloradans-to remember and to live our origins: strength of mountain stream, hope of prairie stream.

Beneficial use and preservation are two primary public policies which guide western natural resource law; they are the two chambers of our western heart, the two lobes of our brain. Colorado water law establishes the right of water appropriation to serve public and private needs. New uses and changes in existing water rights continue to exist and evolve within the framework of the water law. The preservation interests are addressed primarily by state and federal land use law and environmental regulatory law, such as is evidenced by the acquisition of open space and parks by public entities, as well as federal land reservations for national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, and wildlife preserves.

Western prior appropriation water law is a property rights-based allocation and administration system, which promotes multiple use of a finite resource. The fundamental characteristics of this system guarantee security, assure reliability, and cultivate flexibility. Security resides in the system’s ability to identify and obtain protection for the right of use. Reliability springs from the system’s assurance that the right of use will continue to be recognized and enforced over time. Flexibility emanates from the fact that the right of use can be transferred to another, subject to the requirement that other appropriators not be injured by the change.

Click here for a PDF of the entire article: 1 U. Denv. Water L. Rev. 1 1997-1998.