Keep Up To Date On New Developments

Water Blog

A blog that focuses on legal developments affecting the water community in Colorado and other western states.  We also post news about water rights, water quality, and natural resources.  If you have a suggestion for a post, please contact us.


Minute Order 319 establishes new Colorado River sharing for U.S. and Mexico

Posted December 20, 2012

On November 20, 2012, the United States and Mexico signed Minute Order 319 (an amendment to the 1944 Water Treaty) and embarked on a five-year venture to improve Colorado River management.  Under Minute Order 319, the United States will allow Mexico to store limited volumes of water in Lake Mead, and both countries will share water in times of surplus and shortage.  The agreement also outlines mechanisms to promote environmental benefits, including restoration projects, and promises that a pulse flow will reach the Colorado River delta.  Minute Order 319 also provides for United States investment in water infrastructure in return for a one-time allotment of 124,000 acre-feet of water from Mexico.  Through these and other measures, both countries hope to increase regional climate change resilience.

While Colorado water users are unlikely to feel immediate effects from Minute Order 319, the bi-national agreement is an example of the same negotiated approach to water shortages that is taking place throughout Colorado.  Although certain water disputes will continue to require judicial resolution, we are encouraged whenever parties come together to develop agreements for sharing water resources.

Douglas County District Court ruling on water supply requirements for new subdivisions

Posted November 1, 2012

In what appears to be the first significant interpretation of a statutory scheme conditioning residential development on demonstration of adequate water supplies, the district court reversed the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners’ approval of Sterling Ranch, LLC’s planned unit development because C.R.S. § 29-20-301 to 306 requires an applicant to demonstrate adequate water supplies before issuance of a development permit.  Based on statutory language, the district court found that the Board had discretion to evaluate whether a water supply was adequate, but that its discretion did not extend to determining when in the process of permitting to make that determination.  Thus, Sterling Ranch’s proposal, accepted by the Board, to demonstrate water supply adequacy at the subdivision stage was in excess of its discretion and the Board’s approval of the PUD was improper.  Sterling Ranch moved for reconsideration and the case is still before the Douglas County District Court.

Water Court ruling re: environmental and recreational flows

Posted September 27, 2012

Water Judge Patrick issued a ruling on September 26, 2012 regarding a motion for determination of a question of law filed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).  The CWCB asserted that the applicant, Montrose County, could not obtain a water right to protect water released from storage without filing for a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) or contributing flows to an instream flow (ISF) right decreed to the CWCB.  The court rejected CWCB’s argument that in-channel uses are limited to RICDs or ISFs and concluded that water may be used in-channel for recreation purposes without an RICD or CWCB ISF decree if it has previously been diverted and stored.  However, the court left open whether Montrose County’s application requested an RICD for water to be released from storage for instream uses. 

Although the case later settled out of court, the ruling is helpful for efforts by other water users to protect ISFs.  RICDs are limited by specific statutory requirements, and ISFs can only be decreed to the CWCB.  Judge Patrick’s ruling confirms that an additional option remains to divert and store water for later releases for recreational purposes.  This may assist counties and other entities in creative efforts to protect streamflows, particularly late in the season when an RICD or ISF right is likely to be out of priority and stored water may be available to supplement streamflows.  Read the water court ruling here.