Prior Appropriation and the South Platte Baisn

Prior Appropriation and the South Platte Basin

Finally, Colorado's Supreme Court decided that the State Engineer had exceeded his authority. The Court said all wells had to follow the Prior Appropriation Doctrine and have a permanent court-approved augmentation plan. They had to get in line for water like everyone else had been doing for decades. The Legislature gave them three years to do it.

But there was little water to get in line for. Available water was gobbled up by booming cities. Water, which sold for $100 a unit in 1965, was going for $12,000 a unit in 2002. Between huge legal costs and sky-high water prices, many well-users without augmentation plans went bankrupt.

The result has been a tragic loss for some farm families in the South Platte basin. Hundreds of wells are no longer operating. Thousands of acres are out of production. Some have argued that the Prior Appropriation Doctrine should be scrapped. But Colorado water law does not allow a junior water-user to injure a senior one. Colorado's Legislature and Court have decided that Prior Appropriation protects senior water users such as Boulder's ditches and cities, and must be upheld.

Click here for a Chronology of Well Regulation on the South Platte.

Right: Drought. Brian Brainerd, The Denver Post

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