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Water Rights – Wrong Location

Water diverted for irrigation in CO ranch. Sunset photo.  Photo by <a href="">Frankie Lopez</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>
Water diverted for irrigation in southern Colorado ranch

What do you do when you have a validly decreed and established water right, with an incorrectly described location?

Every well and diversion in the State of Colorado has a history. Some have a history older than the state itself, quietly hard at work filling ponds or nurturing cattle, often for generations. Yet sometimes even the diligent water user is shocked to discover that the structures which they rely on have been incorrectly described in their official decrees.

The archaic nature of many water applications - written, transcribed and recorded by hand - coupled with the often-confusing nature of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), and the layers of bureaucracy within the water law apparatus, leave wide open the possibility for human error and typo. One has only to describe a well as located in the Northwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter, when they meant to write the Northeast Quarter of the Northwest Quarter, and suddenly the well finds itself a half mile off course. This sort of error can grind to a halt an otherwise smooth procedure during change cases, or applications to make absolute.

Luckily, there is a remedy. The Colorado Statute C.R.S. § 37-92-305(3.6) outlines the process by which the owner of an established water right can apply to have the location, or point of diversion, officially changed to reflect its actual location. The application is relatively straightforward and reflects modern changes to the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ thinking, such as the strong preference for describing locations with Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Coordinates rather than PLSS.

Discovering that your water rights have been improperly described can be disconcerting, but it doesn’t have to be fatal to your rights.

If you have questions or concerns about changing a valid but incorrectly described water right (or any other water law inquiry), please contact us today so we can help.

By William Raley

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