Whiskey’s for Drinkin’….

….and water’s for fightin’! This is an adage straight out of the Old West that has held true for generations. As one of the major sources of water in the entire West, fighting over Colorado’s water in the early 1900’s extended across state lines. An agreement was reached among seven states in 1922 that provided an average of 7.5 million acre feet of water to be delivered for use to California, Arizona, Nevada and parts of New Mexico and Utah.  The remaining water could be used in Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of New Mexico and Utah.  Fighting over water within the state lines has resulted in a variety of arrangements like trans-basin diversions where water is shuttled out of its natural basin to another via man-made efforts. The Western Slope of the state has about 80% of the water while the Eastern Slope of the state has about 90% of the population.  On a local level, neighbors whose water comes from a common source sometimes find themselves on opposite sides of the proverbial fence when water is scarce.  Colorado’s solution to these water wars is based on the “prior appropriation” doctrine which basically states the first person to put the water to beneficial use has the right to use all of that water before the next appropriator can use any.  To exercise that right, the user must obtain a decree for the water, which is considered a separate property right in Colorado.  This system has provided a framework for managing a scarce resource with an increasingly unpredictable supply.  Landowners are well served to understand the basics of water law; it can be the difference between ending up in court while a judge decides how water should be allocated and sipping a glass of whiskey on the porch with a neighbor.