WATER LINES: Water law seminar at CMU Nov. 8 open to the public | PostIndependent.com

WATER LINES: Water law seminar at CMU Nov. 8 open to the public

Hannah Holm
Free Press Weekly Columnist

Access to water is access to life for our towns and cities just as surely as for our fields and fishes. Therefore, we all have a stake in the laws that govern that access.

In the eastern United States, where water tends to be plentiful, the use of water is governed by the riparian rights doctrine, which generally allows anyone who lives along a stream to use water from it. When settlers moved West to more arid lands, that system quickly broke down, and was supplanted by the “prior appropriation doctrine” pioneered right here in Colorado.

The basic idea of the prior appropriation doctrine is “first come, first served.” If someone has established a livelihood irrigating crops from a stream (and filed their claim with the court), someone else can’t come in upstream later on and take that water away for their own purposes.

That seems simple enough.

At the same time, water rights can be bought and sold, and the priority date for the water right goes to the new water user — who could be located in an entirely different drainage. Furthermore, sales of water rights from one user to another can be protested by other parties if they feel the transfer would cause them injury.

A bit more complicated.

And some water rights that are conditional, meaning someone has a plan to use the water but hasn’t started actually using it yet, can be senior to “absolute” water rights that are already in use.

The plot thickens.

If you find this subject interesting and would like to learn more, there’s a great opportunity coming up. On Friday, Nov. 8, the Water Center at CMU will host “Water Law in a Nutshell,” an 8-hour seminar presented by Aaron Clay, attorney at law and former 26-year Water Referee for the Colorado Water Court, Division 4.

This seminar is open to all interested persons. The fee is $89, or $113 if you want to get .5 graduate in-service credit. We anticipate that the course will be approved for 8 hours of Continuing Legal Education credit as well.

For more information or to register, call the Water Center at 970-248-1968 or email watercenter@coloradomesa.edu.

Water Lines is a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. Hannah Holm is coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

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