The Colorado Constitution provides that the waters of every natural stream are the property of the people of the state of Colorado, subject to the right to divert the unappropriated water to beneficial use, thus creating a “water right” that may be decreed by a court. The water right, once acquired becomes part of the priority system, and is subject to administration by the Division Engineer who works for the State of Colorado, but the State doesn’t own the rights, it just administers the priorities.
In other words, the water itself is owned by the people of the state, not by the state, and the water rights are owned by those who have appropriated it. In this case, the ditch company appropriated water rights, obtained certain decrees, and owns the water rights set forth in the bylaws.
The Colorado Doctrine
The Colorado Doctrine is a set of laws regarding water use and land ownership, adopted by the people of Colorado starting in the 1860s. It defines four essential principles of Colorado water law:
- All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies, private persons, and entities.
- A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources.
- Water rights owners may use streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of water.
- Water rights owners can build facilities on the private lands of others to divert, extract or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use, with the consent of the landowners or upon payment of just compensation.