Colorado Water Rights

Colorado has a water rights system that dates back around 150 years. Originally prospectors introduced a new beneficial use of water to secure rights to use the available water. "First in Time equaled First in Right!" Between 1870 and 1969 Cattle Ranching and Farming progressed to use this system also. This pertains to surface water and well water that might be drawn from a surface source.

Example: If you have 30 miners, ranchers or farmers who own rights to draw water from a certain surface water source each will have a specified amount of water that they can take from the source . If in a dry year there is only enough water to allow numbers 1-20 to have water then numbers 21-30 won't have water. This is First in Time, First in Right. Water rights are sold separate from surface rights and usually will cost more than the land itself. But this pertains to surface water in most cases.

In 1972 Colorado passed legislation requiring property owners to own at least 35 acres in order to get a Domestic Well permit. This was to limit the impact on the water supplies. Note: This is not a Water Right! This is just a permit from the State of Colorado to secure water for your household. A Domestic Well Permit allows you to supply water to your Residence and outbuildings, irrigate up to only 1 (one) acre of land, and to water your Livestock. Commercial uses are permitted differently.

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Note: Domestic Well Permits and their uses are subject to change. Local Counties also may make changes as to the number of wells or uses of those wells. So be sure to inquire when you are making a purchase as to the current status of wells in the area you plan to purchase. There is one exception: If there was a prior water plan/replacement done, in that case you may qualify for a domestic well permit. 

Otherwise, if you have less than 35 acres (34.99 or less) you are issued a "House Hold Use Only" permit which is for use inside your home only. If you need to wash your vehicles, water your livestock/horses, or water your garden you will have to haul water for that purpose. Outside faucets are also restricted. You are not allowed to use it for any purpose other than in the household. This explains why most Mountain Properties are sized at least 35 acres or larger.

The good side of this is that this has restricted developments with 1-5 acre parcels all over the mountain sides and preserves our open space and forests to share with the wildlife. We feel that this 35 acre requirement has been good for Colorado land owners.

In this area we are not tapping into underground aquifers but underground streams, cracks and fissures to find water. This makes finding water a bit harder to find in some places. Well dowsers are commonly used to locate water. I have been told by people in the know that a good well dowser has around 70% accuracy. That's far better than guessing. 

What does it cost to drill a well in the mountains?

If you figure about $21 to $25 per foot for a completed well and casing you will be pretty close. Most wells in the La Veta & Cuchara area are between 300 to 800 feet deep on average. So a 600 foot well with casing is about $14,000 not including the cost of installing the pump and that pump for an 800 foot deep well could cost between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on pump size and other factors. My well out on Raspberry Mountain Ranch is only 300 feet and required a much smaller pump.Some areas are not likely to produce a viable well, so in those cases people elect not to drill a well and they instead install a cistern (water holding tank made of plastic or concrete) and haul water from town or have it delivered by a local company. A cistern will usually hold between 1000-3000 gallons of water depending on your household needs. You can purchase a 300-500 gallon water tank that will fit on your trailer or in the back of a pickup and when you go into town you fill it up at the City Water Department for about 3¢ per gallon. In Colorado water rights are such an issue that the state has separate water courts, complete with their own judges! For your information, in our area of Colorado we have very little surface water in the way of Ponds, Streams, Creeks or Rivers available on properties. Southern Colorado, being very arid, receives most of its moisture from yearly snow fall. And because it is arid any surface water tends to evaporate pretty fast. What they call a river here is not even a good creek back east. But what we do have here is excellent year round climate with four seasons, very low humidity and awesome incredible views of the snow capped mountains and a quiet peaceful lifestyle that can't be matched! You will find current Water information on our State's Web Site here Colorado Division of Water Resources

For information on current La Veta and Cuchara listings, contact Ed Kirkland at 719-679-1309 or

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