For over 125 years, the Division of Water Resources (DWR), directed by the State Engineer, has been empowered to administer all water rights according to the Prior Appropriation Doctrine (in short, 1st in time, 1st in right). Most of this work is done by Division Offices located in the seven major river basins of the state, directed by the Division Engineers. Division Engineers are supported by water commissioners to ensure the priority system is followed, enforcing the decrees and water laws of the State of Colorado.
Whether water is used simply to drink from your household tap or to irrigate hundreds of acres of cropland, everyone in Colorado benefits from the orderly distribution and management of the state’s most precious resource. For more information, read the Beginner's Guide to Water Administration, as well as the Synopsis of Colorado Water Law.
Groundwater administration and enforcement is one of the primary responsibilities of the Division of Water Resources. The Colorado Ground Water Law of 1957 established the permitting requirement of ground water wells. Since 1969, surface and groundwater rights have been administered with a recognition of the connection between the two. Every new well in the state that diverts groundwater must have a well permit. If wells do not meet any statutory exemptions and their priority dates are not senior enough to divert in priority, they may be able to operate pursuant to an Augmentation Plan decreed by the water court. Non-compliance with a well permit, decree of the court, Rules, or statute may result in the issuance of orders for compliance and further enforcement from DWR.
DWR provides staff to assist in technical support to the Colorado Ground Water Commission, in the exercise of its duties in the Designated Basins, generally located on the eastern plains of Colorado. The Designated Basins are separate from the system of water rights under the purview of the water courts. Well permits for wells located in the Designated Basins are issued by the staff of DWR based on statute and the Rules of the Colorado Ground Water Commission. DWR also provides staff assistance for the Board of Examiners of Water Well and Pump Installation Contractors. This board oversees the safe and proper installation of well pump equipment, and regulates the proper, safe construction of wells throughout the state.
- Surface Water
DWR administers the waters of the state and Colorado's water sharing agreements with other states. Surface and groundwater are recognized as being connected, such that pumping groundwater in most locations has a depletive effect on surface water. Water administration is the enforcement of the priority system of water rights, which includes curtailment of junior water rights that are not in priority and not operating in accordance with Augmentation Plans or administrative approvals.
In order to control water effectively, a satellite monitoring system of gages on lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams has been set up throughout the state. Colorado Decision Support System (CDSS) Data and Tools provide a wealth of surface water administration information including streamflows, diversions, and call data.
- Colorado Average Streamflow Map
- Water Education Colorado (Guides to Water Law, Groundwater, Transmountain Diversions, & Where your Water Comes From)