Pond Management

Statewide Pond Management

In areas where there is not enough water for all uses, man-made ponds, even those that have existed for decades, must have a legal means of storing or exposing water to evaporation. Man-made ponds consume water that senior water rights are entitled to. 

The Division of Water Resources (DWR) is systematically reviewing ponds in several areas of Colorado where ponds without legal authorization have a substantial impact on the stream system.

Arkansas Basin Pond Management

The Division of Water Resources (DWR), Division 2 Office, is beginning a Pond Management Project in 2021; a process to review ponds within the Arkansas River Basin to more-accurately manage the water supply and to meet our legal water obligations to Colorado water rights and a downstream state.

The DWR Division 2 Office is within the Arkansas River Basin.  Part of our mission is to administer water rights in Colorado. The use of water is governed by what is known as the “Prior Appropriation System”, meaning that those with the most senior water rights have first use of the river. This system of water allocation works well in a dry, western state like Colorado where water supply is limited. This system of water laws manages who uses how much water, the types of uses allowed, and when those waters can be used.

  • Ponds, like any water source in Colorado, must be in compliance with Colorado water law. DWR has identified a number of ponds in the Arkansas Basin that divert and store water without a water right. Collectively, these ponds can significantly impact water rights and Colorado’s obligations to a downstream state.  
  • For every acre of pond surface area, up to 1 MILLION gallons of water is lost to evaporation each year.
  • The Arkansas River Basin is one of the most over-appropriated water basins in the state and has experienced frequent and severe drought conditions, (we use more water than is naturally supplied).  To help meet both our current and future water needs, we need to look at all water uses, like ponds.
Pond Inspection Process

If your pond is part of the first phase of the Pond Management Project, then you will receive a brochure in the mail in January of 2021. The brochure will contain your local Water Commissioner's contact information for you to contact them to arrange an inspection.  During the inspection, the water commissioner will go over options and connect you with organizations like your local water conservancy district that works with landowners on pond and water supply issues, if these options are available in your area.  Please note, if you have a pond but have not yet received a brochure, you may contact your local water commissioner, or you may receive a brochure in a later mailing from DWR advising you to arrange an inspection.  

For additional details on the Pond Management Project, including options available for obtaining replacement water for your pond, see the Arkansas Basin Pond Management Folder in the Informational Guides and Brochures Section below.  This folder contains frequently asked questions (FAQ’s), a pond management brochure, and augmentation plan contacts.  

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Designated Basins Pond Management
Designated Ground Water Basins

The specific laws related to ponds are slightly different in areas of eastern Colorado mapped as Designated Ground Water Basins.  However, the same general principle that a permit and replacement plan (similar to a plan for augmentation, but within a Designated Ground Water Basin) are required for exposed ground water in an over-appropriated system apply.  In addition, pursuant to an opinion issued by the Colorado Supreme Court in November of 2015, water flowing on the surface of the ground (i.e. precipitation runoff) within a Designated Ground Water Basin that contributes to the recharge of the aquifer is designated ground water. Therefore, dams impounding precipitation runoff on the surface of the ground, and excavated ponds, are both administered by the Colorado Ground Water Commission as structures that divert designated ground water.


Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Ground Water Basin, El Paso County

Due to concerns about injury to senior water rights raised by the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District, in 2018 staff of the Colorado Ground Water Commission began a systematic investigation of unpermitted ponds throughout the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Ground Water Basin, which is generally in the vicinity of Ellicott and Peyton.  The investigation reviews all surface water features, including both excavations that expose ground water and ponds that impound precipitation runoff. Staff will coordinate its investigation with the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District.

The investigation, which is expected to continue for 5 years involves the following steps as the staff investigates the area in a pattern roughly from north to south within the District:

  • Review historical aerial photos to identify ponds, including identifying those that are obviously natural surface water features. 
  • Perform field inspections, as needed, at any time in the process. 
  • Review Ground Water Commission and State Engineer records to determine which ponds do not have valid permits, decreed water rights, or other registrations (Target Ponds). 
  • Mail notices to landowners with Target Ponds to inform them of apparent violations, to allow them an opportunity to show the pond is legal or how it will be made legal (e.g. by obtaining a replacement plan and well permit), or how any water in the pond will be eliminated (e.g. by breaching dams and/or backfilling ponds). 
  • If owners of Target Ponds do not respond to the letters or adequately pursue a remedy, owners may be subject to orders from the Ground Water Commission and further enforcement action with the court.

For frequently asked questions (FAQ's), see the Designated Basins Pond Management Folder in the Informational Guides and Brochures Section below.  

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