Understanding your water rights

Rock_Creek_Station_SHP_East_Ranch_2Follow these guidelines when talking to the local water authorities or realtors

  • Does “First in Time, First in Right” apply on this land? In property law, there is a general rule that an entity whose interest in a property is first established prevails over a party who subsequently acquires an interest in the property. That means that in some places ancient water rights are in effect. That stream on a property may not be available to you.  “First in Time, First in Right” rule water rights are based on appropriation date. It doesn’t matter if water reaches you first – if a property downstream has water rights  older than yours, it gets the water first. In a drought, water is rationed to the first set of owners and then, when more water is available, the second set of owners will receive water, and so on. In some places in California, the first set of people are over-using water to ensure they will always be allocated adequate supplies.
  • Is there a pre-existing well? If there is an old well on the property, it probably qualifies for a Domestic Well Permit should it need to be replaced. Otherwise, you may want to call in a local consultant to explore water sources on the property. If you intend to drill a well make sure you apply for the right permit as they vary: household, livestock, agricultural purposes.
  • What’s the cost?  Drilling a full-time well can be expensive as it depends on the depth. In southern Colorado, for instance, a 600-foot well with casing can cost about $14,000, and the pump itself can cost between $6,000-$12,000.
  • Will I need a water permit, and do I have a water right? There is a difference between surface rights and water rights. Work with your local authorities to learn how this applies to your property.
  • Have a cistern water system. A cistern is a sealed underground receptacle designed to hold water. About 1200 gallons is recommended. You can fill your cistern with your share of the local water when the water is running high. Then if a drought hits, you’ll have water still on hand and available. It can also hold hauled water should you need it during times of drought.
  • Secure a back-up pump. Your water resource is only as good as your ability to get it out of the ground. Consider securing a back-up pump or you’ll have to get your water delivered in a tanker.
  • Monitor the quality of the water source regularly. If you move to a small community, find or become certified as a water system operator for Small Water Systems. In rural settings, very few officials have these qualifications which will delay inspection. The water system operator can check for bacteria and output.
  • Think Ahead. Investigate the long-term plan for the Water Supply System; identify vulnerabilities. Plan ahead. Anticipate delays for government approvals and permits.