In 1969, Colorado’s Water Right Determination and Administration Act established seven water divisions within the state “based upon the drainage patterns of major rivers in Colorado: South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, Gunnison, Colorado, White, and San Juan rivers.” Each division includes an engineer, a judge, a water referee (who is selected by the judge) and a water clerk who is assigned by the district court of the division.
There are seven Colorado water judges who are also District Court judges that have been given special authority over the “determination of water rights, the use and administration of water, and all other water matters within the jurisdiction of the water division.” Colorado Water Courts are not jury trial courts, and all matters are handled directly by the judge. Appeals from Water Court go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.
In 1981 the Colorado Supreme Court devised strict case definitions for Water Court, and all Water Courts must operate under these standards. Water Court filings (called the “resume”) are published in local newspapers by the water clerk for transparency. This gives ample time for interested parties or residents to file motions against proposed water basin changes and legal action.
Colorado Water Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all water rights in the state. Since they are technically a division of the District Courts, they share accessories and resources. The Colorado Supreme Court selects and appoints Water Court judges. Colorado’s Water Courts are overseen by District Courts. For the last year tallied, Colorado’s Water Courts saw 879 filings and 4,509 claims. District one had the highest number, and district five followed close behind.
The Colorado Judicial Branch’s website has extensive information on each division, the judge presiding and details on how to file a motion or claim.