Support of measures that promote the wise and balanced use of water in Colorado.

POSITION: (Revised 1975)

Administration of the uses of water should not be left to litigation but should be effectively supplied by the executive branch of state government. An adequate and enforceable constitutional and legislative framework is necessary.

Groundwater law should be designed to protect groundwater resources from waste and irreparable damage. Such law, with due regard for the public good, should also help to assure long-term stability for investments based on pumped water. To these ends the legal framework should be consistent with the physical facts of groundwater occurrence and relationships and should include provisions for adequate administration and enforcement.

Water supply and quality control should be regarded as interdependent and inseparable. Clean water should be supported for reasons of health, aesthetics and recreational use. A coordinated program of information and education about Colorado’s water should be maintained.

Criteria for Wise Use of Water:

  • Essential to a balanced use of water in Colorado is an effectively coordinated Land Use-Water Use Plan. Although the state must have overall responsibility, local and regional representatives should exercise a strong role in determining policy, planning and the execution of the plans.
  • The carrying capacity of the land must be considered in all decision-making. Within the carrying capacity concept, League primarily supports the protection of the state’s prime
    agricultural lands and ecological and environmental concerns. Of less importance, but deserving serious consideration in the balanced use of water, are municipal use, economic factors, growth dispersal, recreation and industrial development.
  • Prime agricultural land and the water to make it productive should be preserved for economic, social, health, land planning and aesthetic purposes.
  • The importance of a municipal use varies with its purpose. Firefighting and hospital use (including air conditioning) deserve a higher priority than supplying water for general air conditioning, parks and commercial businesses.
  • Conservation should be implemented through such means as metering, pricing, plumbing codes, limitations on use (such as restrictions on lawn watering), education, and to a lesser degree the use of fines, rewards and taxation practices.
  • Recycling of water seems the most acceptable way of stretching or augmenting Colorado’s supply. Some surface and underground storage is necessary in Colorado. Without further research, weather modification as a means of augmentation lacked the support of League members. Additional research should be promoted in all areas.
  • Water to maintain stream flow is important for its ecological and environmental value, but condemnation of water rights for this purpose must be judiciously used.
  • In order to administer effectively a state water plan, the state should be a party to all proposed changes in the use of a water right.
  • Condemnation which results in the loss of a water right or its use should entitle the owner to compensation at the fair market value of its present use.
  • A limited moratorium on large water projects might be desirable if it were a part of a development of a state water policy or plan.
  • A state review of the provisions in treaties and compacts would be desirable.


The LWVCO began its studies of water resources in 1957 with the legal foundations for the right to use water in Colorado, sources of supply, and the special problems of groundwater supply and administration. In 1975 a study update resulted in criteria for the wise use of water.

Since 1974 LWVCO has opposed the proposed Two Forks Dam.

LWVCO supported the original minimum instream flow legislation in 1973 and, when its constitutionality was in question, joined the lawsuit as a Friend of the Court; the Colorado Supreme Court found the law to be constitutional. League has opposed many attempts to weaken this statute.

League’s groundwater action has emphasized support of a groundwater policy that protects both the quality and quantity of this resource. During the 1980’s the LWVCO worked for the adoption of a groundwater quality regulatory program that would adequately protect Colorado’s groundwater. The Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) adopted the framework for regulation of groundwater quality in 1987. LWVCO participated in the development of toxic organic standards, adopted by the WQCC in 1989. Since then LWVCO has supported the classification of aquifers to protect their quality.

In the late 1980’s LWVCO supported the establishment of a regulatory program for chemigation (the application of chemicals along with pumped water) to help protect groundwater from contamination. League has supported successful legislation to reduce pollution from agricultural chemicals and opposed attempts to weaken this legislation.

League worked on full implementation of the National Safe Drinking Water Act, and supports the Colorado Safe Drinking Water program and any efforts to strengthen enforcement. League has participated in the development of a well-head protection program and continues to be an advocate for state revolving loan funds to help small communities meet drinking water standards.

Since the late 1980’s LWVCO has supported EPA’s recommendations to bring Colorado’s water quality program into compliance with EPA regulations, especially antidegradation of streams and toxics control. In 1992 legislation was passed with criteria for classifying waters of the state to prevent degradation.

In the early 1990’s attempts were made to weaken and fragment the power of the WQCC. LWVCO worked to significantly improve or defeat these bills. In 1994 LWVCO supported legislation giving the Water Quality Control Division the authority to act against imminent pollution (passed).

In 1991 LWVCO supported the narrative classification of aquifers in the San Luis Valley and Eastern Colorado and in 1994, the extension of this protection to the Western Slope. Beginning in 1991 we urged site-specific classification of aquifers used as a main source of municipal drinking water.

In 1992 the Colorado Water Quality Forum was organized so that all those affected by water quality decisions could attempt to find agreement on at least some regulatory issues. LWVCO has been a participant in this ongoing process. League was also an active participant in the state’s Non-Point Source Task Force for over 10 years.

LWVCO’s water policy efforts have included support of proposed legislation that would strengthen the role of the State Engineer in the administration of water rights and groundwater rights, all of which have failed. In the early 1990’s League supported unsuccessful “Basin of Origin” legislation that would have given some protection to areas where water is diverted for urban use. In the 2009 session such legislation passed.

In 1997 the LWVCO Education Fund began managing a project called the Colorado Water Protection Project, funded by the EPA through the Water Quality Control Division, Non-Point Source program. In 2000 this project expanded to publish a statewide newsletter for the Non-Point Source Program. The program was terminated in 2009 and the newsletter in 2010. The goal of the project was to implement a comprehensive program to increase public awareness in Colorado about the causes of and solution to urban polluted runoff. A later extension of the League project “AWARE Colorado” was developed to educate decision makers about the connection between land use and water quality.

Recreational uses of water have increased over the years. In 2002 legislation passed that broadened the voluntary instream flow program. In 2007 recreation in-channel diversions for kayaking was passed. The present language, upheld by the courts, has the Colorado Water Conservation Board overseeing the instream flow program. The League has opposed narrow definitions of this program.

The worst drought in a century occurred in 2002-2003. There were water restrictions by municipalities, and many junior agricultural water rights holders were unable to obtain water. In 2003 League worked successfully with a coalition to defeat a proposed revenue bonding program referendum to build dams.

In the 2004-2005 sessions the legislature passed a Statewide Water Supply Initiative to study supply and demand in all the major river basins. The League supported this legislation, but asked for a broader representation at the discussion groups. This request was met with resistance, but finally granted. In the 2005 session a bill passed to establish interbasin roundtables to discuss the transfer of water from one basin to another.

The League continues to support legislation addressing increased funding for additional storage in reservoirs and holding facilities. In 2007 more construction money was proposed for storage projects and conservation measures (the latter did not pass). The League also supports adequate funding for the WQCC staff, to ensure adequate supervision.

Since 2008 the League has supported successful legislation that would notify home buyers about the source of their water, particularly in groundwater areas. A pilot project was started to collect precipitation from rooftops and impervious surfaces for nonpotable uses such as garden and lawn sprinkling. League supported the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed District, and Drinking Water and Wastewater small grant programs. The water efficiency grants program has been extended. During the 2011 session a bill was introduced that would have updated the On-Site Wastewater regulations and allowed more flexibility from the professionals and clearer definitions for county health departments. LWVCO supported this legislation, which did not pass. During the 2012 session it was reintroduced and passed with bipartisan support.

The 2013 session saw continued support of water efficiency measures and breakthrough legislation regarding reuse of “graywater.” It added language to define graywater and establish regulations for its use. This will aid in stretching water supplies, particularly in drought years.

The biggest milestone in 2014 was approval for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to do a statewide water plan. The League supported this first-time effort which is near completion. The League continued supporting water efficiency measures through fixtures, rain barrel collection, and flexible water markets. The first passed, while the last two failed.