Prior appropriation: Colorado’s illegal ponds and fire suppression

Dog by a pond
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In western states like Colorado, where users need a permit to appropriate surface water so that senior right holders are first in line to get their water in times of scarcity, the ongoing drought creates two issues.

Under the law, people who create ponds on their private land without legal permits are, in effect, stealing water from downstream users who have valid and senior appropriation rights.  Colorado’s NBC affiliate 9 NewsOpens in a new tab. says that the state engineers are cracking down on private ponds that store water meant to travel to downstream users who have water rights.

But the drought also creates an increased risk of wildfire.  Some Colorado firefighters say they need the illegal ponds.  Their voices are being heard in Senate Bill SB22-114, titled “Fire Suppression Ponds Water RightsOpens in a new tab..”

The bill, which 9 News reports has already passed the state senateOpens in a new tab., would allow county commissioners to petition the state engineer to establish protections for ponds used by fire protection districts. The ponds would have to meet certain criteria, such as being built before 1972. Irrigation districts with senior rights are concerned about the precedent and are working with state legislators to improve the bill’s language.

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Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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