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 News 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 Rights.”
The bill, which 9 News reports has already passed the state senate, 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.