Cossman: The weight of water in Colorado real estate

Rachel Candace Cossman
Guest Commentary

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” – W.H. Auden 

“Where there is water, there is always value; (unless it’s in your basement.)” – Luxury Lakefront Real Estate Broker 

Climate change and drought have accelerated the Colorado River crisis and the availability of water to our ever-expanding luxury home market. Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, our market values are determined by a variety of cache, status, methodologies, statistics, supply, and demand.

Then there are those very special properties in rural areas, whose greater value beyond bricks and mortar is determined by land features that are unique to that specific property and location. Such features go beyond mere aesthetics and are critical to the functionality and sustainability of the land. Organic water features (not to be confused with contrived fountains, waterfalls, and putting greens) are crucial in maintaining a foothold on the history of the earth, minerals, and Adam’s ale beneath us. 

Gone now are the days of pioneer-like scrambles of “who was there first.” Presently, in order to secure water rights on one’s property, there is a prior appropriation system implemented. 

Owning senior water rights is like a badge of honor in the Wild, Wild West. Such rights are court-appointed decrees to the person with such prioritized rights. The seven water courts of Colorado have jurisdiction over water-right applicants. 

As the population continues to grow on the Western Slope and, more to the point, here in the Roaring Fork Valley, the availability of land with deeded water rights is getting tighter and tighter, and the regulatory agencies are getting more involved and more restrictive with their enforcement of application requirements for private wells and other water sources. Such water rights and sources include domestic water for residential use and irrigation systems for larger parcels suited for livestock, horses, and farming.

Ditch water often originates from creeks or streams and is captured in a reservoir for distribution. In the event of a dispute over water shared within a development or subdivision, for example, where one lot may have different water rights than another depending on how their rights were decreed, they may have to have their rights adjudicated by a court. 

Drought has always been an issue in the state, but since the exponential increase in the population, it is more dire than ever. This is a classic example of supply vs. demand and has led to the much-needed greater involvement of regulatory agencies, state engineers, water courts, the Division of Water Sources, and Colorado Decision Support System among others, which mandate and enforce these rights for the sole protection.

Rachel Cossman is a seasoned real estate broker and is by no means an expert on water rights and the legalities which accompany them. If you require additional information from a true expert, please contact a dedicated water rights attorney familiar with your area.