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How Do Colorado Water Courts Work?

Per the Water Right Determination and Administration Act of 1969, Colorado created seven water divisions based upon the state’s drainage patterns. Each division is staffed with an engineer, a water judge, a water referee appointed by the water judge, and a water clerk designated by the District Court. Colorado Water Court judges are chosen from the district court judges and appointed by the supreme court to one-year terms. To serve as a water court judge, a judge must be a qualified elector of that district and licensed to practice law in the state for at least five years. Water court judges also have a mandatory retirement age of 72. Colorado Water Courts have jurisdiction over:

  • The determination of water rights
  • The use and administration of water
  • Other water matters within the water division

Cases in the Water Court usually begin with filing an application with the water clerk. A list of all the court applications is filed in the monthly water court resume and legal notice in a few newspapers. Interested persons may subsequently file statements of opposition to an application within an acceptable period, as indicated in the Colorado statute. Typically, this period is two calendar months after the month in which the application is filed. The Water Clerk also sends a copy of the application to the state engineer, the division engineer, and the water referee. The division engineer and the water referee review the application and visit the site to ascertain the applicant’s information.

The referee enters a ruling, which serves as a recommendation to the water judge verifying whether the applicant has met the law. Interested parties have 20 days after the ruling to submit a protest. Upon filing a protest, the judge will hear the case and make an independent decision. 

As provided in the 1969 Act, owners of affected rights must appear to object to the opposition or be barred from claiming injury to their water rights owing to the claims made in an application. In cases where no protests are filed, the judge will sign the ruling and make it the decree of the court, establishing that an applicant is entitled to use a certain amount of water for particular use with a defined priority. The Water Clerk makes all forms for filing, opposition, or protest available for a fee of $.75 per page.

Persons interested in accessing Colorado Water Court rulings, administrative orders, filings, or trial calendars may view such on the divisions’ pages online or visit the relevant court’s location from the list below:

Water Division One - South Platte River Basin

Weld County Courthouse

901 9th Avenue

P. O. Box 2038

Greeley, CO 80632

Chief Judge/Water Judge Phone: (970) 475–2510

District Court Judge/Alt. Water Judge Phone: (970) 475–2540

Water Clerk Phone: (970) 475–2507

Water Clerk Email: connie.koppes@judicial.state.co.us

Water Referee Phone: (970) 475–2509

Water Referee Email: john.cowan@judicial.state.co.us

Water Division Two - Arkansas River Basin

Pueblo County Judicial Building

501 North Elizabeth Street

Suite 116

Pueblo, CO 81003

Water Judge Phone: (719) 404–8832

Water Referee: (719) 404–8832

Water Clerk: (719) 404–8832

Water Clerk Email: michelle.santistevan@judicial.state.co.us

Alternate Water Judge

El Paso County Judicial Building

270 Tejon Street

P. O. Box 2980

Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Phone: (719) 452–5365

Water Division Three - Rio Grande River Basin

Alamosa Co. Courthouse

8955 Independence Way

Alamosa, CO 81101

Phone: (719) 589–4996

Water Clerk Email: jennifer.pacheco@judicial.state.co.us

Water Division Four - Gunnison River Basin

Chief Judge/Water Judge

Gunnison County Courthouse

200 E Virginia

Gunnison, CO 81230

Phone: (970) 641–3500

Email: darleen.cappannokeep@judicial.state.co.us

District Court Judge/Alternate Water Judge

Montrose County Justice Center

1200 N. Grand Avenue

Montrose, CO 81401

Phone: (970) 252–4351

Water Referee

Montrose County Justice Center

1200 N. Grand Ave. Bin A

Montrose, CO 81401

Phone: (970) 252–4334

Email: darleen.cappannokeep@judicial.state.co.us

Clerk of Court/Water Clerk

Montrose County Justice Center

1200 N. Grand Ave., Bin A

Montrose, CO 81401

Phone: (970) 252–4336

Fax: (970) 252–4309

Email: jodi.hanson@judicial.state.co.us

Water Court Clerk

Montrose County Justice Center

1200 N. Grand Ave. Bin A

Montrose, CO 81401

Phone: (970) 252–4331

Email: Fred.Castle@judicial.state.co.us

Water Division Five - Colorado River Basin

Garfield Co. Courthouse

109 8th Street, Ste 104

Glenwood Springs, CO 81601

Alternate Water Judge Phone: (970) 928–3065

Chief Judge/Water Judge Phone: (970) 928–3065

Water Clerk Phone: (970) 928–3062

Water Clerk Fax: (970) 928–3067

Water Clerk Email: katherine.powers@judicial.state.co.us

Water Referee Phone: (970) 928–3065

Water Division Six - White River Basin

Water Referee

Routt County Justice Center

1955 Shield Drive, Unit 200

Steamboat Springs, CO 80487

Phone: (970) 879–5020

Water Clerk

Routt County Justice Center

1955 Shield Drive, Unit 200

Steamboat Springs, CO 80487

Phone: (970) 879–5020

Email: maryann.ninger@judicial.state.co.us

District Court Judge/Alternate Water Judge

Grand Combined Court

P. O. Box 192

307 Moffat

Hot Sulphur Springs, CO 80451

Phone: (970) 725–3357

Chief Judge/Water Judge

Routt County Justice Center

1955 Shield Drive, Unit 200

Steamboat Springs, CO 80487

Phone: (970) 879–5020

Water Division Seven - San Juan River Basin

La Plata Combined Courts

1060 E. 2nd Ave., Rm. 106

Durango, CO 81301

Water Judge/Water Referee Phone: (970) 385–6189

Water Clerk Phone: (970) 385–6181

Designated Ground Water Basins

Upper Black Squirrel Creek

Upper Big Sandy

4th Judicial District

Larry E. Schwartz, Water Judge

El Paso County Judicial Building

270 S. Tejon Street

P. O. Box 2980

Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Phone: (719) 448–7632

Southern High Plains

15th Judicial District

Stanley A. Brinkley, Chief Judge/Water Judge

Prowers County Courthouse

301 S. Main, P. O. Box 1178

Lamar, CO 81052

Phone: (719) 336–7424

Upper Crow Creek

19th Judicial District

James Hartmann, Chief Judge/Water Judge

Weld County Courthouse

P. O. Box 2038, 901 9th Avenue

Greeley, CO 80632

Phone: (970) 351–7300 ext. 5450

Northern High Plains

Camp Creek

13th Judicial District

Michael K. Singer, Chief Judge/Water Judge

Logan County Courthouse, Rm 205

110 N. Riverview Road

Sterling, CO 80751

Phone: (970) 522–6565

Kiowa-Bijou/Lost Creek

17th Judicial District

Patrick T. Murphy, Chief Judge/Water Judge

Adams County Justice Center

1100 Judicial Center Drive

Brighton, CO 80601

Phone: (303) 654–3250

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