RAPID/Hydropower/Colorado/Water Access & Rights

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Colorado Hydropower Water Access & Water Rights(19-CO)

In Colorado, a hydropower developer may need a number of groundwater and surface water access permits and water rights. Most surface water and tributary groundwater in Colorado is already appropriated. Therefore, a hydropower developer will likely need to buy or have an existing senior water right transferred to store or use surface or groundwater. For example, if the project requires the construction of a reservoir to hold water or a canal feeds the hydropower plant or pump storage facility, Colorado may consider the project a consumptive water use. As a result, a developer will likely need water court approval for a Change of Water Right. In addition, a developer may need water court approval for a Plan for Augmentation (water use replacement plan) which requires the water user to, as a condition of the consumptive water use, replace the depleted water.

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Determine Which State and Federal Permits Apply

Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.

Permitting at a Glance


Water Right Agency: Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Ground Water Commission
Water Right Classification: Prior Appropriation
Is a Water Right Required for the Project? A developer needs a water right for consumptive surface or groundwater uses. A hydropower developer will need a water right for the construction of a reservoir to hold water or a canal that feeds a hydropower plant or pump storage facility. All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource and must be put to beneficial use. Colorado considers power generation a beneficial use, along with commercial, industrial, and water storage uses, instream flows, and dust suppression. Colorado Small Hydropower Handbook, at p. 10; Citizens Guide to Colorado Water Law, at p. 7.
Defined Terms: Colorado may consider the water use for hydropower generation a consumptive use, if the project requires the construction of a reservoir to the hold water or a canal feeds the hydropower plant or pumped storage facility due to resulting evaporation or absorption. The State Engineer may also consider a hydropower project a consumptive water use for most surface diversions through a canal or other means. Colorado Small Hydropower Handbook, at p. 10."Colorado may consider the water use for hydropower generation a consumptive use, if the project requires the construction of a reservoir to the hold water or a canal feeds the hydropower plant or pumped storage facility due to resulting evaporation or absorption. The State Engineer may also consider a hydropower project a consumptive water use for most surface diversions through a canal or other means. Colorado Small Hydropower Handbook, at p. 10." cannot be used as a page name in this wiki.

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