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Colorado Designated Groundwater Basin Water Right and Well Permit Process (19-CO-c)

Colorado has special rules for well permitting and the use of water within designated groundwater basins, a group of eight basins in the eastern plains of Colorado with only a small amount of surface water. CRS 37-90-104 creates the Colorado Ground Water Commission (CGWC) to oversee the issuance of small capacity and high capacity permits within designated groundwater basins under CRS 37-90-107 and CRS 37-90-108. The CGWC adopted management standards for granted permits to withdraw groundwater in each designated basins based on its unique hydrologic conditions and reviews and changes those standards from time to time. Synopsis of Colorado Water Law, at p. 10. The CGWC regulates groundwater in each designated based pursuant to C.R.S. 37-90 - Underground Water and Colorado Code of Regulations 2 C.C.R. 410-1, Rules and Regulations for the Management and Control of Designated Ground Water. The CGWC oversees the adjudication of water rights upon the basis of ownership of the overlying land and well permitting pursuant to CRS 37-90-107 and Colorado Code of Regulations 2 C.C.R. 410-1, Rules and Regulations for the Management and Control of Designated Ground Water]].


The CGWC has adopted standards for determining rights to non-tributary and not non-tributary groundwater in the Denver, Dawson, Arapahoe, and Laramie Fox Hills aquifers within designated areas that are similar to the standards outside designated basins. However, standards for replacement of stream depletions resulting from pumping not non-tributary groundwater are different from those outside designated basins. Synopsis of Colorado Water Law, at p. 10.

In addition, there are thirteen local groundwater management districts within designated groundwater basins. These management districts have authority to adopt rules to further manage and administer diversions from existing permitted high capacity wells. CRS 37-90-118, Ground Water Management Districts. Many districts have adopted rules that declare their designated basins over-appropriated. Therefore, in order to obtain a new appropriation the CGWC must approve the replacement plan. A replacement plan is a detailed program to increase the supply of water available for beneficial use in a designated basin or portion thereof by the development of new or alternative means or points of diversion, by a pooling of water resources, by water exchange projects, by providing substitute supplies of water, by the development of new sources of water, or by any other appropriate means. 2 CCR 410-1 Rule 4.


Designated Groundwater Basin Water Right and Well Permit Process Process

19-CO-c.1 – Designated Groundwater Basin Water Rights Application

The Colorado Ground Water Commission (CGWC ) determines rights to groundwater in a designated basin. Except for small capacity wells, a developer or land owner desiring to obtain a determination of water rights in a designated groundwater basin must submit an Application For Determination Of Water Right Within A Designated Groundwater Basin (Form GWS-53). The application must include a fee of sixty dollars for each aquifer and a request for approval of a replacement plan, if a replacement plan is required to replace any depletion to alluvial aquifers caused from the withdrawal of groundwater from the Denver Basin. Application For Determination Of Water Right Within A Designated Groundwater Basin (Form GWS-53); C.R.S. 37-90-107(1), Application for Use of Groundwater.

19-CO-c.2 – Conduct Preliminary Evaluation

The CGWC conducts a preliminary evaluation of the Application for Determination of Water Rights within a designated groundwater basin to determine whether the CGWC should grant the application. C.R.S. 37-90-107(2), Application for Use of Groundwater.

19-CO-c.3 – Publish Notice of Application

The CGWC publishes the Application for Determination of Water Rights within a designated groundwater basin within thirty (30) days of the CGWC decision to give favorable consideration to the application. C.R.S. 37-90-107(2), Application for Use of Groundwater. The publication must take place in each affected county and appear in a newspaper of general circulation for two consecutive weeks. CRS 37-90-112(1).The publication must include the place in which interested persons may file objections and the final date by which the CGWC will accept written objections. CRS 37-90-112(1).

19-CO-c.4 to 19-CO-c.5 – Does Anyone Object to the Application?

If any person files an objection within the timeframe specified in the notice of application, the CGWC will set a hearing date and notify the applicants (developers) and objectors of the time and place for the hearing. If no one objects to the application, the CGWC determines whether to approve the application without a hearing. CRS 37-90-197, Application for Use of Groundwater|CRS 37-90-112(2); C.R.S. 37-90-107(4), Application for Use of Groundwater.

19-CO-c.6 – Hold Hearing

The CGWC holds a hearing in the designated groundwater basin and within the groundwater management district (if one exists) where the applicant (developer) proposes to withdrawal designated groundwater or at another place designated by the CGWC that is agreed to by the parties. C.R.S. 37-90-107(4), Application for Use of Groundwater.

19-CO-c.7 – Water Right Determination

The CGWC issues a Water Right Determination regarding the designated groundwater basin. Any CGWC water rights determination is considered final as to the amount of water granted (except the CGWC retains jurisdiction for subsequent adjustments to conform to actual local aquifer characteristics obtained during well drilling or through test holds). C.R.S. 37-90-107(7)(c)(C)(III), Application for Use of Groundwater. Under 2 C.C.R. 410-1 Rule 5 the CGWC uses the following criteria in the review and approval of applications to use designated groundwater:

  • The availability of water for appropriation;
  • The prevention of unreasonable impairment to the rights of other appropriators; and
  • The prevention of unreasonable waste.

2 C.C.R. 410-1 Rule 5 . Additionally, the CGWC will not approve an application to appropriate designated groundwater, except for bedrock aquifers, within one-half mile of an existing large capacity well unless a Waiver of Claim of Injury is obtained from the owner of the existing large capacity well or the Commission, after a hearing, finds that circumstances allow a permit despite the one-half mile limitation. 2 C.C.R. 410-1 Rule 5.2.1. Other application approval restrictions are found in 2 C.C.R. 410-1 Rule 5. See 2 C.C.R. 410-1 Rule 5.3 for specific average annual withdrawal requirements.

19-CO-c.8 – General Purpose Water Well Permit Application (GWS-45)

A developer seeking to appropriate groundwater for a beneficial use in a designated groundwater basin must submit a General Purpose Water Well Permit Application, to the Colorado Ground Water Commission (CGWC). The application must include, at minimum:

  • The particular designated groundwater basin or subdivision thereof from which the applicant (developer) proposes to appropriate water;
  • The beneficial use to which the applicant (developer) will apply the water;
  • The location of the proposed well;
  • The name of the owner of the land on which the well will be located;
  • The estimated average annual amount of water applied for in acre-feet; and
  • The estimated maximum pumping rate in gallons per minute.

CRS 37-90-107(1), Application for use of groundwater; General Purpose Water Well Permit Application.


19-CO-c.9 – Conduct Preliminary Evaluation

The CGWC conducts a preliminary evaluation of the General Purpose Water Well Permit Application, to determine whether the CGWC should grant the application. CRS 37-90-107(2), Application for use of groundwater.

19-CO-c.10 – Publish Application

The CGWC publishes the General Purpose Water Well Permit Application within thirty (30) days of the CGWC decision to consider the application. The publication must take place in each affected county and appear in a newspaper of general circulation for two consecutive weeks. The publication must include the place in which interested persons may file objections and the final date by which the CGWC will accept written objections. CRS 37-90-107(2), Application for use of groundwater; 2 CCR 410-1§7.2.

19-CO-c.11 to 19-CO-c.12 – Does Anyone Object to the Application?

If any person files an objection within the timeframe specified in the notice of application, the CGWC will set a hearing date and notify the applicants (developers) and objectors of the time and place for the hearing. If no one objects to the application, the CGWC determines whether to approve the application without a hearing. CRS 37-90-107(3), Application for use of groundwater; 2 CCR 410-1§7.2.

19-CO-c.13 – Hold Hearing (If Applicable)

The CGWC holds a hearing in the designated groundwater basin and within the Groundwater Management District (if one exists) where the proposed well will be located or at another place designated by the CGWC and agreed to by the parties.

CRS 37-90-107(4), Application for use of groundwater.

19-CO-c.14 to c.16 – Does the CGWC Approve the Application?

The CGWC determines whether to approve the General Purpose Water Well Permit Application. The CGWC approves the permit if the CGWC finds that the proposed appropriation will not unreasonably impair existing water rights from the same source nor create unreasonable waste. In determining whether the proposed water use will create unreasonable waste or unreasonably affect the rights of other appropriators, the CGWC considers:

  • The area and geologic conditions;
  • The average annual yield and recharge rate of the appropriate water supply;
  • The priority and quantity of existing claims of all persons to use the water;
  • The proposed method of use; and
  • All other matters appropriate to such questions.

CRS 37-90-107(5), Application for use of groundwater.

In considering whether the water use will impair existing water rights, “impairment” includes the unreasonable lowering of the water level or the unreasonable deterioration of water quality beyond reasonable economic limits of withdrawal or use. CRS 37-90-107(5), Application for use of groundwater.

The CGWC may require a replacement plan ( Application for Approval of a Replacement Plan within a Designated Ground Water Basin (Form GWS-69)) that meets these requirements in order to approve the application. CRS 37-90-107(5), Application for use of groundwater. If the CGWC requires a replacement plan, the developer must submit an Application for Approval of a Replacement Plan within a Designated Ground Water Basin (Form GWS-69) for approval. The developer’s replacement plan application must go through a similar process as the application for a water well permit in a designated basin. If the CGWC determines the application is complete, the CGWC must publish the application pursuant to CRS 37-90-112 within sixty (60) days after the filing of the replacement plan application. If an objection is filed, the CGWC must hold a hearing pursuant to CRS 37-90-113. The CGWC must approve a replacement plan if the replacement plan meets the requirements of C.R.S. 37-90 - Underground Water and the rules adopted by the CGWC. CRS 37-90-107.5, Replacement Plans.

If the CGWC finds the water use will create unreasonable waste or unreasonably affect the rights of other appropriators, the CGWC will deny the application and notify the applicant (developer). Otherwise, the CGWC approves the application and instructs the State Engineer to issue a Conditional Well Permit within forty-five (45) days after the expiration of the time for filing objections or after a hearing. CRS 37-90-107(3), Application for use of groundwater.

19-CO-c.17 to c.24 – Is a Replacement Plan Required?

If the CGWC determines that a replacement plan is required in order to approve a water well permit designated basin application, the developer must submit an Application for Approval of a Replacement Plan within a Designated Ground Water Basin (Form GWS-69) for approval to the CGWC. CRS 37-90-107(5), Application for use of groundwater.

The developer’s replacement plan application must go through a similar process as the application for a water well permit in a designated basin. If the CGWC determines the application is complete, the CGWC must publish the application pursuant to CRS 37-90-112 within sixty (60) days after the filing of the replacement plan application. CGWC must publish the application in a newspaper of general circulation in each county of concern, each week for two successive weeks. CRS 37-90-112. In addition, if an objection is filed, the CGWC must hold a hearing pursuant to CRS 37-90-113. Notice of the hearing must also be published in a newspaper of general circulation in each county concerned, each week for two consecutive weeks. CRS 37-90-112. The notice must include:

  • The hour and date of the commencement of hearings on the subject matter of the notice;
  • The place at which the hearings will be held;
  • The place where written objections may be filed; and
  • The final date by which written objections will be received.

CRS 37-90-112.

The CGWC must approve a replacement plan if the replacement plan meets the requirements of C.R.S. 37-90 – Underground Water and the rules adopted by the CGWC. CRS 37-90-107.5, Replacement Plans.


19-CO-c.25 to c.26 – Construct Well

After receiving the Conditional Well Permit from the State Engineer, the permittee has one year to construct the well or other works necessary to apply the water to beneficial use. CRS 37-90-107(3), Application for use of groundwater; CRS 37-90-108(1), Final Permit. If the water user does not construct the well within one year, the permittee may seek a one-time extension from the CGWC for a showing of good cause, in which the water user will have one additional year to construct the well or other works necessary to apply the water to beneficial use. Guide to Colorado Well Permits, Water Rights, and Water Administration, at p. 8; CRS 37-90-108, Final Permit. Upon completion of the well, the permittee must provide the CGWC written evidence of well construction on a form prescribed by the commission (Well Construction and Test Report (Form GWS-31)) that includes:

  • The depth of the well;
  • The water-bearing formations intercepted by the well; and
  • The maximum sustained pumping rate in gallons per minute.

Well Construction and Test Report (Form GWS-31); CRS 37-90-108(2), Final Permit. Additionally, the permittee must submit a Pump Installation and Test Report (Form GWS-32) to the CGWC. CRS 37-90-108(1)(b), Final Permit.

19-CO-c.27 to 19-CO-c.29 – Put Water to Beneficial Use

After the well is constructed in compliance with the Conditional Well Permit, the permittee (developer) has three years to put the water to beneficial use and submit to the CGWC a Statement of Beneficial Use (Form GWS-10) in the form of a sworn affidavit. CRS 37-90-108(2)(a), Final Permit. If the permittee (developer) does not submit the Statement of Beneficial Use to the CGWC within the three-year limit, the Conditional Well Permit expires. CRS 37-90-108(2)(c), Final Permit. Once the developer has put the well to beneficial use, the developer must submit Notice of Beneficial Use (Form GWS-9) within 30 days of commencement. Notice of Beneficial Use (Form GWS-9).

19-CO-c.30 – Publish Final Well Permit Information

The CGWC publishes the information required in the Final Well Permit. The CGWC must publish the information required for the Final Well Permit in a newspaper of general circulation in the concerned county for two consecutive weeks. CRS 37-90-112(1), Notice-publication.

19-CO-c.31 – Final Well Permit

If the CGWC finds that the permittee has put the water to a beneficial use and that developer has complied with the other terms of the conditional permit, the CGWC orders the State Engineer to issue a Final Well Permit. CRS 37-90-108(3)(a), Final Permit. In determining the beneficial use for the Final Well Permit, the CGWC may use the same criteria for determining the amount of water used on each acre that has been irrigated as used in CRS 37-90-107 for evaluating the amount of water available for appropriation. CRS 37-90-108(3)(a), Final Permit.




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