September 6, 2016--Colorado’s water engineer discusses wasting of state’s precious resource (Aspen Daily Times)

Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s state water engineer, told a group of irrigators here last week that it’s illegal for someone to take more water than they need because they are speculating on the future potential value of their water rights. Wolfe was one of several guest speakers at the Uncompahgre Valley Water Forum, which was held on Sept. 1 at the Montrose County Fairgrounds. Ken Lipton, president of the Shavano Conservation District board of supervisors, introduced Wolfe. “He’s going to talk about probably one of the most misunderstood parts of Colorado water law, and that is ‘use it or lose it,’” Lipton said. Wolfe, who has been state engineer since 2007, began by saying that some people who own a water right can have a “misunderstanding” of what it means to “own and operate that water right in the context of ‘lose it or use it.’” “They are really thinking in their minds, ‘I better divert it or I’m going to lose it,’” Wolfe said. “So oftentimes the context of ‘use it or lose it’ is ‘divert it or lose it.’” But that thinking should actually “be framed as ‘beneficially use it or lose it,’” Wolfe said. “Because really the true measure of your water right is based on the beneficial consumptive use of that water right. Not how much you diverted, but how much you beneficially used it.”

Wolfe also said that when you go to change a water right in water court, “the measure of your water right is not based on how much you divert, but how much you consume of that. That’s how much you can take and transfer into the future. That’s what values that water right.” He said it was easy for short adages to roll off one’s tongue, but when it comes to water rights in Colorado, the phrase “use it or lose it” should really be a mouthful, as in “establish and maintain a pattern of beneficially using it, for its decreed beneficial use, over a representative period of time, while in priority, without waste, or lose it.” Or, in short, “beneficially use or lose it.” “The essence of a water right is the application to a beneficial use without waste,” said Wolfe, the official responsible for enforcing compliance with Colorado water law. “In Colorado there are laws — specific provisions and statutes — that prevent someone from wasting water.” To view the full article visit the Aspen Daily Times.