A question commonly asked by prospective buyers of rural properties is: What does my well permit allow me to do with my water?
By right, any property larger than 35 acres qualifies for a domestic-exempt well. In general, this permit allows the property owner to draw water from the ground to service up to three residences, irrigate up to an acre of land and water livestock and domestic animals. If the property is less than 35 acres, an in-house-use well permit is issued. This means exactly what it implies – the water may only be used within the confines of the house, not for any outside purpose.
However, a perusal of real estate listings will often reveal a third type of well permit, called an augmented in-house-use well. Under certain circumstances, a well owner may be allowed to draw water for limited outside use if the location of their property qualifies for augmentation.
The state of Colorado recognizes the relationship between ground water and surface water. Depletion of ground water has a negative impact on stream flows. Passage of the Adjudication and Administration Act in 1969 allowed for a water user to use water out of priority, that is, without a water right adjudicated by the water court, provided they could furnish a plan to replace this water into the affected stream. Replacing the water ensures no owners of priority water downstream will be negatively impacted.
This furnishing of replacement water is called an augmentation plan. In an overappropriated drainage like the Arkansas River Basin, the ability to augment in-stream flows in particularly important, as any depletion of ground water will have a negative impact on users downstream.
In our area, augmentation is granted and administered by the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, through the issuing of an augmentation certificate. For homeowners, depending on the location of the well, the district is able to offset depletion of ground water by releasing a compensatory amount of water into the affected stream, ensuring mitigation of any injury to users downstream.
There is a limit to how much water an augmentation certificate allows a property owner to draw. A meter is placed on the well to monitor the amount of water being used, which is checked annually. In general, the owner of an augmented well can draw sufficient water from the ground to outside irrigate up to 1,500 square feet for a lawn or garden and keep a couple of horses.
As the valley’s population continues to grow, and the increasing number of wells being drilled has a negative impact on stream flows, developers are required to provide augmentation for any new subdivisions whenever it is available.
Hayden Mellsop is a board member of the Realtors of Central Colorado.