From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
In a 77-page decision, Justice Gregory J. Hobbs emphasized that “in order to prevent an unlawful enlargement” of agricultural water rights the suburban provider had purchased, those water rights had to be limited to the 200 cubic feet per second historically diverted from the South Platte River and used for irrigation above Barr Lake…
In this case, the high court backed up a water-court decree that “contains appropriate conditions to prevent injury to other water rights resulting from the change of water rights,” Hobbs wrote.
The case arose from a 2003 deal between the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District (ECCV), the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Co. (Frico), Burlington Ditch Land and Reservoir Co., Henrylyn Irrigation District, and the United Water and Sanitation District. Under the deal, United was to acquire agricultural water from Burlington and Frico and then petition the water court to convert it for municipal use by ECCV’s suburban clients…
The case consolidated several disputes and resolved an appeal that followed a 16-day trial in 2008. The state water court had sharply reduced the historical “consumptive use” — used to calculate the amount of previously agricultural water that municipalities can use.
“Old decrees were imprecise. Measurement was imprecise. As the value of water increases, the challenge of finding just how much a person’s or district’s water right might have been in the past is very difficult,” said [University of Colorado Law School dean David Getches], a water-law expert and former director of natural resources for the state. “So the court has to take its doctrine of historical use and apply it with this kind of modern scrutiny that peels back the imprecision of old decrees and understandings and measurement facilities,” he said.
More coverage from The Associated Press via TheDenverChannel.com (Wayne Harrison):
On Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with a water court ruling that limited what could be considered the irrigation companies’ historical consumptive use of their water, which helps determine how much water can be converted to municipal use. The water court had said it was trying to protect against harm to other water rights…
The cities of Denver, Thornton, Brighton, Aurora and Englewood were among those with interests in the case.
Here’s the opinion from Leagle.
More water law coverage here.