Water Shares & Ditch Rights
Updated: May 25
Proper-Tea Time Episode 5
Colorado’s topography has changed a lot over thousands of years, but its high altitudes along the mountain ranges and gradual slope all the way out to the eastern and western edges give it a unique ability to carry vital water far and wide. With human help, a network of rivers and ditches has fed the land, turning vast plains into habitable land, rife with agriculture.
This transformation is due, in great part, to ditch riders. A ditch rider, or “a person who patrols and inspects irrigation systems and distributes water to farmers” according to Merriam Webster, works for a ditch company to maintain and allot the water from these strategic waterways. I got to sit down recently with my friend, and modern-day ditch rider, Bill Campbell, to discuss the intricacies of water shares and ditch rights here in Boulder County.
Bill is the superintendent of the Boulder & White Rock Ditch & Reservoir Company. He likes to use the old title of ditch rider, a job that was traditionally done on horseback. His job is to help manage the use and storage of water and advise on the responsibilities of owning and using water shares. He also roams the land checking on and maintaining ditches, culverts and headgates, and dispensing allotted water.
What is a Water Right?
“A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water supply,” as stated in Colorado doctrine. Colorado applies a prior-appropriation system, or a “first in time, first in right” policy, to owning water rights, meaning that there are senior water rights holders whose allotments must be satisfied before less senior owners’ rights. Though it may sound simple, there are water rights going back into the 1800s, so it gets quite complicated.
There are many elements that go into measuring the value of a water share. Location, transferability, yield, and state of the current water market all factor into how much your water is worth, and that worth will change each year.
Buying a Property with Water Rights in Longmont, CO and Beyond
Water is a hot commodity, especially here. When looking for land for sale in Longmont, CO, you want to make sure to know if there are ditch and/or water rights that are included with the property's deed transfer.
If there is a ditch on the property you are buying, there will most likely be a prescriptive easement, which means you will need to allow access to that ditch for maintenance and distribution. You cannot build anything that would block access, nor can you move or divert the ditch in any way.
What do you own?
Be sure to understand if you will own water rights, the changing worth of water, what that will entitle you to and when it will be available. There is a finite amount of water that flows from the top of the Rockies each year, and you cannot just remove water from the ditch yourself, it must be allotted to you.
Water heads down the natural flow of Colorado’s waterways (ex: St Vrain Creek, Left Hand Creek, Boulder Creek, Big Thompson River, Platte River, etc.) and then is diverted, using headgates, and funneled into man-made ditches. When the snow vein has completely melted, the system is “out of water.” And without any water storage: when you’re out, you’re out!
The irrigation season begins about the end of March, early April, and ends around the end of September. This may affect what you plant or use the water for. If you need additional water, you may be able to rent water from the district, municipality or another water user.
What is the process?
When purchasing a property for sale that has water rights, there will need to be a transfer of those rights to you via a stock certificate. According to the Boulder County website, “the water right must be identified and understood so that both seller and buyer can agree on what rights are to be conveyed in the transaction. A buyer must obtain as much information as possible about the water right to ensure that the seller has adequate title to the water right that they purport to own.” In order to obtain that information, you will most likely need to contact the county clerk and recorder’s office for detailed records.
Then, “shares are transferred by completing an assignment form or slip assignment for the stock certificate. The Ditch Company will issue a new stock certificate and record the change of ownership in its stockholder registry.” This “should also be mentioned in the vesting deed so as to provide notice in a recorded instrument.”
Contact the water commissioner in your area to find out what company owns your ditch. Then, get to know the ditch rider and company they work for. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you have about your ditch and your water rights. You will also contact them to make your water orders and report any needed maintenance.
Buying Water Rights
When they are available, you can buy water shares. However, that doesn’t mean you can buy water and take it out of where it flows, you must be downstream from your water shares in order to utilize it. And you can’t buy water shares for yourself as an investment, it must be for use.
Want to Learn More?
Water is the stuff of life, and here in Colorado, it is also a hot asset! Make sure that you are aware of the responsibilities and benefits of any water or ditch rights attached to any property you are looking to buy.
I’ve been boning up on my water share and ditch right knowledge since I bought my most recent property. I am the proud owner of ditch rights here in Northern Colorado and would love to help you understand your own! Let my tenacity move you and contact me, Sarah Morrow, today for more information or to search for Longmont, CO Real Estate!
Subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch my discussion with Bill Campbell on the fifth episode of my show, Proper-Tea Time, where we discuss anything and everything to do with being a Realtor in Longmont!
For more on homes for sale in Longmont, CO, check out these blogs on the Perks of Homeownership and Water Rights and Real Estate in Northern Colorado.