- February 16, 2024
The subject of water rights in Colorado often generates confusion, anger and hysteria, even among those experienced in dealing with it. According to one old timer, “Whiskey’s for drinkin’. Water’s for fightin’.”
Colorado is notorious for the number of water lawyers it has, and it’s easy to criticize a system of law that generates so much conflict. However, much criticism of this system is based on a poor understanding of how and why it works. Some people believe Colorado should more closely follow the model of other western states where water allocation is more tightly controlled by government, and less by market forces. I argue in this paper that its free market origins and traditions are the strength of Colorado water law, based on protecting private property rights against all comers, public and private. This can work as well for streamflow protection as it has for power plants.