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A Survey of Statutes Governing Appropriation of Water Rights in Twelve Western States

William A. Paddock, Water-Energy Nexus: Acquisition, Use, and Disposal of Water for Energy and Mineral Development

The water laws of the twelve states lying west of the 100th meridian all follow, to a greater or lesser extent, the doctrine of prior appropriation. All of these states, with the exception of Colorado, have adopted laws that require all appropriators to obtain a permit from the state to initiate and perfect a water right. Even Colorado has adopted a permit process for appropriation of groundwater. Each of these states also have procedures for the recognition and quantification of water rights that came into existence prior to statehood or prior to the enactment of the statutory schemes that require a permit as a condition of making an appropriation. The majority of these states also have adopted adjudication procedures to quantify and establish priorities for water rights and to deal with federal reserved water rights and water rights of Indian tribes. Despite the many similar features of each state's water laws, each state's law has been tailored to the unique circumstances and needs of the state. The result is a large and complex body of statutes, regulations, and local customs of practice designed to meet different needs and goals of each state. Thus, while in broad outline these twelve states follow the doctrine of prior appropriation, no two states are alike in how they implement and administer the prior appropriations doctrine.

What follows here is a survey of th