Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

by
This case centered on Coors Brewing Company’s application to amend its decreed augmentation plans to authorize the reuse and successive use of return flows from water that Coors diverted out of priority pursuant to those plans. The City of Golden opposed this application, arguing that Coors could not proceed by amendment but had to adjudicate a new water right to reuse or make successive use of the return flows. The water court ruled: (1) any amount of water not beneficially used by Coors for the uses specified in its decreed augmentation plans had to be returned to the stream; (2) Coors’s decreed augmentation plans did not authorize the reuse or successive use of such water; and (3) Coors could not obtain the right to reuse or make successive use of such water by way of amendment to its augmentation plans but could only obtain such rights by adjudicating a new water right. Coors appealed, arguing that the water court erred: (1) by holding that Coors could not proceed by amendment but had to adjudicate a new water right; (2) by concluding that water unconsumed by Coors’s initial use had to be returned to the stream and was subject to appropriation by other water users; and (3) interpreting Coors’s augmentation plan decrees to require permanent dedication of return flows to the stream. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that in order to obtain the right to reuse and make successive use of the return flows at issue, Coors had to adjudicate a new water right and could not circumvent this requirement by amending its decreed augmentation plans. Furthermore, the Court held that the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan did not change its character. Accordingly, the general rule, providing that return flows belong to the stream, applied. Finally, the Court concluded the water court correctly construed Coors’s augmentation plans. View "Coors Brewing Co. v. City of Golden" on Justia Law

by
The Jim Hutton Educational Foundation, a surface-water user, claimed that a statute prohibiting any challenge to a designated groundwater basin that would alter the basin’s boundaries to exclude a permitted well was unconstitutional. The water court dismissed that claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the surface-water user had to first satisfy the Colorado Groundwater Commission that the water at issue was not designated groundwater. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed that dismissal, because jurisdiction vests in the water court only if the Colorado Groundwater Commission first concludes that the water at issue is designated groundwater. Therefore, the water court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the Foundation's claim. View "Jim Hutton Educ. Found. v. Rein" on Justia Law

by
In 2011, the City of Aspen adopted an ordinance which imposed a regulatory scheme designed to meet the city council’s “duty to protect the natural environment and the health of its citizens and visitors.” Under the ordinance, grocery stores within Aspen’s city limits were prohibited from providing disposable plastic bags to customers, though they could still provide paper bags to customers, but each bag is subject to a $0.20 “waste reduction fee,” unless the customer was a participant in a “Colorado Food Assistance Program.” This case presented the question of whether Aspen’s $0.20 paper bag charge was a tax subject to voter approval under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). The trial court held that this charge was not subject to TABOR because it was not a tax, but a fee. The court of appeals concurred with this holding. The Colorado Supreme Court also agreed, finding the bag charge was not a tax subject to TABOR. View "Colorado Union of Taxpayers Found. v City of Aspen" on Justia Law

by
Front Range Resources, LLC, a private company that owned or managed various water rights, applied for a replacement plan in the Lost Creek Designated Ground Water Basin. Under the plan, Front Range sought to divert water from its existing water rights to recharge the Lost Creek Basin’s alluvial aquifer. It then planned to withdraw the recharged water by increasing the use of its existing wells and by constructing new wells. Defendants (parties that believed their water rights would be impaired by the plan) objected to Front Range’s replacement plan, and the Ground Water Commission ultimately dismissed Front Range’s application with prejudice, allowing Front Range to appeal to the district court. Meanwhile, Front Range and the City of Aurora entered into an option contract for Aurora to purchase some or all of the replacement-plan water upon the replacement plan’s approval. On appeal, the district court rejected Front Range’s use of water rights in the South Platte River in the replacement plan. It further found the replacement plan involved new appropriations and changes of water rights, triggering the anti-speculation doctrine. In granting summary judgment against Front Range, the district court concluded Front Range’s planned use of the replacement-plan water (including its option contract with Aurora) violated the anti-speculation doctrine. Some of the Defendants then pursued attorney fees, arguing Front Range’s claims lacked substantial justification. But the district court denied their motion. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court held the anti-speculation doctrine applied to replacement plans involving new appropriations or changes to designated ground water rights. Because Front Range could not demonstrate that it or Aurora would put the replacement-plan water to beneficial use, the district court did not err in granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendants’ motion for attorney fees. View "Front Range Resources, LLC v. Colorado Ground Water Commission" on Justia Law

by
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in this matter addressed appeals from two related cases: Gallegos Family Properties, LLC’s petition to de-designate a portion of the Upper Crow Creek Designated Ground Water Basin, and an order awarding the Well Owners a portion of their litigation costs. At issue was whether Gallegos satisfied the statutory standard for de-designating a portion of the Basin set forth in section 37-90-106(1)(a), C.R.S. (2003), and as interpreted by this the Court in Gallegos v. Colorado Ground Water Commission, 147 P.3d 20 (Colo. 2006), and whether Gallegos should have bourne the Well Owners’ costs. The designated groundwater court concluded that Gallegos had failed to make new showings sufficient to justify de-designating a portion of the Basin and taxed Gallegos for a portion of the Well Owners’ costs. The Supreme Court concluded that Gallegos failed to prove by evidence not before the 1987 Commission that the Well Owners were pumping water connected to Crow Creek such that future conditions and factual data justify de-designating a portion of the Basin. Because a party must show connectivity to prove impact, Gallegos failed to meet its burden, and de-designation was improper. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the designated groundwater court’s order denying Gallegos’s petition. Furthermore, because the designated groundwater court properly denied Gallegos’s petition for de-designation, the Supreme Court concluded that the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the Well Owners were prevailing parties for purposes of C.R.C.P. 54(d), that the costs awarded were reasonable and necessary, and that Gallegos should pay these costs pursuant to Rule 54(d). View "Gallegos Family Properties, LLC v. Colorado Groundwater Commission" on Justia Law

by
Select Energy Services, LLC, wanted to run a water pipeline across an old, partly destroyed irrigation ditch alongside the South Platte River. An easement arising from a water right long associated with that ditch stood in its way. K-LOW, LLC owned the easement, and attempted to block Select’s pipeline as a trespass. Yet, because the water right supporting the easement recently changed, K-LOW’s easement might no longer exist. Whether the easement existed turned on the scope of the underlying water right. Absent that water right, K-LOW’s trespass claim failed. The water court found no right to divert water from the ditch, and the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with its determination. Because, by its plain language, the decree defining the water right allowed its holder to divert water only at the pump downriver from the disputed ditch, the Court concluded the decree did not include a right to divert water from that ditch. View "Select Energy Servs., LLC v. K-LOW, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The City of Aurora was the sole owner of the capital stock of Busk-Ivanhoe, Inc., which owned a one-half interest in water rights decreed in 1928 to the Busk-Ivanhoe System for supplemental irrigation in the Arkansas River Basin by Garfield County District Court (in Civil Action 2621, known as the "2621 Decree"). The decree contained no reference to storage of exported water on the eastern slope prior to its decreed use for supplemental irrigation in the Arkansas River Basin. Nevertheless, water decreed to the Busk-Ivanhoe System has been stored in reservoirs before put to beneficial use. In 1987, Busk-Ivanhoe began to put its water rights to use in Aurora. Busk-Ivanhoe did not file an application to change the type and place of use of these rights until 2009. The water court for Water Division 2 approved Busk-Ivanhoe's change application allow use of the rights within Aurora's municipal system. The rulings were confirmed in 2014. The issues raised in this appeal centered on the water court's quantification of the water rights to be changed under the application. After review, the Supreme Court concluded: (1) the water court erred when it concluded that storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe rights on the eastern slope prior to use was lawful; (2) because the storage of the water rights was unlawful, the water court erred in concluding the volumes of exported water paid as rental fees for storage in its historic consumptive use quantification of the water rights; and (3) the water court erred in concluding it was required to exclude the twenty-two years of undecreed use of the water rights from the representative study period. The water court's 2014 order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Grand Valley Water Users Ass'n v. Busk-Ivanhoe, Inc." on Justia Law

by
On July 4, 2004, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority (the “Authority”) diverted 0.716 cubic feet per second (“cfs”) of water at the Edwards Drinking Water Facility on the Eagle River and delivered that water to the Cordillera area for beneficial use. On that date, there was a “free river” (meaning that there was no call on the Colorado or Eagle Rivers). Of the water diverted and delivered to Cordillera, the Authority allocated 0.47 cfs to its Eagle River Diversion Point No. 2 conditional water right (the “Junior Eagle River Right”) and filed an application to make this amount absolute. The State and Division Engineers opposed the application, asserting that the Authority could not make its Junior Eagle River Right absolute when it owned another, more senior conditional water right, the SCR Diversion Point No. 1 water right (the “Senior Lake Creek Right”), decreed for the same claimed beneficial uses at the same location and for diversion at the same point. The water court agreed with the Engineers, and held that the July 4, 2004, diversion had to be allocated first to the Senior Lake Creek Right. The Authority appealed, and the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, holding that where there was no evidence of waste, hoarding, or other mischief, and no injury to the rights of other water users, the owner of a portfolio of water rights was entitled to select which of its different, in-priority conditional water rights it wished to first divert and make absolute. "[T]he portfolio owner must live with its choice. Since it has chosen to make a portion of the Junior Eagle River Right absolute, the Authority may not now divert and use the Senior Lake Creek Right unless it demonstrates that it needs that water right in addition to the Junior Eagle River Right." View "Upper Eagle Reg'l Water Auth. v. Wolfe" on Justia Law

by
Boulder County chose to develop "the Bailey Farm" into a public open-space park which would feature several ponds formed from abandoned gravel pits filled with groundwater. The County had to replace out-of-priority stream depletions caused by evaporation from those ponds. To meet this obligation, the County filed an application for underground water rights, approval of a plan for augmentation, a change of water rights, and an appropriative right of substitution and exchange. The water court dismissed the application without prejudice, and the County now appeals that judgment. The components of the County’s application were interdependent, such that approval of the application as a whole hinged on approval of the plan for augmentation, which in turn hinged on approval of the change of water rights. To ensure this change would not unlawfully expand the Bailey Farm's water rights, the County conducted a parcel-specific historical consumptive use (“HCU”) analysis of that right. The water court found this HCU analysis inadequate for several reasons and therefore concluded the County failed to carry its burden of accurately demonstrating HCU. The pivotal consideration in this case was whether the County carried its burden of proving HCU. Like the water court, the Supreme Court concluded it did not. The Court therefore affirmed the water court’s judgment on that basis. View "Cty. of Boulder v. Boulder & Weld Cty. Ditch Co." on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a non-attorney trustee of a trust could proceed pro se before the water court. Appellant-trustee J. Tucker appealed the water court’s ruling that as trustee of a trust, he was not permitted to proceed because he was representing the interests of others. He also appealed the court’s order granting appellee Town of Minturn’s application for a finding of reasonable diligence in connection with a conditional water right. Appellant’s pro se issue was one of first impression before the Supreme Court, and the Court held that the water court correctly ruled that as a non-attorney trustee, appellant could not proceed pro se on behalf of the trust. In light of that determination, the Court did not address appellant’s other arguments regarding the sufficiency of the verification. View "Tucker v. Town of Minturn" on Justia Law