7th Judicial District - Colorado


Water Court

J. Steven Patrick, Water Judge 

S. Gregg Stanway, Water Referee

Located at the Montrose Justice Center


The water court is a specialized court within the District Court of Colorado. It does not deal with murders, divorces, traffic offenses, nor estates. Its only purpose is to decide whether an applicant has made a valid claim for water under Colorado Law. By virtue of the Colorado Constitution, all water belongs to the People of the State. However, the Constitution also provides that anyone may use the water of the state under a doctrine of “First in time, first in right.” The water court exists to determine who, among various claimants for the same water, has the first right of use, and what priority other users might validly claim.

When an application is filed and the fee is paid with the court, the water clerk sends a summary of the application to be published one time in a newspaper in the county where the water claim is located. Interested parties have two calendar months after the month in which the application is filed to enter the case, by filing a statement of opposition. The clerk also sends a copy of the application to the state engineer, the division engineer, and the water referee. The referee and division engineer look at the application and visit the site to verify the information in the application.

The referee enters a ruling, which is a recommendation to the water judge of whether or not the applicant has met the law. Any interested party has 20 days after the ruling is entered to protest. If a protest is filed, the judge will hear the case and make an independent decision as to the issues raised. If no protest is filed, the judge will sign the ruling and make it the decree of the court, which establishes that the applicant has complied with the law and is entitled to use a certain amount of water for a certain use with a defined priority.

Forms for making any filing, opposition, or protest are available from the clerk at no charge.

The water court also stores copies of all of the water cases decided in division four since statehood. These are available for a nominal charge.