Coping with Natural and Institutional Drought

Groundwater and surface water in the South Platte River basin of northeastern Colorado are hydraulically linked. Consequently, use of groundwater in the basin reduces surface water flows in the South Platte River. To avoid open-access problems in this situation, both surface water and groundwater in the basin are jointly administered under the prior appropriation doctrine. This gives preference to the earliest developed water rights relative to later rights when water supplies are insufficient to meet all demands. Groundwater development typically occurred after surface water development, so rights related to groundwater are generally sufficiently junior as to be exercised only in the wettest years. Historically, the state engineer has been empowered to allow groundwater pumping out of priority as long as the associated surface water depletion was replaced with a commensurate amount of water from an alternative source. During a severe drought in the summer of 2002, however, groundwater users pumped water in the expectation of alternative sources that never materialized. The Colorado Supreme Court later found that groundwater users were injuring senior water users by using water out of priority. Primary policy questions arise as to the impact this out-of-priority pumping had on farm failures during the drought and the role water allocation institutions in the region played in allowing out-of-priority pumping.

Issue Date:
May 19 2004
Publication Type:
Journal Article
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Published in:
CAFRI: Current Agriculture, Food and Resource Issues, 5
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Series Statement:
Number 5

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2020-10-28

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