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Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management Dist. v. Goss

Citation: 30 ELR 20421
No. No. 99SA96, 993 P.2d 1177/(Colo., 02/22/2000)

The court holds that a groundwater management district, rather than the state water commission, has the authority to issue or refuse to issue well withdrawal curtailment orders within management district boundaries. An individual well owner requested that either the management district or the commission issue an order curtailing a metropolitan district from withdrawing groundwater from its junior well, which allegedly caused injury to the individual well owner's senior well. The court first holds that the management district, not the commission, has the authority to administer designated groundwater priorities within its boundaries. The commission is charged with establishing priority dates for wells and, in the absence of a management district, is empowered to supervise and control the exercise and administration of all rights acquired for the use of designated groundwater. However, under state statute, the management district has the authority to enforce groundwater law within the district. Further, the court holds that the district's authority includes the authority to make quasi-judicial decisions regarding well permits and disputes between well owners within the management district. The court then holds that while the district has the authority to issue well withdrawal curtailment orders in the administration of priorities, state statute imposes a nondiscretionary duty to do so. A senior well owner has the burden of showing unreasonable injury. If the senior well owner meets this burden, the district abuses its discretion if, in the absence of countervailing evidence, it refuses to prohibit or limit withdrawal of water by the junior well owner, or to take other appropriate measures to protect the senior right. Thus, in the case at hand, the senior well owner can renew his request for a well curtailment order to enforce his priority. If he does, and the district fails to issue such an order, the senior well owner may file a written request for an adjudicatory hearing with the district, and the district must hold the hearing.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (13 pp., ELR Order No. L-187).

Counsel for Defendant
Kim R. Lawrence
Lind, Lawrence & Ottenhoff
1011 11th Ave., Greeley CO 80631
(970) 353-2323

Counsel for Plaintiff
Dennis M. Montgomery
Hill & Robbins
100 Blake St. Bldg.
1441 18th St., Denver CO 80202
(303) 296-8100