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ABCs of adjudication

by Susan Simons
HUERFANO — On Saturday, Feb. 4, Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC) offered a workshop in La Veta on adjudicating a well, and about 25 property owners turned out from Huerfano and Las Animas counties. Most came with concerns about the impact of oil or natural gas drilling on or near their property.
Most property owners who do not have access to municipal water get their water from a private well, known as an exempt well. An exempt well provides water which can be used for fire protection, household uses, livestock watering, and irrigation of gardens up to one acre.
Exempt wells may pump no more than 15 gallons per minute. The well water used is returned to the ground and eventually to the stream system. These are called exempt wells because they do not cause injury to vested water rights and are not required to participate in the priority system. As long as the volume pumped is 15 gpm or less, there is no requirement for augmentation of water used.
Property owners must have a permit to drill or use an exempt well. Owners may choose to adjudicate their well but they are not required to do so by law. Anyone who chooses to adjudicate a well must file an application for a water right with the water court and pay a fee.
Anne Wilkinson, who presented the workshop in La Veta, presented the pros of adjudication. Perhaps most important, a well owner may assert injury to a well if that well is adjudicated but may not assert injury if it is not. In other words, a well owner whose well is reduced in volume or is polluted may claim injury in water court and attempt to prove the source of the injury. A well owner whose well is not adjudicated has no standing in water court no matter what the injury. Adjudication also confirms the priority of the well based on the date the permit was granted.
Wilkinson also presented cons. Among them were these: the process draws attention to the exempt well system, the process costs time and money, and there is some risk that claims of injury may be made against an adjudicated well.
After explaining the pros and cons and answering questions, Wilkinson went through the application form item by item. Persons interested in filling out the application will need their well permit and well completion form or well construction and test form. Applications must be filed with District 2 Water Court in Pueblo. Participants also learned that the fee is temporarily reduced from $250 to $182.
Wilkinson emphasized that she was not giving legal advice and not promoting adjudication; the purpose of the workshop was to give information to the community so that people could make an informed choice. CHC will offer the workshop again in Gardner on Feb. 11 from 10-12 am at the Gardner Community Center.