Water Law: Frequently Asked Questions

Rain barrels

General water law

  • Does Denver Water sell water to other states, such as California?

    Denver Water does not sell water outside the state of Colorado. No one else sells water to California either, because it is not permissible to sell Colorado’s water outside the state. 

    The water that flows from the Colorado River to California was allocated under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which is an agreement among the upper basin and lower basin states about how to allocate water in the Colorado River. Each state was allocated a portion of the river’s flow, and those states that did not take all the water they were entitled to had their rights preserved forever. (Normally, under western water law, if one doesn’t use the water to which he/she has rights, those rights can be taken away.)

    Because Colorado didn’t have enough demand in 1922, it did not (and still does not) take its entire share of water to which it was entitled. California, however, has taken more than its share for many years. Recently, the U.S. Department of the Interior moved to stop California from taking more than its share. That water is being held in a reservoir on the lower Colorado River now. The compact was affirmed by Congress and is a part of federal law now. It can only be terminated by an act of Congress and with the unanimous consent of the compact states.