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You can lead a horse to water, but is he allowed to drink it?!

Many residents of our Foothills communities, the Denver Region, and even the entire State of Colorado give no thought to the source of water for their horses.  Whether it be a “frost free” spigot, a garden hose running from the house, or plumbed automatic waterers, owners turn on the tap and let the water flow.

However, at a recent Intermountain Horse Association meeting, Colorado Water Commissioner Tim Buckley explained that it is important for owners to understand the legal issues relating to sources of water and its availability for their horses and/or livestock.

According to Buckley, all waters in the state of Colorado are owned by the people of Colorado. The right to use the water or a “water right” is the right to divert or use the water under the prior appropriation system as long as the water is put to a beneficial use. The “State” or departments such as division of Parks and Wildlife and others own water rights but are not any different than a private water right holder. The function of the Department of Water Resources is to administer these rights.

Even rain water collected in buckets, barrels, or puddles in the pasture, is not necessarily available for a landowners use.   Matter of fact, unless a property owner has specific legal rights to use rain water, ground water, or even their well water for a specific purpose, they are compelled to leave the water where it is.

If you have ever purchased a property served by a well, hopefully your REALTOR discussed the category of that well.  Common categories are Household, Domestic, and maybe Livestock.   These categories confuse most everyone.  After all, wouldn’t Domestic mean indoors?

As a rule of thumb, with multiple noted exceptions, Household is for use only inside the house.  No exterior watering of plants, animals or even washing your car in the driveway.  If you fill up Fido’s bowl, do it from the kitchen sink.  In certain cases a Household well could be augmented (a water court process) to allow for a limited watering of a horse or two – but the parameters of use will be very well defined.

Domestic wells are more likely to allow for the watering of an outdoor pet like a horse, or a donkey or even maybe a goat.  However, “Domestic” does not indicate a blanket permission either.  It is important to read the well permit directly, looking for keywords or phrases.  Never assume that a Domestic well category gives you the freedom you are looking for without verification.  For example, most Domestic wells would not allow for you to board outside horses on your property.

Another category we run across on older, farm or ranch use properties can be “Livestock”.  This category gives broader permissions and allows a wider variety of uses.  Cows, horses, goats, etc., can be allowed to be watered from these types of wells.  That said, read the permit itself for limitations or further definition.

What about your pond or the creek that runs seasonally or even year round through the back forty?  The answer may surprise or even dismay you.  Without an adjudicated (again – water court process) water right to use the water out of that pond or creek or ditch, you must not consider it a legal source for watering your horse.  The good news is that the State of Colorado does not currently require you to keep your animal away with a fence or other barrier, but a stern admonition to your animal along the lines of “don’t drink that water” is in order.

In recent years our Foothills communities have enjoyed excellent precipitation totals through wet springs and frequent summer showers.  You have noticed both greener grass into August and September, along with uncommon rain showers ruining your picnic well into July.  Not only are we grateful for this wonderful moisture and the late grazing our animals enjoy in the pastures, but the Colorado Division of Water sometimes declares a “Free River” status for water right enforcement.  In layman’s terms, “Free River” conditions lead to a lighter enforcement of legal water use.

How do you find out if your current source of water legally allows you to water your horse?  There are several options available to you.  Hopefully you received a copy of your well permit when you purchased your property (or when the well was drilled if you bought vacant land).  Pull it out of the file and read it over, looking for the “type” description.  A call to the Colorado Division of Water Ground Water information desk (303) 866-3587 is possibly the simplest solution.  Leave your address and usually a return call within 24 hours gives you your well permit number and it’s prescribed use.  Many don’t know that walk in’s are welcome M-F from 9-4 at the Colorado Division of Water office at 1313 Sherman St #821 in Denver.  The folks there are super helpful and are happy to give you the information you need.

What if you learn that Trigger can’t legally drink the water from your well?  Commissioner Buckley offered more than one solution for that situation as well.  An expensive alternative would be to add a water right to your well through a Water Court process.  This involves a water attorney and a willing Seller, but is doable with patience and determination.  A quicker and more cost effective alternative would be to install a cistern at your home and to purchase potable water from a number of local vendors.  Keeping a record of your purchase history and the number of horses you are watering keeps you out of trouble.

Looking to buy a horse property and wanting to conduct the proper due diligence to ensure that a legal water source for your horse is included?  Seek out an experienced REALTOR who specializes in horse properties, farms and ranches.  They can guide you through the process.  I also recommend hiring a water attorney to conduct a title search to verify adjudicated water rights, especially in cases where more than a well permit is being transferred.  It may cost you several hundred dollars, but the peace of mind it brings can easily justify the investment.

Want to learn more?  Visit the Division’s website at http://water.state.co.us.  Call Commissioner Buckley’s office (303) 501-4298 or email him at [email protected] You want to be informed.  Legal water use is a big deal for residents of Colorado.  Heather McWilliams © 2015.

 

 

Domestic and Household-Use Well Permits

Well allows for… Horses?  As you look at land and properties in our mountain area for your horses, sometimes you will find that the zoning allows for horses other livestock on the land, but the well only allows for household-use, in other words, indoor use.  You will sometimes find household-use permits that will specify they allow for the watering of Irrigation or Livestock.  For example, the well permit will read:  “Household w/ Irrigation” or “Household w/ Livestock”.

This is not uncommon for our arid climate as we protect and be good stewards of the ground water supply in our area.
Domestic & Household-Use Wells:
Here is an excerpt from the Jefferson County, Colorado Planning & Zoning Department guide, “Water Smarts:  A Homeowner’s Guide to Mountain Groundwater”:

There are several well permit types issued by the Division of Water Resources.  Two types of permits are most important to the private homeowner who will be using ground water as a primary water source.  They are generally referred to as the domestic well permit and the household-use only permit.  

Both permits are for small capacity wells and each permit has restriction on the amount and usage of water that can be pumped.  Some wells are restricted to water use within the house only, while others allow limited livestock watering and irrigation of lawns and gardens.  You should check with the Division of Water Resources to determine the permit limitations for each type of well and the availability of permits in your area.

While there is considerable variation in residential well permits, the most common type issued today is the household-use only permit.  This permit gives a property owner the right to look for water (i.e., drill a well) and use the water inside their single-family home.  In most cases this type of permit does not allow the use of water outside your house.  

In some cases, the zoning of a property may allow the keeping of livestock, but the well permit may not allow the use of water for domestic animals.  In that case, you can keep horses or other livestock on your property, but you can not provide them with water from your well.  Most likely, your only option would be to “truck in” water for the animals.  

Domestic permits are often older residential permits, or those issued for properties larger than 35 acres.  Domestic wells can be used for up to three single-family dwellings and may give you the right to use water outside your house and for your animals.  However this does not, in turn, give the owner the right to build three houses.

Solutions:  
The most common solution to provide water for your horses when you have a household-use only permit is, as they mentioned, having water, “trucked in”.  On a regular schedule, a water service truck brings a set amount of water.  Storage tanks are installed into your barn, garage or storage shed and kept warm in the winter with a tank warmer or from room heat (i.e., heated garage, tack room, apartment).  Another option is to carry a tank in a truck bed or on a trailer and get water as you need it from a local water service company.
In addition, some properties have a pond or stream that can be managed to supply the livestock with water year round.
What does water delivery cost?  For example:  Foothills Water Delivery Service based out of Bailey, www.foothillh2O.com, delivers 1000 gallons of water to Conifer for $100 or Evergreen for $135 or up to 4000 gallons for $195 to Conifer, $245 to Evergreen.

Click here for the entire “Water Smarts” pdf.

While a domestic well permit is ideal for horse property owners, there are solutions to water your horses if you have a household-use permit!  MtnHomes4Horses.com (c) 2014.