“If you look at a map of Colorado, 80% of the people live on the Eastern side of the Continental Divide, and 80% of the water lives on the Western side. There is a shortage for municipal type uses. With the rivers pretty much appropriated, in order to build up a long term supply for future growth, cities tend to look for agricultural water they can purchase.”
Mike Sullivan, Deputy water engineer for the state of Colorado told KGNU’s Shelley Schlender that much of the state’s complicated water rights system stems from the fact that most of the water comes from the West and is used by people in the East. Many water rights tied to agricultural land have been bought by municipalities on the Eastern Slope, leading to a process called “Buy and Dry.”
Certain groups and individuals can buy water rights in the state, but Sullivan says it’s a complicated process. There are groups like “Water Colorado” that buy and sell water. People also do that privately. For instance, they “sell” their rights to pump water to another person, in another location. Sometimes those transferred water rights do a lot of public good, or they’re worth a lot of money.