WATER RIGHTS ENGINEERING
In the western United States, water is allocated according to complex state water laws, most of which generally incorporate the doctrine of prior appropriation. The prior appropriation system of water allocation dictates that the first person that appropriates water and applies it to beneficial use has the first right to the water, i.e. "first in time, first in right". Water cannot be used without possession of a water right, which in most states is regarded as a property right.
Water resources engineers are often called upon to provide engineering analyses related to obtaining a water right, changing a water right for a different use (transfer), preparing augmentation plans and substitute water supply plans, and protecting a water right. Typical engineering analyses performed by SWE for water rights matters include historical water use determinations, stream depletions analysis, and water right yield and exchange potential evaluations.
Generally the results of the engineering analyses are documented in an expert report or disclosure that may ultimately be provided to the Water Court in a legal proceeding. Water rights issues are generally either negotiated or litigated, based on the engineering analysis. At times expert witness testimony is necessary. For over 25 years, SWE has performed water rights engineering analysis for the adjudication and protection of water rights for over 300 clients.
Expert testimony is often a critical part of water right adjudication and water right protection. When engineering or legal issues with a water right application are not resolved through negotiation, expert testimony is presented in a legal proceeding, such as a trial or administrative hearing. In Colorado, expert testimony regarding water rights is most often presented in Water Court. In addition, expert testimony may also be required in order to resolve damage claims, such as operational or drainage issues with water related activities. SWE has extensive experience providing expert testimony in Water Court and local, district and federal courts.
Water rights matters often require the resources of an attorney-engineer team to evaluate and develop water supplies successfully within a legal and technical framework, and to resolve the issues normally encountered in such matters. SWE has a proven record of close and effective working relationships with water rights attorneys.
The distribution and administration of water rights is not only governed by state law, which addresses how to distribute water as between citizens of the state, but also Federal law, interstate compacts, U.S. Supreme Court Decrees, and international treaties. SWE has extensive experience with interstate compact compliance and administration, including evaluation of future development of potential water supplies in basins where use is restricted by interstate compact. In addition, SWE has been involved with the numerous Federal reserved rights issues, including evaluating claims for Walton water rights in Oregon, and providing engineering support for the City of Pocatello's Federal claim in the Snake River Basin Adjudication.