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How-To: Researching Well Permits on Colorado Ranches for Sale

Continuing on the “How-To” theme of my last post, this article will discuss another indispensable step in the due diligence process: Researching well permits on Colorado Ranches for Sale.

Colorado Ranches for Sale | Middle Fork South Platte

Water in the West

In any region of the world, water is the lifeblood of agriculture, infrastructure, and habitability of land.  In the eastern U.S. where water is plentiful, farmers, municipalities, and individuals rarely encounter any difficulty accessing abundant sources of water.  However, in the western U.S., water is considerably more scarce and therefore more highly valued and regulated.  The old quote “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over” humorously relays the seriousness with which water is treated throughout the American West. (For the definitive history of water in the Western US, I highly recommend Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. It’s excellent.)

Each western state has its own system and laws for controlling the use of ground and surface water.  In Colorado, the Division of Water Resources (“DWR”) regulates all issues related to water throughout the state – water rights, wells, dams, streamflows, water usage, etc.  Currently, the DWR consists of 297 employees with an annual budget of $23 million, which further illustrates the importance that the state government places on effectively regulating water throughout the state.

Water Research and Ranches for Sale

While most issues related to water’s impact on land ownership are extremely complex and require a deep understanding of water law, there is one easy-to-use research tools that can give you a high-level, very basic understanding of some of the water-related issues on a ranch.  For example, many marketing packages for ranches for sale contain information on the number of wells or springs on the property.  It is important to verify any broker’s claims regarding wells and springs, in the same way you would verify the acreage or any other claim made in the marketing materials.

Luckily, the DWR’s “AquaMap” resource makes this process relatively easy.  Follow these steps to verify and understand wells and springs on a ranch:

  • Go to the AquaMap homepage.  From here, the quickest way to move forward is to click the “Accept Disclaimer and Open AquaMap” button in the bottom left corner.  However, if you’d like a detailed user manual or a FAQ guide, you can download those documents by clicking the corresponding button.
  • After accepting the disclaimer, AquaMap will open in a new window:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 4.19.28 PM

  • In my experience, the easiest way to find a particular property is to enter the section, township, and range in the corresponding drop-down menus, then click “Quick Zoom.”  Next, click the “Zoom to Section” button in the pop-up menu.  You can also search by address, but that is rarely an effective technique for rural ranches.
  • Finally, I click all of the boxes for Data Display (roads, hydrology, etc.), because those additional layers provide landmarks to ensure that I’m displaying the correct area.  I also usually click the “Background” box to see satellite imagery of the ranch, which is also very helpful for understanding the exact location you are viewing on the map.
  • Below is an image that resulted from following the steps above for one of my sold listings, the Jensen Ranch.  The green dots represent adjudicated springs and wells, and the red dot represents a spring that was applied for, but never completed.  By clicking on the blue “i” button, you can select on any of the wells to find detailed information on the owner, permit numbers, flow rates, etc.  For more information on any of dots or lines, download the AquaMap Legend.

DWR - Zoomed

AquaMap is a robust research tool that can be used for many other aspects of Colorado water research.  Using AquaMap to research well permits is just scratching the surface of its capabilities, so all landowners and prospective ranch buyers should be familiar with this tool’s most basic functions.  All ranch brokers at Mirr Ranch Group are well-versed with the intricacies of this AquaMap, and we’d be happy to assist with your ranch research.

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