U.S. v. City and County of Denver, By and Through Bd. of Water Com'rs

CourtSupreme Court of Colorado
Citation656 P.2d 1
Docket NumberNos. 79SA99,79SA100,s. 79SA99
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, acting By and Through its BOARD OF WATER COMMISSIONERS et al., Appellees. CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, a municipal corporation of the State of Colorado, acting By and Through its BOARD OF WATER COMMISSIONERS, Appellants, v. UNITED STATES of America, et al., Appellees.
Decision Date29 November 1982

James M. Moorman, Asst. Atty. Gen., Joseph Dolan, U.S. Atty., Denver, Peter R. Steenland, Jr., Robert L. Klarquist, Joshua I. Schwartz, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., Hank Meshorer, Senior Trial Atty., Dept. of Justice, Land and Natural Resources Div., Denver, for the United States.

Wayne D. Williams, Gen. Counsel, Michael Walker, Asst. Atty., Saunders, Snyder, Ross & Dickson, P.C., Glenn G. Saunders, Jack F. Ross, Sp. Counsel, Denver, for the City and County of Denver, acting by and through its Bd. of Water Com'rs Moses, Wittemyer, Harrison & Woodruff, P.C., Raphael J. Moses, Charles N. Woodruff, Boulder, for Colorado-Ute Electric Ass'n, Inc.; Union Oil Co. of California; Vail Water and Sanitation Dist.

Fischer, Brown, Huddleson & Gunn, Ward H. Fischer, Fort Collins, for Jackson County Water Conservancy Dist.; Water Supply and Storage Co.; City of Fort Collins; Colorado Cattlemen's Ass'n; and Various Protestants.

Delaney & Balcomb, Kenneth Balcomb, Scott Balcomb, Boulder, for Colorado River Water Conservation Dist.; Benton Land & Livestock Co.; Sam Kinnamon and Ross S. Sheeler as trustees of K/K Ranch; L.E. Phillips; Ross Wheeler; Mary Wheeler Floyd, d/b/a YZ Cattle Co.; Raymond D. Sloan; Beverly D. Sloan; Jack Oleson; West Divide Water Conservancy Dist.

Steinmark & Lawrence, Kim R. Lawrence, Greeley, for Central Colorado Water Conservancy Dist.

Baker & Cazier, Stanley W. Cazier, Granby, for High Country Ranches, Inc.; Charles Glenn, Sheriff; Grand County Water and Sanitation Dist. No. 1; Charles B. Clayton; Elsie J. Clayton; and Middle Park Water Conservancy Dist., amicus curiae.

Holland & Hart, John U. Carlson, Paul D. Frohardt, Denver, for Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.; Atlantic Richfield Co.

Horn, Anderson & Johnson, Louis Johnson, Colorado Springs, for the City of Colorado Springs.

Kelly, Stansfield & O'Donnell, Timothy J. Flanagan, Denver, for Public Services Co. of Colorado.

Sherman & Howard, Don H. Sherwood, Gary L. Greer, Theodore E. Worcester, Wendy J. Busch, Denver, for New Jersey Zinc Co.

Welborn, Dufford, Cook & Brown, William C. Robb, Denver, for Utah Intern. Inc. and CF&I Steel Corp., amicus curiae.

Seraphine, Bratton & Alexander, L. Richard Bratton, Gunnison, for Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy Dist.

Bruce G. Miller, Denver, for the City of Frisco.

Nelson, Hoskin, Groves & Prinster, P.C., Gregory K. Hoskin, Grand Junction, for Algernon B. Reese III; George and Margaret Volk; Austin and Margo Keiser; Union Carbide Corp.; Anderson Hereford Ranch, Inc.; Andrews Development, Inc.; Big Creek Reservoir Co.; Blue Stone Ditch Co.; Bull Creek Reservoir Canal and Power Co.; Coolbran Conservancy Dist.; Cottownwood Lakes Reservoir Co.; John V. Cuddy; W.R. Lloyd; Mesa Lakes Reservoir Co.; Mesa Water Works Co.; Morman Mesa Ditch Co.; Palisade Irrigation Dist.; Panorama Improvement Dist.; Ival & Ed Young, Inc.; Sommerville Cattle Co.; Hitchborn Livestock Co.; James Golden Bair.

Dufford, Waldeck & Williams, Donald J. Dufford, William G. Waldeck, Grand Junction, for City of Grand Junction; J. Perry Olsen; Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co.; Mary Scott; Joseph T. Zoline.

Klingsmith & Associates, P.C., P.C. Klingsmith, Gunnison, for Crested Butte Water and Sanitation Dist.; Town of Crested Butte; Soderquist Ranches, Inc.; Dos Rios Ranches, Inc.; Town of Lake City; Corp. of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at Gothic.

Maynes, Bradford & Duncan, Frank Maynes, Sara Duncan, Durango, for Southwest Water Conservancy Dist.; San Miguel Water Conservancy Dist.

Berkowitz, Berkowitz & Brady, Margaret L. Devanney, Denver, for The Sierra Club, The Nat. Wildlife Federation, The Colorado Wildlife Federation; The Environmental Defense Fund; and The National Audobon Society, amici curiae.

Native American Rights Fund Richard B. Collins, Boulder, for Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribes, amici curiae.

Floyd K. Murr, Walsenburg, for Huerfano County Water Conservancy Dist., amicus curiae.

Mitchell & Mitchell, P.C., Rexford L. Mitchell, Rocky Ford, for Arkansas Valley Ditch Ass'n; Catlin Canal Co.; Highline Canal Co., amici curiae.

Quiat, Dice & Associates, Robert F.T. Krassa, Pueblo, for Pueblo West Metropolitan Dist.; St. Charles Mesa Water Ass'n, amici curiae.

J.D. MacFarlane, Atty. Gen., Richard F. Hennessey, Deputy Atty. Gen., Mary J. Mullarkey, Sol. Gen., Dennis M. Montgomery, David Aschkinasi, John C. Ohrenschall, Asst. Attys. Gen., Denver, for the State of Colo.; Game, Fish and Park Dept.; Ralph Kelling, Div. Engineer, Water Div. No. 4; Lee Enewold, Div. Engineer, Water Div. No. 5; G.I. Buffham II, Div. Engineer, Water Div. No. 6.

Davis, Graham & Stubbs, John M. Sayre, Donald E. Phillipson, Denver, for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy Dist.; Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy Dist.

Fairfield & Woods, Charles J. Beise, Howard Holme, Denver, for Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy Dist.

ERICKSON, Justice.

In these consolidated appeals by the City and County of Denver, acting by and through its Board of Water Commissioners (Denver), and the United States of America (United States or federal government), we must determine whether the federal government has any reserved water rights incident to its reservation of certain lands for forest, national monument, or other purposes in Water Divisions 4, 5, or 6 in western Colorado; and, if so, whether the decrees entered in the District Courts in and for Water Divisions 4, 5, and 6 (water court) correctly determined the extent of the reserved rights. The water court held that federal reserved water rights must be recognized in connection with certain reservations of land from the public domain, but that the rights of the United States were less extensive than the federal government asserted. We affirm in part and reverse in part and remand this case to the water court with directions to modify its decree in accordance with the views expressed in this opinion.


These complex appeals involve the adjudication and integration of the reserved water rights asserted by the federal government into the water rights systems of the Colorado, Gunnison, North Platte, White, and Yampa River Basins in Colorado. In seeking to invoke the reserved rights doctrine as a basis for its claimed water rights, the United States seeks to proceed outside Colorado's prior appropriation system for the adjudication of water rights. The integration of the competing legal theories into a common, rational, and comprehensive system of water distribution marks a reconciliation between two fundamental themes in the development of this State. 1

The first is the role of the United States as the sovereign and proprietor of the territory which became the State of Colorado in 1876. See Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976). The federal government was the original owner of substantially all the land that The lands owned by the federal government are generally classified as either "public domain" or "reserved" lands. The public domain includes lands open to settlement, public sale, or other disposition under the federal public land laws, and which are not exclusively dedicated to any specific governmental or public purpose. See, e.g., Federal Power Commission v. Oregon, 349 U.S. 435, 75 S.Ct. 832, 99 L.Ed. 1215 (1955); United States v. Minnesota, 270 U.S. 181, 46 S.Ct. 298, 70 L.Ed. 539 (1926). Public domain lands are, for the most part, managed by the United States Department of the Interior through its Bureau of Land Management. 5 Reserved lands are those that have been expressly withdrawn from the public domain by statute, executive order, or treaty, and are dedicated to a specific federal purpose. Pursuant to the authority vested in the United States by Article IV, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, 6 Congress has frequently acted to reserve or withdraw lands from the public domain or to empower the President or his delegate to do so. See United States v. New Mexico, 438 U.S. 696, 98 S.Ct. 3012, 57 L.Ed.2d 1052 (1978); United States v. Midwest Oil Co., 236 U.S. 459, 35 S.Ct. 309, 59 L.Ed. 673 (1915). Among these reservations are national forests, national parks, national monuments, public springs and waterholes, and public mineral hot springs. The reservations directly at issue in this adjudication are:

                comprised the western territories.  The acts admitting the western territories into the United States, which guaranteed each state "equal footing" with the original states, reserved ownership of unappropriated lands within the state to the federal government but made no provision with respect to unappropriated waters. 2  See, e.g., California v. United States, 438 U.S. 645, 98 S.Ct. 2985, 57 L.Ed.2d 1018 (1978).  Much of the land originally owned by the federal government has been sold or disposed of under the terms of the federal public land laws, 3 though the federal government still holds title to substantial acreage in the West. 4

(1) Arapaho National Forest;

(2) Grand Mesa National Forest;

(3) Gunnison National Forest;

(4) Manti-La Sal National Forest;

(5) Routt National Forest;

(6) Uncompahgre National Forest;

(7) White River National Forest;

(8) Rocky Mountain National Park;

(9) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument;

(10) Colorado National Monument;

(11) Dinosaur National Monument;

(12) approximately 1,500 public springs or waterholes located upon federally owned public...

To continue reading

Request your trial
34 cases
  • U.S. v. Bell, 5
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Colorado
    • August 25, 1986
    ...States was claiming mainstem Colorado River water; (5) reference to the United States' mainstem claim in United States v. City and County of Denver, 656 P.2d 1, 35 (Colo.1982), and in legal publications; (6) reference to the United States' claim to Colorado River rights in the application f......
  • American Water Development, Inc. v. City of Alamosa, s. 92SA141
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Colorado
    • May 9, 1994
    ...law concerning acquisition of rights to water, see, e.g., S.W. Colo. Water Cons. Dist., 671 P.2d at 1304-18; United States v. City and County of Denver, 656 P.2d 1 (Colo.1983); Coffin, 6 Colo. 443.23 For the foregoing reasons, we also are unpersuaded by AWDI's suggestion that by reason of t......
  • General Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in the Big Horn River System, In re, s. 85-203
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 24, 1988
    ...... Jones and Grace Graboski; United States; City of Riverton, Midvale Irrigation District, and ...Attys. Gen., with White and Jankowski, Denver, Colo., and Randall T. Cox, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., ... East Fork Winter Elk Pasture, the Sheridan County Elk Winter Pasture, the Yellowtail Wildlife ... it is his duty to speak, intentionally or through culpable negligence induces another to believe ... water doctrine to groundwater is cited to us. The ninth circuit indicated that groundwater ......
  • Sierra Club v. Block
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
    • November 25, 1985
    ...by the United States Department of the Interior through its Bureau of Land Management. United States v. City and County of Denver by and through Board of Water Commissioners, 656 P.2d 1, 5 (Colo.1982) (footnote omitted). Reserved lands, on the other hand, are those that have been expressly ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Priority: the most misunderstood stick in the bundle.
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Vol. 32 No. 1, January 2002
    • January 1, 2002
    ...655 P.2d 1374, 1379-80 (Colo. 1982). (31) Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564, 577 (1908); United States v. City & County of Denver, 656 P.2d 1, 17-18 (Colo. (32) Kansas v. Colorado, 514 U.S. 673, 693-94 (1995); Simpson v. Highland Irrigation Co., 917 P.2d 1242, 1246, 1248 (1996). (3......
  • Seven myths of Northwest water law and associated stories.
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Vol. 26 No. 1, March 1996
    • March 22, 1996
    ...(79) See 4 Waters and Water Rights, supra note 31, [sections] 37.04(a)(1). (80) See, e.g., United States v. City & County of Denver, 656 P.2d 1, 27 (solo. 1982) (no reserved water rights for recreation on the Yampa River within Dinosaur National Monument); In re Reserved Water Rights in......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT