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Water on the Land

When the Colorado Water Trust was taking shape, our founding Directors discovered that the land conservation community needed help navigating water issues in the context of land conservation.  In response, CWT has provided technical assistance to the land conservation community in different ways over time. 

We continue to keep in close communication with our partners in the land conservation community, and we are currently planning the next version of the Colorado Water Trust’s technical assistance program.  

Water on the Land Workshops

In 2010 and 2011, CWT traveled across Colorado to present ten Water on the Land workshops—full-day workshops packed with information about basic Colorado water law, instream flow transactions, and Colorado’s Instream Flow Program.  With generous funding through Great Outdoors Colorado, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and many local sponsors, Water on the Land workshops were free and open to the public. 

Water Rights Assessments

In 2010 and 2011, we completed water rights assessments for eight Colorado land trust organizations.  Our staff reviewed existing conservation easements for each of the organizations, created a report detailing the encumbered water rights, and offered suggestions for managing those water rights portfolios to achieve conservation benefits.

Water Rights Handbook for Colorado Conservation Professionals

Before the Water Rights Handbook for Colorado Conservation Professionals was first released in 2005 with funding through Great Outdoors Colorado, there had been little guidance available to Colorado conservation professionals who recognized the importance of conserving water rights together with conserved land.  The Handbook was designed specifically to provide technical assistance to Colorado’s numerous land trusts, open space programs, landowners, and other professionals who participate in water-related conservation easement transactions.  Topics include Colorado water law, water rights due diligence, drafting conservation easement language, appraising water rights for conservation easements, and the tax implications of donating an easement with associated water rights.  In short, the Handbook explains how to protect the water rights that are critical to the conservation values or public benefit of certain conservation easement transactions.  Written by Peter Nichols, Michael Browning, Kenneth Wright, Patricia Flood, and Mark Weston, the Handbook was first co-published by the Colorado Water Trust and Bradford Publishing in 2005, and a revised version was published in 2011.  Purchase the Handbook through Bradford Publishing.

Technical Documents for Conservationists

Over time, we have prepared a number of technical documents to provide land trusts and land conservation organizations with tools to help realize water-related conservation benefits.

Model Conservation Easement Language.  CWT has adopted model language to include in conservation easements where water is essential to the preservation of the conservation values protected by an easement.  

Tax Opinion.  CWT's legal committee has determined that the donation of a conservation easement that encumbers a water right may meet the requirement of the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury regulations for a charitable contribution.

Checklists.  CWT has prepared a number of checklists to assist in water rights issues in land conservation.

Water Rights Due Diligence Checklist.  This checklist addresses the water rights ownership issues that a conservation organization should investigate prior to closing.  Please note, however, that this checklist pertains only to ownership issues.

Checklist for Conservation Easement Deed Drafting.  This checklist provides for an array of circumstances where continued use of the water rights is necessary to preserve the conservation values.

Closing and Post-closing Considerations Checklist.  This checklist addresses recordation and notice, and makes a recommendation regarding water rights stewardship for conservation organization endowments.

Stewardship Checklist.  Stewardship is a critical aspect of maintaining the integrity of land encumbered by a conservation easement.  This checklist addresses what the conservation organization should review if water rights are essential to preserving the conservation values.

Tax Benefits, State and Federal.  These checklists address certain requirements if a conservation easement donor desires tax benefits from the granting of a conservation easement.

Federal Income Tax Checklist

State Income Tax Checklist

Good news about conservation easements encumbering water!

Landowners sold a ranch in Plateau Valley, Mesa County, in 2007.  They attempted to reserve water rights for sale to a municipal water district, in violation of a conservation easement granted by the United States to Mesa Land Trust (MLT).  MLT sued to enforce the easement, won after a two day trial, and won again on appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals.  The Colorado Supreme Court in 2013 denied the landowners’ petition for certiorari (review) of the Court of Appeal’s decision upholding the trial court ruling in Mesa Land Trust v. Allen and the conservation easement.

Read more about this important opinion.