The court Wednesday unanimously supported long-standing water law that states those with the oldest water rights have the highest priority, even in a drought.
The ruling was a blow for about 1,500 well owners in northeastern Colorado who have used water from roughly 4,000 wells for crop irrigation, municipal supplies and other uses. For some, the wells are their only source of water.
They still could gain approval to pump water under a bill Gov. Bill Owens signed into law Wednesday. The new law allows well users to file temporary operation plans with the state engineer as long as they file permanent plans with the state water court by Dec. 31, 2005.
Without the new law and another water law that Owens signed Monday, the ruling would have shut down the wells, said attorney Mike Shimmin, who represented some of the surface-water users who filed the original lawsuit.
"The goal of my client was never to shut down wells, just to make them go through the right process and make sure they're fully replacing their out-of-priority depletions," he said.