Supreme Court concludes Coors Brewing Co. treatment process does not change water's character
Coors Brewing Co. must get a new water right so it can reuse or lease water to other businesses. The company applied to amend its augmentation plans to reuse water leaving its treatment plant and lease excess water to other companies, but that was opposed by the City of Golden, Colo.
The water court ruled that that this kind of augmentation to an already established plan requires a new water right due to the nature of the one originally established. The water right held by Coors, the court held, required the water from Clear Creek to be returned to the stream and that by withholding it from that stream for reuse did not align with its water right. To reuse the water from its plant, Coors Brewing Co. would be required to apply for a new water right entirely.
The Colorado beer company appealed the water court’s decision, but ultimately the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the stance of the water court was correct. To augment its water right for this purpose, Coors would be required to establish an entirely new plan with the reuse considerations in mind.
In addition to that, the court also concluded that “the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan does not change its character. Accordingly, the general rule, which provides that return flows belong to the stream, applies.” In other words, the water pulled from a stream, despite all treatment and uses it goes through before discharge, does not mean the water is no longer part of that stream.
Because the court concluded that ownership of the water that flowed through the Coors Brewing Co. treatment plant lies with Clear Creek, Coors does not have the rights to reuse it or lease it.