Santa Maria Reservoir Co. v. WarnerAnnotate this Case
Santa Maria Reservoir Company (“SMRC” or the “Company”) was a mutual reservoir company responsible for storing and releasing water to its shareholders, who owned the right to use that water. SMRC’s water was stored in its two reservoirs: the Santa Maria Reservoir and the Continental Reservoir. SMRC was contacted about leasing water from SMRC’s shareholders to replace depletions to the Rio Grande. In May 2013, the Division Engineer submitted a written report in which he recommended “that th[e] requested change of water right be granted” with one condition: “that such change . . . not expand the consumption of the water right beyond that which has been the historical practice for agricultural purposes.” SMRC met with various opposers to explore what terms and conditions might assuage their concerns. Based on their input, it drafted a proposed decree in which it agreed to replicate accretions (including return flows) to the Rio Grande to prevent injury to other water rights diverting from the Rio Grande. By April 2016, all opposers except appellant Jim Warner had stipulated to the entry of SMRC’s proposed decree. Warner’s opposition was premised on his concern that SMRC’s application, if granted, would interfere with his downstream surface and groundwater rights. Warner, a rancher, owned two parcels of land on which he grew hay for his livestock using flood irrigation. His properties were located in the Closed Basin, generally east and north of land that received the water SMRC delivered through the Rio Grande Canal. Because he flood irrigated, Warner needed the groundwater beneath his lands to stay at a level close enough to the surface to reduce ditch losses and allow water to carry further across his crop land. After review of the water rights at issue and proposed uses, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded Warner was not injured by the water court’s approval of the change-of-use application submitted by SMRC with respect to the water it diverted from the Rio Grande into the Closed Basin. "Because that water is imported water, SMRC is entitled to fully consume all of it. The water would not be in the Closed Basin, much less available for use by Warner and other water users in the Closed Basin, without its importation by SMRC. Thus, rather than cause an injury to Warner, the approval of SMRC’s application simply revealed to him that his past use of return flows from SMRC’s imported water in the Closed Basin was a benefit to which he had no enforceable right; Warner just didn’t know what he had ‘til it was gone."