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City of Golden v. United States.

2024 CO 43. No. 23SA317. Water Law—Blue River Decree—Injury—Colorado-Big Thompson Project—Interpretation of Prior Decree—Subordination Agreement—Power Interference Agreement—Newly Discovered Evidence.

June 17, 2024

This case concerns the Green Mountain Reservoir Administrative Protocol (the protocol), an agreement among the parties to the Blue River Decree, the Colorado State Engineer’s Office, and two other entities regarding the administration of water rights in and upstream of Green Mountain Reservoir, a component of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (CBT). The protocol was developed after decades of disputes among the United States, the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs (the cities), and others over how to implement the United States’ rights in Green Mountain Reservoir while maximizing the availability of water for upstream use in accordance with the Blue River Decree.

The parties to the protocol submitted an application for a determination of water rights to the water court for Water Division 5 requesting confirmation that the protocol is consistent with the Blue River Decree. The City of Golden (Golden) opposed the application, arguing that the protocol would cause injury to its rights upstream of Green Mountain Reservoir. The water court granted the United States’ motion for summary judgment, ruled that the protocol is consistent with the Blue River Decree, and denied Golden’s motion for reconsideration. Golden appealed.

The Court affirmed the water court’s ruling on summary judgment. First, it held that an assessment of injury is not required where, as here, a water rights holder merely requests confirmation that an administrative protocol implementing an existing decree is consistent with the terms of that decree. Second, the Court held that the protocol is consistent with the Blue River Decree, rejecting Golden’s claims that the protocol contradicts language in the Blue River Decree requiring the “fair” and “equitable” treatment of all parties with interests in the CBT. The Court also rejected Golden’s assertion that the protocol violates the prior appropriation doctrine. Finally, the Court rejected Golden’s procedural arguments regarding the water court’s denial of its motion for reconsideration.

The full opinion is available at

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