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Front Range Feedlots, LLC v. Rein.

2023 CO 20. Nos. 22SA211 & 21SA138. Water Law—Authority of State Engineer—Mandatory Injunction by Water Court.

May 1, 2023

In these related cases, the Supreme Court considered the following issues: whether the state engineer had authority to issue, and certain terms of, an order to comply with a substitute water supply plan (SWSP) issued to Front Range Feedlots (Front Range); whether the water court abused its discretion when it issued its order granting mandatory injunction requiring Front Range to comply with the SWSP and the order to comply; and whether the appeal by the state engineer and the division engineer for water division 1 (engineers) in case number 21SA138 becomes moot if the court upholds the water court’s determinations in case number 22SA211.

The Court concluded that under the plain language of the applicable statutes, the state engineer had the authority to issue the order to comply; had the authority to enforce the terms and conditions of the SWSP after the expiration of that SWSP and Front Range’s withdrawal of its related water court application; properly attached the SWSP terms and conditions to Front Range, rather than to the water rights at issue; and had jurisdiction to require the replacement of depletions from pre-application pumping. Moreover, the water court properly exercised its discretion in ordering Front Range to acquire additional replacement sources, and the engineers are entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs under CRS § 37-92-503(1)(b), including those incurred in the appeal in case number 22SA211. In light of the Court’s foregoing determinations, the Court concluded that the engineers’ appeal in case number 21SA138 was moot.

The Court thus affirmed the water court’s judgment in case number 22SA211, remanded that case to the water court to determine the reasonable attorney fees and costs to be awarded, and dismissed the engineers’ appeal in case number 21SA138.

Official Colorado Supreme Court proceedings can be found at the Colorado Supreme Court website.

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