Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2015CO311B

Identifying Differential Access in Water Allocation Mechanisms: Water Rights for Oil and Gas Development in Colorado

Institute: Colorado
Year Established: 2015 Start Date: 2015-03-01 End Date: 2016-02-29
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $2,435

Principal Investigators: Melinda Laituri

Abstract: The proposition of this research is to identify if increased water use for oil and gas production is altering water access for Colorado’s diverse water users. Water rights and water sharing collaboratives are two water allocation mechanisms that govern municipal, agricultural, and environmental uses (i.e., leasing water for supporting environmental flows). Through an analysis of the changing nature of these mechanisms, this research proposes to analyze if oil and gas company’s financial ability to pay more for access to water than other users alters access to water for other beneficial uses. How is the increased water demand for oil and gas development in Weld County, Colorado changing access by farmers, environmental groups, and municipalities? This hypothesis will be tested through my dissertation research using a mixed methods approach integrating a quantitative analysis of water right transfers for oil and gas use and qualitative interviews with agricultural water supply organizations, environmental group and municipal representatives in order to demonstrate how this change in use impacts diverse users in their daily decision-making. If this research identifies a discrepancy in access for certain beneficial uses, findings will be used to propose policy solutions. To examine potential differential access, we need to understand the changing nature of the allocation mechanisms themselves. How is increased oil and gas development creating feed-back loops with shifts and structural changes to Colorado’s system of prior appropriation? In terms of water sharing collaboratives, is it impacting success and farmer participation? Through a comparison across Weld and Garfield Counties, my dissertation research will identify the factors which shape the current legal/institutional/formal understanding of these governance arrangements. For this summer’s fieldwork, I propose to investigate how the formal institution of water rights and informal water sharing collaboratives are currently experienced by water users on the ground and in the fields of Weld County. What outcomes should we expect in terms of future access to water for diverse uses? What are the implications of these mechanisms for adaptive water governance?