Private Right of Condemnation

by Law Week Contributor

By: Ryan Sugden

Water is sacred in Colorado. It allows cities to flourish and crops to grow, and it powers the state’s tourism industry. Its power extends even to the Colorado Constitution, which gives landowners the unique ability to condemn another’s property to acquire a right-of-way to construct “ditches, canals and flumes for the purpose of conveying water for domestic purposes,” and for irrigation, mining, manufacturing and drainage, “upon payment of just compensation.”

In other words, a power that is typically reserved for the government — the power of eminent domain — is extended to private landowners so they can exercise their water rights and allow water to flow freely. The Colorado Court of Appeals was recently called upon to interpret the scope and continuing vitality of this right.

In CAW Equities v. City of Greenwood Village, the Court of Appeals determined, in a case of first impression, that Colorado’s right of private condemnation was not unlimited, and a private landowner could only condemn publicly used land to construct an irrigation canal in extraordinary circumstances.

The CAW Equities decision will serve to limit a landowner’s right of private condemnation.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the May 7, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.