Supporting Local Agriculture by Providing a Low-cost Supplemental Source of Irrigation Water

The City of Boulder owns water rights from several sources to provide flexibility and stability when it comes to the city’s current and future municipal water supply. From these sources the Public Works Department may choose to lease surplus water to meet municipal needs on an annual basis.

Water Leasing Program

One of the ways the City of Boulder manages the year-to-year variation in water supply is through its agricultural water leasing program. In average or above average supply years, the leasing program allows the city to make surplus water supply available to other users.

Utilities’ Water Resources work group manages the city’s annual water leasing program, which primarily serves agricultural lessees for single year leases of Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) water. Each year, on Jan. 1, city staff begins accepting lease requests from prospective lessees. In June or July, depending on whether the city’s Boulder Creek reservoirs are full, annual water leases are offered to lessees based on the order the lease requests were received and with priority given to water users in Water District 6 (Boulder Creek basin). Once lease agreement documents are signed and payment is made to the city, arrangements are made to deliver water to the lessees. Lease rates are set annually and can be found in Boulder Revised Code Section 4-20-25(d) .

One unique type of lease involves augmentation water, which requires fully consumable water rights and typically requires a long-term commitment to meet the lessee’s needs. Due to water rights limitations and administrative burden, the city is currently unable to offer augmentation leases as part of the leasing program.

Leasing Process

The city will begin taking lease requests each year on Jan. 1 at 12:01 a.m. Once the city has determined how much water it will lease, it will allocate lease water to those who have requested it according to the priority system defined by each water source listed below and will notify the requester of water availability. The requester has two business days, after notice of water availability, to confirm their intent to lease. If the two days pass without notice, then the city will allocate the water to another requester.

The city will send a lease agreement to the requester who should return the signed and notarized agreement, as well as payment, to the city within ten business days or the water will be made available for lease to others.

Submit a Water Lease Request

Leasing Colorado-Big Thompson water

Leasing ditch water for use on land

Irrigation ditches are manmade channels that deliver water from natural sources to homes, farms, businesses, industries and other uses. Most irrigation ditches divert water from natural creeks and rivers and bring it to other areas.

  • Even though a property may have a ditch running through it, landowners may only use the water if they own shares in the ditch company or lease water for use on lands under the ditch, or have some other contractual right to the delivery of water with the ditch company.
  • Shares can be purchased from the previous property owner, from other shareholders, or directly from the ditch company if and when available.
  • Once the shares have been purchased, the landowner should work closely with ditch company staff to facilitate the delivery of water.
  • For questions or issues regarding irrigation ditches, please contact Douglas Dunn, Water Resource Specialist at 303-441-4295 or dunnd@bouldercolorado.gov. 

Other water leases

  • The city generally does not lease augmentation water.
  • For information about water leases for uses other than agriculture or irrigation, contact Kim Hutton at 303-441-3115 or huttonk@bouldercolorado.gov.

Colorado-Big Thompson Water

Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) water may be leased for agriculture or irrigation use within the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Northern Water) boundary. The city will determine how much CBT water to lease no later than June 30 and may lease more CBT water later in the year.

Requests for CBT water must be received by June 1 in order to be considered in the first round of leasing. Leases during the first round are on a first come-first serve basis, limited to 1,500 acre-feet, with priority given to lessees within District 6.

If not all available water is allocated during the first round, or more CBT is made available later in the year, subsequent leasing rounds will occur. During these subsequent rounds, leases will be available to lease requests made before and after June 1, limited to 1,000 acre-feet and with priority given to users within District 6.

Lessees should be aware that Northern Water charges a Rule 11 fee based on delivery location. The city shall notify lessees at the time of the lease what the approximate Rule 11 fee will be. The fee is invoiced by and paid directly to Northern Water.

Terms & Conditions

  • To preserve City of Boulder agricultural leases as a low-cost, supplemental program, water will not be leased to any individual or entity that leases its native, CBT, or supplemental water to others that could otherwise be used for irrigation.
  • If requested, lessee must provide documentation that water leased from the city was not used to replace water leased by lessee.
  • Lessee must be aware of and follow the use terms and conditions as specified by the governing entity of each water source.
  • Lessee must be aware of and follow the terms and conditions specified by the ditch company carrying the leased water.
  • Leased water may not be subleased, transferred, used in different ways or at different locations than those defined in the lease agreement.
  • Once the payment has been processed, no refund will be given on returned or unused water.