July 17, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Substantive Errors in Parties’ Stipulated Decrees Properly Corrected by Water Court

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Concerning the Application for Water Rights of: Ginn Battle South, LLC, Ginn Battle North, LLC, Ginn-LA Battle One, LTD., LLLP, Ginn-LA Battle One A, LLC and Ginn Development Company, LLC in Eagle County, Colorado Concerning the Application for Water Rights of: Town of Minturn in Eagle, Grand, and Town of Minturn v. Tucker on Tuesday, January 22, 2013.

CRS § 37-92–304(10)—Correction of Substantive Errors in Water Court Decrees—Interpretation of Stipulations.

The Town of Minturn filed a 2005 application for changes of water rights and a 2007 application for new water rights; approval of a plan for augmentation, including exchange; and conditional appropriative rights of exchange. More than thirty parties filed Statements of Opposition. Following a series of negotiations between Minturn and the Opposers, the water court granted Minturn’s applications and entered stipulated decrees in 2010. Following entry of these decrees, Minturn realized that the consumptive use numbers on which it had relied in calculating its monthly maximum limitations for diversion from the Minturn Ditch Water Right and Minturn Well Nos. 1 and 2 Water Rights did not reflect actual monthly usage data. Instead, the numbers mistakenly reflected Minturn’s use as stated in billing statements, which run a month behind the actual usage month. Minturn also realized that the month of April was not included as a winter month in the “consumptive use factors” section due to a drafting error in a previous settlement agreement later carried over into the original decrees.

Minturn conferred with all Opposers regarding its intention to correct the decrees to conform the monthly maximum limitations and consumptive use factors to its actual historical monthly usage in accord with the parties’ expectations. Each Opposer agreed to the proposed corrections except J. Tucker, Trustee (Tucker), who opposed the corrections on the ground that the parties’ earlier stipulations precluded the water court from making the requested changes. Following the submission of briefs and affidavits from both parties, the water court granted Minturn’s request to correct the substantive errors in the decrees pursuant to its authority under CRS §37-92-304(10). Tucker appealed.

The Supreme Court upheld the corrected findings of fact, conclusions of law, judgment, and decrees of the water court. CRS §37-92-304(10) grants the water court discretion within a three-year period to correct substantive errors in a water decree. The parties’ stipulations anticipated that actual monthly historical consumptive use numbers would be used in the decrees’ monthly limitations. The original decrees mistakenly did not contain these numbers, contrary to the intent of the parties. The water court did not abuse its discretion in entering the corrected decrees. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the water court’s judgment.

Summary and full case available here.

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