Use it or lose it

This often misapplied expression refers to the ability of the state to declare water rights that have fallen into disuse as abandoned. Before taking away all or portion of a water right, the state must show in water court that the owner no longer intends to use the water. A water rights owner can challenge the state’s assertion and retain their rights by telling the court they still intend to put the water to use in the future. It is erroneously assumed that the “use it or lose it” rule forces water rights holders to wastefully use their full entitlement of water or risk having all or part of their rights taken away.

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