Western water right management under the prior appropriation doctrine is based on “first in time, first in right” and a beneficial use of water.

This post focuses on the latter. More specifically, this post examines the framework of “non-use”, or as it is commonly referred to in the world of water rights – “use it or lose it.”


The foundation of water right management is beneficial use. Historic beneficial use defines water right validity and drives water values. Likewise, failure to beneficially use these rights can result in loss of the asset. Most states evaluate non-use through two lenses: abandonment and forfeiture.


Abandonment requires “intent” to relinquish a water right permanently.
Forfeiture results from failure to use the water in accordance with state statutes.


Because abandonment requires intent, the state regulations with the real teeth are the forfeiture statutes. The Water Right Forfeiture table below summarizes the forfeiture rules according to each respective state.

The moral to the story is document historic use and monitor future use of your water rights, so you don’t have to face the consequences of “losing your water!”


Water Right Forfeiture