Produced Water Treatment and Beneficial Use Information Center

What Are Beneficial Uses?

Beneficial Use refers to a reasonable quantity of water applied to a non-wasteful use. Potential beneficial use options for produced water include:

Click to enlarge
  • Domestic
  • Livestock watering
  • Industrial
  • Commercial
  • Agriculture irrigation
  • Mining
  • Fishery
  • Wildlife maintenance and enhancement
  • Recreational
  • Fire protection
  • Dust suppression
  • Preservation of environmental and aesthetic values
  • All other uses compatible with the enjoyment of the public waters
Click to enlarge

The determination of a specific beneficial use depends on federal and state jurisdiction, and the circumstances of each case. For beneficial use of water from coalbed methane (CBM) production, the related water right issues must be determined. The following describes the beneficial uses of water legally recognized in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.


Beneficial use in Colorado is statutorily defined as "the use of that amount of water that is reasonable and appropriate under reasonably efficient practices to accomplish without waste the purpose for which the appropriation is lawfully made". The beneficial uses recognized by the Colorado Division of Water Resources (CDWR)1 are summarized in Table 1.


Beneficial use in the State of Montana is defined as "the use of water for the benefit of the appropriator, other persons, or the public". The beneficial uses recognized (but not limited to) by the State of Montana - Department of Natural Resources and Conservation2 are summarized in Table 1.

Click to enlarge

New Mexico

The State of New Mexico does not have an official list of approved beneficial uses. The recognition of a beneficial use is at the discretion of the State Engineer. According to state statute, a beneficial use in New Mexico requires a diversion of water from its natural path to a place where that water will produce revenue or sustain human life. Recent court decisions, however, have changed this, allowing for beneficial uses without a diversion requirement. Therefore, the State Engineer has broad authority in considering what constitutes beneficial use in New Mexico. Recognized beneficial uses in New Mexico in the past3 are summarized in Table 1.

Click to enlarge


Recognized beneficial uses in Utah4 are summarized in Table 1.


Wyoming recognizes the beneficial uses summarized in Table 1. Although these categories apply to both surface and ground water, the definition may be different when pertaining to surface as opposed to groundwater. In addition, water rights holders are limited to withdrawals necessary for the beneficial purpose, and these limits are established for each use (for example, irrigators are allowed to divert up to 1 cfs for each 70 acres under irrigation)5.

Table 1. Summary of state recognized beneficial uses in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming
Beneficial uses Colorado Montana New Mexico Utah Wyoming
  * Instream flow - fish, recreation and the reasonable preservation or enhancement of the natural stream environment4
** Storage - irrigation, power generation, water supply, aquatic culture and recreation4
Aesthetics and Preservation of Natural Environments X
Augmentation X X X
Agriculture X
Commercial X X X
Culinary X
De-watering X
Domestic X X X X X
Erosion Control X
Fire Protection X X
Fishery/fish X X
Fish Raceways X
Geothermal X X
Groundwater Recharge X
Industrial X X X X X
Instream flows* X X
Irrigation X X X
Livestock /stock watering X X X X X
Manufacturing X
Milling X
Minimum Flow X
Mining X X
Municipal X X X X
Navigation X
Pollution Abatement X X
Power/power generation X X X X
Recreation X X X X
Sediment Control X
Silvicultural X
Snowmaking X
State Conservation Goals X
Storage** X X
Water Leased X
Waterfowl X
Wildlife/ Habitat/watering X X
Miscellaneous X


  1. Colorado. WATER RIGHTS FACT SHEET. August 15, 2001. Available at:
  2. Montana. WATER RIGHTS FACT SHEET. August 15, 2001. Available at:
  3. New Mexico. WATER RIGHTS FACT SHEET. August 15, 2001. Available at:
  4. Utah. WATER RIGHTS FACT SHEET. August 15, 2001. Available at:
  5. Wyoming. WATER RIGHTS FACT SHEET. August 15, 2001. Available at: