HB09-1233: Recognize Acequias

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Representative Edward Vigil. Vigil, a Democrat from Costilla County, has introduced HB09-1233, Concerning the Recognition of Acequias, and, in Connection Therewith, Authorizing Acequia Ditch Corporations (pdf), according to a report from Larry Winget writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The bill would allow an existing water conservancy district to convert to an acequias conservancy district, an acequia water conservancy district, or a subdistrict. Under 09-1233, such a district would: Hold elections pursuant to a one landowner-one vote system; Require owners of land irrigated by an acequia within the district to contribute labor to the maintenance and repair of the district’s acequias or pay an assessment in lieu of labor; Hold a right of first refusal regarding the sale, lease, or exchange of any surface water right that has historically been used by the acequias to irrigate long-lot land within the district.

Section 37-2-107 defines an acequia as a community irrigation ditch with several features. One: an acequia must have originated in Spanish Law and Land Grants prior to Colorado’s Statehood. Two: It has historically treated water as a community resource and has therefore attempted to allocate water based upon equity in addition to priority. Three: It relies essentially on gravity-fed surface water diversions. Four: It supplies irrigation water to long lots that are perpendicular to the stream or ditch to maximize the number of landowners who have access to water. Five: It has historically been organized pursuant to a one landowner-one vote system. Six: An acequia has historically relied on labor supplies by the owners of irrigated land within the acequias community.

The House bill concerns acequia conservancy and acequias water conservancy districts to be formed which are located “wholly in one or more of the Counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano and Las Animas.” In the reasoning placed into the bill for its adoption, Vigil mentions that the Town of San Luis is recognized as the oldest town in Colorado. He states that citizens of San Luis brought the acequia system of community irrigation with them from colonial Mexico and that the San Luis People’s Ditch is the oldest water right in Colorado. It carries a priority date of April 10, 1852, in the amount of 21 cubic feet per second from the Culebra Creek, in Costilla County. In the bill, it is written that Colorado’s Territorial session laws from 1868, 1872, and 1874 recognized the validity of acequias within the Counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano, and Las Animas. The bill states, “Upon adoption of Colorado’s Constitution, the prior appropriation system became the law governing water allocation; and The prior appropriation system is, in fundamental ways, inconsistent with the community-based principles upon which the acequias were founded.”

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