HB09-1233: Recognize Acequias

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Representative Ed Vigil’s bill, HB09-1233, was approved last week by the Colorado House of Representatives and wending its way through the state senate, according to a report from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The legislation is specific to the counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano and Las Animas. House Bill 09-1233, regarding acequias (community irrigation ditches), is now before the state senate which assigned the legislation to its local government and energy committee on Monday.

State Senator Gail Schwartz, who also represents the San Luis Valley as part of her senate district, is carrying the bill in the senate.

The acequia bill:

• Allows the creation of acequia conservancy districts, acequia conservancy sub-districts, acequia water conservancy districts and acequia water conservancy sub-districts.

• Allows an existing conservancy district or water conservancy district or sub-district to convert to an acequia conservancy district or an acequia water conservancy district or sub-district, respectively.

• Specifies the eligibility and other requirements for the creation and conversion of such districts. For example, petitions requesting the creation or conversion of an acequia conservancy district must be filed with a district water court and the court must hold a hearing and determine if the requirements have been met to create a new district or convert an existing one. The bill only authorizes the creation of acequia conservancy districts in the four counties listed above.

• Allows such a district to: Hold its 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 such labor; and hold a right of first refusal regarding the sale, lease, or exchange of any surface water right that has historically been used by the acequia to irrigate long-lot land within the district…

When Colorado adopted the prior appropriation system as its water law under the state constitution, it was “inconsistent with the community-based principles upon which acequias were founded,” Vigil’s legislation stated, so the communities that historically used the acequia system continued through informal methods “to allocate water based upon equity in addition to priority and to treat water as a community resource.”

The legislation concludes, then, that it is important to recognize this long-used practice. “Recognition by the general assembly of the continuing existence and use of acequias, while continuing to comply with the constitutional requirements of priority administration of tributary water, is critical to preserving the historic value that acequias provide to the communities in which they are located. The general assembly hereby declares that the purpose of this act is to promote and encourage the continued operation of acequias and the viability of the historic communities that depend on those acequias.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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