Colorado Water 2012: ‘…about 10 of the oldest priority dates in the Rio Grande system belong to the Conejos River’ — Nathan Coombs

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Here’s the current installment for the Colorado Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier written by Nathan Coombs the Manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District. Click through and read the whole article for the history of the area. Here’s an excerpt:

In the 1850-70’s when the railroads were carving out rights-of-way through Northern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley, the US military was expatriating hostiles, and farmers and ranchers were focusing on water. This was the era of the canal building and ditch digging. Land was being cleared and the essential element- water was being acquired. In this high desert, the ranchers and farmers were quick to learn the importance of this life-giving substance.

Settlers to the Conejos River area, which rivals the San Luis area for antiquity of civilization and establishment, were not any different. These water users filed for and received their adjudicated decrees. In fact about 10 of the oldest priority dates in the Rio Grande system belong to the Conejos River. Early on these pioneer/settlers were legally and progressively seeking and putting to beneficial use water. With their shoulders bowed to the work they kept their vision focused on the future.

The southern end of the San Luis Valley has always had strong developmental ties to the rivers. The oldest communities in the area were established along the waterways and dependant on the rivers for their success. Ditches like the Guadalupe and the Headsmill (priorities 1&2 respectively) were developed for 1,000’s of acres of land and industry, with examples like the Finley Ranch and the Antonito grist mill and the Town of Antonito’s drinkable water supply developed from their priority on the Conejos River. Although these structures had to be hand built to divert the water, the area developed and progressed.

The people of the Conejos did not sit back and expect gravity to do the work. They looked up, up stream, 10,000 feet up in fact. In the early 1940’s The Conejos Water Conservancy District was formed to be the local vehicle that would seek partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation in building a reservoir. The San Luis Valley Project study identified the Platoro site at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level as the most feasible. As soon as WWII ended and funding became available construction began. This $3 million project was completed one year ahead of schedule and under budget. (Where have those days gone?)

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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