Vander Houwen v. Dep’t of Ecology, WL 3306608 (Wash. Ct. App. 2012)  (holding that the Department of Ecology may deny an application for a groundwater appropriation permit where it can be shown that withdrawal of groundwater would impair existing surface water rights or detrimentally affect the public welfare).

Mr. Vander Houwen (“Vander Houwen”) purchased two parcels of land near Naches, Washington, one parcel with an existing groundwater well, and one parcel without.  In 1992, Vander Houwen contacted the Department of Ecology  (“Ecology”) to inquire about increasing his water right in order to support an expansion of his orchard.  Ecology found no record of a water right for the existing well, and advised Mr. Vander Houwen to apply for a groundwater permit.  To acquire a water appropriation permit, an individual or entity must submit an application to Ecology, in accordance with Wash. Rev. Code §§ 90.03.250, .260, and §90.44.060.

Vander Houwen did not apply for a permit at that time, but hired a well driller to deepen the existing well and to drill a new well on the other parcel of land.  Vander Houwen then applied for two water right permits to appropriate groundwater through each well.  Ecology reviewed the applications in accordance with Wash. Rev. Code § 90.03.290(3), which requires that Ecology determine (1) whether any water was available to be appropriated; (2) whether the proposed use would be beneficial; (3) whether the appropriation would impair existing water rights; and (4) whether the appropriation would detrimentally affect the public welfare.  Wash. Rev. Code § 90.44.060 specifies that these requirements are applicable to groundwater.

Due to hydraulic continuity, pumping of the Mr. Vander Houwen’s wells diminished surface water supplies for both the Naches River and the Yakima River.  The Naches River, a tributary of the Yakima River, is highly appropriated, and during dry years, the river cannot satisfy all water rights.  The water shortage of the Yakima River has been a significant point of public interest.  Therefore, the Bureau of Reclamation designed the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Program to improve river flow, fish passage conditions, and fisheries in the Yakima River Basin.  In support of that project, the legislature enacted Wash. Rev. Code § 90.40, removing all unappropriated surface water in the Yakima River Basin.

Vander Houwen’s original well removed water from the Ellensburg Formation aquifer, creating a void that drew from, and results in, water loss from the Naches River.  The newly drilled well also drew water from the river by creating voids, or intercepted water before it reached the Naches River.  Ecology concluded, that due to hydraulic continuity, groundwater appropriation would impair existing water rights and negatively affect the public interest, and, thus, denied Vander Houwen’s request for permits.

Vander Houwen filed an appeal with the Pollution Control Hearings Board  (“Board”).  The Board affirmed Ecology’s decision and Vander Houwen petitioned the Yakima County Superior Court (“superior court”) for review.  The superior court found the evidence insufficient to show that the requested appropriation impaired existing water rights or detrimentally affected the public welfare.  It remanded the issue back to the Board.  The Board reaffirmed Ecology’s decision to deny the applications based on evidence presented by Ecology, showing hydraulic continuity between the wells and the Naches River.  Vander Houwen then appealed to the Court of Appeals of Washington (“court”).

The court reviews administrative decisions in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, Wash. Rev. Code § 34.05, and bases its review on the record.  The court reviewed the record and addressed two issues: 1) whether the appropriation would impair existing water rights; and 2) whether the appropriation would detrimentally affect the public welfare.

The court examined the evidence presented by ecology, the high appropriation of the river, the removal of unappropriated water, and the amount of water Vander Houwen requested.  The court held, because of the hydraulic continuity between the wells and the Naches River, Vander Houwen’s use of his wells would diminish surface water during dry years and likely impair existing water rights.

The court also considered the public’s interest in the Yakima River and its investment in the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Program.  The court determined the reduction of surface water in the Naches River would detrimentally affect the Yakima River Basin and undermine the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Program.  Thus, the court held that approval of the applications would be detrimental to the public welfare.

The court concluded that the evidence, presented by Ecology, supported the Board’s determination and affirmed the Board’s decision to deny Mr. Vander Houwen’s applications for groundwater rights.

Fellows v. Office of Water Com’r, 285 P.3d 448 (Mont. 2012) (holding a district court improperly dismissed a plaintiff’s request for declaratory judgment because the plaintiff’s claim that the stream they had a decreed right in was hydrologically connected to a river the Water Commissioner managed was an unresolved issue of fact, rendering summary judgment inappropriate).

In 1908, the Montana Eleventh Judicial District Court adjudicated the rights on the upper portion of the Teton River and appointed a Water Commissioner to administer the decreed rights.  Fifty to sixty years later, the Water Commissioner began to divert the entire flow of the upper Teton River through the Bateman Ditch diversion around the Springhill Reach, a portion of the river that lost a significant amount of water to seepage.  The Water Commissioner implemented this diversion through the Bateman ditch without the approval of the Eleventh Judicial District Court and without any other agreement between the affected parties.

Charles Fellows (“Fellows”) owns a water right in Spring Creek near Choteau, Montana, that was adjudicated and decreed in 1892.  In February 2011, Fellows filed a complaint in the District Court, Ninth Judicial District, Teton (“district court”), pursuant to MCA § 85-5-301(1), the statute that permits the holder of a vested water right who is dissatisfied with a water commissioners’ method of distribution, to file a complaint with the district court.  Fellows’ alleged the water commissioner’s diversion of the upper Teton River through the Bateman Ditch around the Springhill Reach substantially injured his senior water right in Spring Creek.  Fellows asked the district court to grant declaratory relief until all the water rights between the upper Teton River and Spring Creek could be settled by the state’s Water Court.

The district court determined Fellows’ standing to bring a complaint against the water commissioner of the upper Teton River under MCA § 85-5-301(1) was dependent on his ability to prove the upper Teton River was hydrologically connected with Spring Creek through the Springhill Reach.  The court dismissed Fellows’ complaint finding he must first establish his standing against the water commissioner by resolving the connectivity issue with the state’s Water Court.

Instead, Fellows appealed to the Montana Supreme Court (“Court”).  The Court reversed, holding that the district court was the proper venue for the determination of the connectivity issue and the complaint against the upper Teton River water commissioner.  In examining the claim against the water commissioner, the Court held that because Fellows right was not derived from any rights on the Teton River, he had not statutory claim against the water commissioner.

Second, the Court examined Fellows’ connectivity claim.  The Court held that while the Water Court has exclusive jurisdiction for determining existing water rights, the district court has jurisdiction over the distribution of decreed water rights.  Therefore, the Court held the district court was the proper venue for both the connectivity issue and the complaint against the water commissioner because the Water Court already decreed the rights in Spring Creek and the upper Teton River.

Therefore, viewing Fellows’ allegations of the hydrological connection between Spring Creek and the upper Teton River and the allegations against the water commissioner in a light most favorable to Fellows, the Court held the district court erred in dismissing Fellow’s complaint.

The Court reversed the district court’s order of summary judgment against Fellows and remanded the issue of the connectivity between Spring Creek and the upper Teton River to the district court.

A & B Irrigation Dist. v. Idaho Dep’t of Water Res., 284 P.3d 225 (Idaho 2012) (holding that the district court did not err in ruling (i) the Ground Water Act applied to the administration of appellant’s water right; (ii) the Director had sufficient evidence to support his decision not to set a reasonable groundwater pumping level; (iii) the Director could force appellant to interconnect prior to filing for a delivery call; and (iv) a clear and convincing evidence standard was proper when a court analyzes the Director’s determinations). 

This case was an appeal of the District Court of Minidoka County’s (“district court”) decision regarding the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources’ (“Director”) application of the Rules for Conjunctive Management of Surface and Groundwater Resources (“CM Rules”) to a groundwater delivery call filed by A & B Irrigation District (“A&B”).  A&B’s delivery call was based on its senior water right on the Snake River, which it acquired in 1948, three years prior to the enactment of the Idaho Ground Water Act (“Act”).  The Idaho Department of Water Resources (“IDWR”) licensed and authorized the diversion of 1,100 cfs from 177 points of diversion in order to irrigate approximately 62,000 acres in south-central Idaho.  Underlying the A&B project is the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (“ESPA”), which serves as the Minidoka Project’s (“project”) water source.  A&B’s delivery call petition sought an administration of junior-priority ground water rights from the ESPA and a designation of the ESPA as a groundwater management area (“GWMA”).  The delivery call petition alleged that junior priority groundwater pumping from the ESPA lowered the water table an average of twenty feet, which resulted in a 126 cfs reduction in A&B’s diversion rate.

The Director concluded that A&B was not materially injured and denied A&B’s request to designate the ESPA as a GWMA. In doing so, the Director accepted a Hearing Officer’s conclusions that A&B had an obligation to take reasonable steps to maximize the use of interconnection to move water within the system before it could seek curtailment or compensation from juniors.  The Director also noted that while conditions in the southwest area make recovery of water from the wells difficult, it is not justification for curtailment.  Further, A&B did not need to exceed reasonable pumping levels.  In response, A&B filed a petition for review with the district court. The district court affirmed the Director’s findings on all parts except for the standard applied to whether or not A&B suffered a material injury.  Therefore, the District Court remanded the proceedings in order to apply the clear and convincing evidence standard.  A&B appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court (“Court”) alleging that: (i) the Director erred in concluding that A&B’s water right is subject to the Act; (ii) the Director erred in finding that A&B was not required to pump water beyond a reasonable ground water pumping level, even though the Director did not provide a specific level; (iii) the Director erred in applying the CM Rules to find that A&B must interconnect wells or well systems across the project before it could file a delivery call; and (iv) the district court erred in imposing the clear and convincing evidence standard.

A&B pointed to a line in the Act that states, “[t]his act shall not affect the rights to the use of ground water in this state acquired before its enactment.” A&B argued that the Act unambiguously does not apply to their water right since it has a priority date that predates the Act.  The district court looked at the Act in its entirety and found that the legislature intended a distinction between the “right to the use of ground water” and “the administration of all rights to use of ground water.”  On appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court agreed and held that Section 4 of the Act provided “the administration of all rights to the use of ground water, whenever or however acquired, shall, unless specifically excepted therefrom, be governed by the provision of this act.”  The Court, after relying on precedent for emphasis, found that a plain reading of the Act shows that the Act applies to the administration of all groundwater rights in Idaho, and therefore it applies to A&B’s water right.

While the district court acknowledged that the Director failed to establish a reasonable groundwater pumping level, it also found the Act gave the Director discretion to determine whether to establish groundwater levels in conjunction with a delivery call.  Additionally, the district court noted that ground water pumping levels have never been treated as an element of a water right.  The Court agreed and held a plain reading of the duties of the Director showed he has a duty to respond to a delivery call and determine whether the right holder suffered an injury, but not to establish a reasonable groundwater pumping level.

A&B argued that Idaho law did not require that it interconnect its separate points of diversion as a condition to administer junior priority groundwater rights.  A&B’s claimed the mandate is unconstitutional, the Director’s actions contradict the language of A&B’s water right decree, there is no mention in the CM Rules of a need to interconnect, and interconnection would not solve the problem of diminished groundwater supply.  The Court rejected each of these arguments in turn by deferring to the Director’s discretion.

Finally, A&B argued that the district court erred in applying the clear and convincing evidence standard of review because Idaho law did not support this higher evidentiary standard. The Court examined a plethora of cases on the matter and concluded that it is Idaho’s longstanding rule that proof of no injury by a junior appropriator in a water delivery call must be by clear and convincing evidence and that all changes to an existing decree must be supported by clear and convincing evidence.  The Court therefore affirmed the district court’s ruling.

The Court held the Act applied to A&B’s water right; the Director did not need to provide a specific reasonable groundwater pumping level; A&B could be forced to interconnect before a delivery call; and that the district court was not wrong in applying a clear and convincing evidence standard. Affirmed.

Montana Dep’t of Natural Res. & Conservation v. ABBCO Inv., LLC, 285 P.3d 532 (Mont. 2012) (holding (i) Montana held islands that arose vertically from the river bed after statehood in trust for public schools; (ii) Montana provided sufficient evidence of the boundary of the land to have a legal description of the land in the final judgment; (iii) the district court violated Montana’s due process rights it required the State to reimburse defendant’s for all property taxes and improvements on the land; and (iv) the judgment in favor of Montana allowed the state to recover costs).

The state of Montana filed a quite title action in the Seventh Judicial District Court (“district court”) against landowners concerning three islands, roughly 487 acres, located in the Richland County section of the Missouri River that grew out of the riverbed due to sediment accumulation.  Over time, these islands grew attached to the riverbank.  Defendants Boyde Hardy, Shirley Hardy, Hardy Investments, L.P., and Nickie Roth (collectively “Defendants”) filed an answer and counter claim alleging that they owned parts of the land in fee simple.  The district court granted summary judgment for Montana, finding Montana had title to the land based on the equal footing doctrine.  However, the district court found the islands were not school trust lands, and further found that Montana provided insufficient evidence for the district court to establish a legal description of the land in its final judgment.  In addition, the district court required Montana to reimburse Defendants for all paid property taxes and improvements on the land, and required each party to pay its own costs and fees.  Montana appealed several portions of the district court’s judgment to the Montana Supreme Court (“Court”).

First, the Court held Montana owned the islands in trust for public schools.  The Court analyzed the equal footing doctrine, noting that under this doctrine, Montana took the title to the real property underlying the beds of its navigable waters through its sovereignty rather than through a federal grant.  Therefore, upon statehood, Montana law governed this land.  The parties agreed that the islands formed b  y vertical accretion within a navigable riverbed after statehood, and therefore, State law governed the lands.  The Court applied Mont. Code. Ann. § 77-1-102(1)(b), which states Montana holds land beneath its navigable waters in trust for public schools.

Second, the Court held Montana offered sufficient evidence to provide a legal description of each island.  Montana introduced a metes and bounds description of the land in addition to the surveys and aerial photos it provided in its original claim.  The Court held this evidence sufficient to support a detailed description of each island and therefore the district court erred in not entering a legal description of the land in the final judgment.

Third, the Court held the district court violated Montana’s due process right when it required, sua suponte, Montana to reimburse Defendants for taxes paid and improvements made to the land.  The Court noted that the district court violated the due process notice right when it allowed damages for unjust enrichment when the Defendants did not assert a claim for damages under this theory.

Finally, the Court held Montana was entitled to recover costs because it was the prevailing party in the quiet title action. Under Mont. Code. Ann, § 25-10-101(5), costs are allowed to a plaintiff who has a favorable judgment in an action that involves the title of real estate.  Therefore, Montana was entitled to recover the cost of producing the survey of the boundary of the land at issue.

Accordingly, the Montana Supreme Court reversed and remanded the district court’s judgment for further proceedings consistent with its holding.

San Luis, Colorado October 19-21, 2012

Recognizing Regional Challenges: The Colorado Acequia Story

The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association ( held the first Annual Congreso de Acequias (“Congreso”) in San Luis, Colorado.  The purpose of the Congreso was to create a forum for water users who irrigate using the acequia method in order to identify strategies protective of acequias based on H.B. 09-1233, 67th Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (Colo. 1999), codified in Colo. Rev. Stat. § 7-42-101.5 (2009) (“Acequia Recognition Law”).  The acequia irrigators who attended were from the same four counties as named in the statute: Conejos, Costilla, Huerfano, and Las Animas.  The Congreso was inclusive of all persons who irrigate with the acequia method in these counties, regardless of individual farmers’ self-identified irrigating method.

An acequia is a gravity fed, earthen ditch irrigation system used to carry snowmelt and rainwater run-off from arid canyons of mountainous areas to agricultural fields. The acequia method is intertwined with the land and its geography; therefore the method is prevalent in the four Colorado counties mentioned in the Acequia Recognition Law, and large parts of New Mexico.  Unlike New Mexico, however, Colorado never recognized acequia irrigating as a distinct use, and Colorado’s prior appropriation system does not protect acequias.  Because water and land use are intertwined, the Congreso discussions included challenges each county’s culture faces in attempting to maintain traditional knowledge of the land and water used within each community.

Conejos County: Lawrence D. Gallegos

Lawrence Gallegos (“ L. Gallegos”) introduced himself as a fifth generation acequia farmer whose family hales from Taos, NM.  Stating that the greatest method of protecting water rights, hence protecting an acequia, is derived from a land grant patented by Congress, L. Gallegos gave a brief history of the land grant in Conejos County.

L. Gallegos explained in 1842 the Mexican government created the Mercedes and Conejos land grants, as well as the Sangre de Cristo, St. Vrain, and other grants recognized in Colorado today, in opposition to the United States’ policy of Manifest Destiny  (a 19th Century belief that the United States was destined to expand its territory in America).

L. Gallegos further explained that in 1848, the United States created the Surveyor General’s office to adjudicate land grants.  The grantees of the Conejos Land Grant made an application in 1861 to have their land grant patented, but did not receive due process.  The grantees made another application for a land grant patent in 1898, and the case was heard in 1902, when the United States Supreme Court denied both applications for a patent on the Conejos Land Grant. L. Gallegos said, based on the transcripts from the trial, it was the government’s fault that Conejos County did not have a land grant patented by the United States because it misplaced the paperwork and did not accept verbal testimony, including the testimony of Narciso Beaubien, as conclusive evidence on the record.  To the acequias in Conejos County, this is a travesty.  Nevertheless, L. Gallegos is hopeful that the paperwork evidencing the land grant will surface in the future.

L. Gallegos asserted the acequias along the Conejos, San Antonio, and Los Pinos rivers were the first acequias in the Colorado Territory.  Although it is undisputed that the San Luis Peoples Ditch is the oldest adjudicated ditch in the State of Colorado, (dating to a decree of October 22, 1883) the first appropriation date known was March of 1855 in the little community of Guadalupe.  Regardless, the 1855 water rights owners sold all of the water from that adjudication away from the land.  L. Gallegos stated that farmers on his ditch, the third highest priority right, have kept their rights and would like to keep them.

L. Gallegos said the problems Conejos county acequias face today stem from the enactment of the Rio Grande Compact of 1938 (“Compact”).  Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, created the Compact to provide for delivery of a specific amount of water at each upstream party’s border.  The Colorado State Engineer’s Office (“SEO”) determined there were enough flows in the rivers in Conejos County to not curtail any acequias to satisfy the compact. Between the 1950s and the 1980s after the states negotiated the Compact, the SEO allowed thousands of non-acequia farmers to drill irrigation wells.  L. Gallegos noted these “high capacity irrigation wells” in the San Luis Valley near Conejos lowered the water table enough to affect the surface waters in the area.  This resulted in a lack of return flows, said L. Gallegos, which injures the acequias.  To compound the issue, by the mid-1960s, Colorado fell almost 1 million acre-feet behind on the Compact.  Beginning in 1969, these problems resulted in the SEO curtailing acequias to help provide enough water to downstream states to satisfy the Compact.

In closing, L. Gallegos stated that the passage of Senate Bill 422 (“SB 422”) in 2004 created an opportunity to create sub districts, which could assist with the problem.  Based on SB 422, the SEO, in 2012, set up a water management plan to mitigate surface depletions based on groundwater withdrawal.  L. Gallegos stated that despite this progress, today the underlying aquifer is 1.2 million acre-feet below the Compact’s “zero point,” and there is no sign of a decrease in water mining.  Therefore, Conejos County acequia farmers face serious and imminent water shortages.

Costilla County: Joseph Gallegos, Costilla County Commissioner

Joseph Gallegos (“J. Gallegos”) introduced the issues in Costilla County with a short discussion on the geographical differences between Conejos and Costilla County.  The Culebra watershed in Costilla County is a steeper, shorter watershed than the nearby Conejos watershed, which requires that the water be put to use quickly.  It also is not subject to the Compact because the land was patented under the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. J. Gallegos returned to his acequia community in 1986 and returned to the problems prevalent for his acequia.

J. Gallegos remembered turning a head gate on to water the family garden as a child, as he saw his father do, and got in trouble with his father for playing with the water.  That taught him how serious the business of water is.

When J. Gallegos rejoined his community, it just finished litigation opposing an industrial user trying to purchase water rights to supply, via the San Marcos Pipeline, a coal slurry in Texas.  Following litigation, the SEO began abandonment proceedings against acequia farmers in the Culebra watershed.  In reaction, the “acequieros” (acequia farmers) formed the Costilla County Conservancy District in the 1970s.

J. Gallegos recognized environmental issues, which continue to affect the Costilla County acequias today, also began in the 1970s.  Colorado passed a law in the 1970s that allowed developers to subdivide land into 5-acre parcels.  This intensive land use increased sediment load and water pollution in the acequia.

In the 1980s, a mining company posed a serious threat to Costilla County acequia farmers’ water quantity and quality.  As a result, J. Gallegos stated, the acequieros learned more about different parts of Colorado’s prior appropriation laws than ever before, including augmentation, point of diversion changes, substitute water supply plans, etc.  Furthermore, an “old timer” told J. Gallegos augmentation is “un palabra hecho a los ladrones” – a word made by crooks.

In the 1990s, a logging company damaged the Culebra watershed by stripping La Sierra of its trees while telling acequieros the logging company was practicing better land management than the acequieros.

The acequia farmers in Costilla County want to see water quality become an element of Colorado’s statutory water scheme because poor water quality injures an acequia farmer’s ability to irrigate.  When the acequieros try to argue water quality in court, their arguments are not heard because it is irrelevant.

J. Gallegos said water impoundment by “outsiders” moving into the community is another issue the community fights against.  He feels this problem will only grow as the community faces an influx of people unfamiliar with prior appropriation and the acequia method.

J. Gallegos believes that legal battles and lawyers are not the answer to the issues facing acequias in Costilla County.  In fact, the Sangre de Cristo acequia farmers try to mediate to avoid litigation.  They do not like the legal system because paying lawyers and court fees, and losing water anyway, siphons precious resources out of the community.  Therefore, the farmers formed the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, a 501(c)(3) (their website to serve as a community resource.  J. Gallegos described acequia life not as socialism, but as a community that shares a resource.  They exist, J.Gallegos stated, not because there is money, but because they band together, keep everything “in-house,” and have social mores to enforce their rules.  After decades of acequia farming, J. Gallegos stated he appreciates the sustainable method of acequia farming, and celebrates the natural, sustainable environment his community is.

Las Animas County: Jack Chavez

Mr. Jack Chavez (“Chavez”) claimed it is sad that a police officer can pull a person over on any dirt road, or in any county, and look up that person’s history and know the person’s mother’s name, but farmers cannot find information about their water rights.

Chavez asserted that greed is the motivating factor for adverse affects on Las Animas acequias. Chavez said the CF Mining Company picked up the Maxwell Land Grant, which injected big money into water appropriation in Las Animas County.  He explained after this happened, the mining company and other industrial users cloaked their water rights in secrecy in order to maintain control of them.  Therefore, no acequia farmers know what their water rights are in Las Animas County.

Chavez explained that when a single farmer sells a water right, it hurts the entire community because acequia farmers flood irrigate based on the amount of time it takes to draw a certain volume of water.  Flood irrigation requires additional water in the ditch because it takes water in the ditch to force water through it.  Colorado does not recognize this when measuring acequia water rights and has curtailed them based on the amount of time instead of the amount of water.  Thus, farmers who sell their rights to parties off the land hurt the entire community.

Chavez believes that the Las Animas community’s water resource is often used not to raise families, but is transferred to locations as far away as Denver because rights holders sell out for personal monetary gain. He also stated “outsiders,” lawyers, and large companies like Nestle, take advantage of fractures in the community when attempting to purchase water as an investment.  When Colorado allowed the subdivision of land, lawyers speculated on water rights by taking advantage of one farmer fighting with another who both irrigate from the same acequia and are not united against speculators and outsiders.  Thus, Las Animas communities are gradually becoming non-producing agricultural communities.

Chavez’ concern for Las Animas county is based on his perception that corporate greed and fractured communities allow for “water grabs.”  Las Animas County, said Chavez, needs assistance researching historical consumptive use to grab water back from developers.

Huerfano County: Amos Mace

Mr. Amos Mace (“Mace”) said he remembers being a child and seeing snow in the mountains deep into the summer and fireworks on the Fourth of July.  Mace diverts out of the Huerfano River, and noticed that it gets smaller every year.  The Arkansas Valley Roundtable (“Roundtable”) appointed his father, and Mace sits in on the meetings because he is an engineer who understands water quality issues.  He said that he and his father work as a team to improve the situation for their community through the Roundtable and through filing for appropriations that benefit the community.

Unlike Costilla and Conejos County, Mace said nobody filed for an appropriative right in Huerfano County until recently.  The acequia irrigators in Huerfano County had to apply for augmentation, changes, and substitute water supply plans in order to maintain their agricultural output.

Mace explained what would help Huerfano County most, is finding a way to utilize historic consumptive use to legitimize a senior priority date for diversions that were filed late or not at all.


The four counties’ issues overlap, yet each has a unique history that provides insight into the importance of the Acequia Recognition Law and the acequias’ need for stronger, more direct protection in Colorado.

This conference note focuses on the panel discussion that centered on the purpose of the Congreso.  Special thanks go to Dr. Devon Pena, an acequia farmer on The San Luis People’s Ditch and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington.  Dr. Pena gave crucial testimony at the senate hearings for H.B. 09-1233, worked tirelessly with Sarah Parmar of Colorado Open Lands ( to create the first annual Congreso de Acequias, supported the Congreso with a grant made possible by The Acequia Institute (, and strengthened the relationship between Colorado’s acequias and the New Mexico Acequia Association (