Water - the Wealth of Walsenburg
Colorado holds the unique distinction of being the first state to provide for the distribution of water by public officials. In 1879, the legislature created a part of the present administrative system. It provided for the division of the state into ten water districts, nine of which are in the South Platte valley, and one in the Arkansas drainage. In each district, the statute provided for a Water Commissioner to divide water according to priorities of the various ditches within in the district, in accordance with the Prior Appropriation Doctrine of the first-in-time, first-in-right. The priority of each ditch was determined by the district courts based upon the date the ditches were constructed and the water placed to beneficial use. The statute as passed by the legislature in 1879 did not provide for stream measurement.
The office of the State Engineer was created in 1881. The primary responsibility of the State Engineer was to measure the water in each stream from which water was diverted for irrigation, starting with those mostly used for irrigation. Three water division were created, made up of water districts located within the South Platte, the Arkansas, and the Rio Grande basins. Within six years, each of the remaining four water divisions as they exist today were created. By the early 1890's many streams systems were over-appropriated. Ditch companies were actively constructing reservoirs to store winter flows and spring run-off. In addition, new sources of water were being pursued, which included trans-mountain diversions and pumping of ground water. Changes in water rights, along with exchanges and transfer of water rights and loan statues, were issues that had to be addressed by the office of the State Engineer by the turn of the century(1).
1. State of Colorado, History of Water Rights, Source: Colorado Division of Water Resources , Date Accessed February 14,2017