Nothing new to the West, water districts, in some form or another, have existed since there have been people developing the land. From the Hohokam Indians building canals and ditches as early as 750 AD to the homesteaders getting together with their neighbors to build a ditch in the 1800’s and later, corporations building storage facilities providing water for developing farms and municipalities.
Some of these entities are private and some are public.
The private sector can be made up of individuals or corporations. In the example of an individual, you may have cooperating neighbors pool their resources and energies to build their own ditch or reservoir for their own use. These are mutual irrigation companies where the owners are also the consumers and therefore the profits go back to the individual owners. Alternatively a corporation may raise money through stockholders to buy land, build storage facilities, delivery systems and provide the maintenance. Then they make their money selling the water back to the consumers and the profits go back to the stockholders.
The public districts really got started when the government in 1902, passed the Reclamation Act. This legislation authorized the Secretary of the Interior to build reservoirs in the West, using money derived from sales of public lands and later, electric sales. The federal government would build the facilities but it would not allocate the water. That was a state issue.
Thus local entities had to be organized to administer and distribute the water collected in federal reservoirs. The Colorado General Assembly passed a law in 1905 that allowed farmers in a given area to form ‘irrigation districts.’ They had the right of eminent domain so they could condemn rights of way for canals and reservoirs and they could levy property taxes and assessments on users. That law, however, was only for irrigated farms; it was not for the towns and cities that might be surrounded by those farms and which might also need to develop water supplies. So in 1937, the legislature expanded the irrigation-district concept with the “water conservancy district,” which could include municipalities and non-irrigated land. According to that 1937 law, conservancy districts can also levy taxes and they have the right of eminent domain.
The first one formed was the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. It was organized to administer water from the Bureau of Reclamation’s immense Colorado-Big Thompson project, which was approved by Congress that year.
There are at least two other kinds of water districts in Colorado. Many are relatively small entities like the Round Mountain Water District in Westcliffe. These are special districts, similar to school districts or fire districts, and they operate much like a municipal water department — they operate treatment plants and delivery systems primarily for households and businesses.
Then there are the water conservation districts, as opposed to water conservancy districts. There are only three conservation districts: Colorado River, Southwestern Colorado and Rio Grande. Like conservancy districts, they can also levy taxes and build and operate water projects. Based in Alamosa, Rio Grande administers the Closed Basin project, which moves water from the Closed Basin of the San Luis Valley to the Rio Grande so that Colorado can meet its water commitments to New Mexico and Texas.
So, what are the differences between a conservancy district and a conservation district, since they can do almost the same things?
n Conservation districts are established by the state legislature and there are only three. Conservancy districts are established by petitions from people in an area and there are at least 50 of them in Colorado.
n Conservation district boards are appointed by county commissioners. Conservancy district boards are appointed by district judges, although it is possible to petition for an election.
n Conservation districts are supposed to look at the bigger picture (i.e., is Colorado meeting its commitments to downstream states?), while conservancy districts focus more on specific local needs and benefits to its constituents.
Conservation districts promote, plan and develop water resource projects, conduct necessary background studies, and represent the interests of the residents in (interstate) compact matte. They are primarily project planning and development entities and leave the construction and operation of projects to the water conservancy districts.
Our Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District is one of, if not the most important entity to the future of those who live within its boundaries. There are currently enough downstream water rights that if called for, would dry up the White River, legally. In fact, there is not enough water in the White to fulfill the projected future needs of our communities in Western Colorado without storage facilities. It is eminent; we cannot do anything about it. What if we got those entities that need the water the most to build the storage facilities where it doesn’t impact flows on the White, and then we lease them the water … thus retaining our river. What we can do is get involved with our Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District, get to know our director and learn what projects they are considering for the future and how it will effect us. With more public input we can help them make it a district that benefits all of us.
**Information excerpted from the following sources:
Colorado RiverWater Conservation District’s web site,www.crwcd.org/
BLM at www.blm.gov/nstc/ WaterLaws/colorado
Scott and Veronica Fandrich