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Water Rights on the Florida Mesa

Since the 1860’s The Colorado Doctrine has defined the four essential principles of Colorado water law:

  • All surface and ground water in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies and private persons.
  • A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources.
  • Water rights owners may build facilities on the lands of others to divert, extract or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use.
  • Water rights owners may use streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of water.

Practical application of The Colorado Doctrine means that water can be moved from where it is found to where it is needed, based upon a priority system of “first in time, first in right”. People who live along the Florida River usually have diversions from the river to their lands. Away from the river, landowners are dependent upon the irrigation ditches to deliver their water.

As the river rises in the spring, each right is filled in order of priority as the flow increases. As the river drops, the rights go “out”. In dry years, later priorities may not be filled, and within a priority, water may be allotted on a pro rata basis.

Before Lemon Dam was built, farmers would often run out of water in the middle of the growing season. Now, the ditches also deliver “Project” water, which is stored at the dam until it is needed. This water is measured in acre-feet. One acre-foot of water will cover one acre of land to the depth of one foot, and equals 325,851 gallons. Lemon Dam stores 40,100 acre-feet of water in a normal year.

The Florida Water Conservancy District administers the project water, and it is delivered through the ditch system. Call your ditch manager when you are ready to receive your water. Only the ditch rider has the authority to monitor usage, and only the ditch rider can open and close your headgate (or subdivision or pipeline headgate).

When you call for water, allow at least 48 hours before you expect to use your irrigation water. It takes five hours for the water to get from the dam to the main ditch gate, and eight hours to get to the middle of the ditch system. Then it will take four or five hours to adjust the headgates along the way. Especially during busy times, ditch riders need cooperation and patience in order for everyone along the ditch to receive their water.

When you buy property with irrigation water rights, you have no right to use water until the shares have been transferred on the books of the ditch company. Local title companies usually coordinate this at closing. Call the ditch manager 970-749-9800 or email floridaditch@gmail.com or contact any director with further questions.

Beware!! Canals, ditches and drains are very unsafe, and no one, especially children should play in or near them!

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