Surface water rights in Colorado are determined by a "first in time, first in right" law. During the settlement of the Blanca area, water problems were in the forefront of the conflict between the San Luis Valley Land Company and the contract holders who wanted to farm their allotment of land.
As a part of the contracts, the Company was to build several reservoirs and ditches to get water to the acreages of the contract holders. The work originally was to be done before the allotment of the land in 1908. But even during 1909, the work had barely begun and was not being completed as quickly as the people wanted to settle the area. Several people who cleared their land and planted crops in anticipation of the distribution of the water saw their crops wither. The project was becoming more expensive and taking longer than the Land Company had anticipated.
The Company contracted with the Trinchera Canal Company to complete the work of getting water to the contract holders. The irrigation company promised that anyone who wanted water for the 1910 growing season would have it. The work progressed as rapidly as the weather and the available work force allowed.
However, the contract holders had other reasons for concern. In the original literature under which the contracts were sold, a water right was promised to all of the tracts. The San Luis Valley Land company was now stating that a water right would only go with five acres of each allotment. That meant that people who had received 10 or more acres in the August 1908 allotment would only receive a water right for one five acre area.
Several contract holders who had purchased under the "first literature" joined suit against the company and won water rights for all of their allotments. However, those who were not parties to the suit or who had not purchased their contracts under the first literature were not assured those rights.
The Trinchera Canal Company also sent a new water contract to the land owners which, according to most, benefited the company at the expense of the people. Most of the contracts were not signed or returned to the company.
A Trinchera Water Users Association was formed in 1910 to protect the interest of the contract holders and filed suit to clarify the water rights issue.
Today very few of the 5 acre tracts in the area have surface rights. Water for those without surface rights is regulated by the State of Colorado. By State law, 5 acre tracts without surface rights are entitled to an "in house only" well permit.
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