Montrose, Olathe, Delta and other area cities are located in the Uncompahgre Valley.
In 1902 the early farming pioneers of this area realized a need to have water delivered to the valley and developed the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA)
in an effort to divert Gunnison River Water into this valley. The following year the
federal government took over the project, seeing it through the development phases, and
in 1932 the Bureau of Reclamation, an arm of the federal government that built the system, returned the system to UVWUA as operating agents with a payback plan acceptable to UVWUA.
Several reservoirs in the region store water out of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre
Rivers. The irrigation water is removed from the rivers, delivered through a network of 128 miles of major canals, 438 miles of lateral canals and 216 miles of return ditches which deliver return water back to the rivers.
From the lateral canals, the water passes through a headgate into private ditches
owned by landowners. Those canals and lateral canals are on private property and
UVWUA owns an easement to deliver the water and maintain the system. The UVWUA
easement is "exclusive" meaning that the canal roads are not a public right of way. Additionally no private structures are allowed on the easement. Each individual water user has the right to get their water from headgates or ditches that may cross another person's property, but it is wise to visit with those property owners and make a reasonable plan that works for everyone. There is a saying in western
Colorado that "You can mess with my wife, and maybe my dog, but DON'T mess with my water."
Each water user holds a "water right" to a certain number of water shares. A water share is a certain portion of the river's water to be used for irrigation. Water shares
"run with the land". Not all land has
water shares, but if you own land with water shares it is your right to use the water alloted to the land, until such time that you sell the land, and then the water rights are sold with the land. A water share is either 0.02 cubic feet per second or 0.01667 cubic feet per second (depending on the soil classification). For ease of understanding, 0.02 cubic feet per second is the amount of water that can be delivered through a 3/4 inch
garden hose over a 24 hour period.
The landowner will be billed in November for the following season's irrigation water.
The account is due in a single, or in two split payments the last of which is due July 1.
Each billing includes a charge per share for the operation and maintenance of the system, not for the amount of water used. Additionally there is a "construction" charge which is used to repay the U.S. Government for what they spent on the project in the early years.
Helpful Links: http://www.water.state.co.us