The San Luis Valley and the Rio Grande River basin has a long history of agriculture and early water management. The first recorded water rights in Colorado were filed in this area and it is home to one of
the oldest acequia systems named The People's Ditch in the State of Colorado. The middle of the Valley was historically an ancient sea bed. The water table in some areas is so high that there are lakes formed from the overflow. There are
also many artesian wells and deep agricultural wells supplying water for the many crops that are grown in the area.
This Valley was the first area to be settled by those other than the Native Americans. Archaelogical
sites have shown that irrigation is as old as written history and was practiced successfully in the arid southwest many years before the introduction of the Spanish and Anglo populations. Through the years agriculture has become the basis of the current
economy. The abundance of fresh, pure artesian water has contributed to the success of both farmer and stockman in this valley.
The San luis Valley is a high altitude desert
and the largest alpine valley in the world, receiving less than 8 inches of precipitation per year in the center of the valley, with the precipitation in the surrounding mounatians reaching as much as 50 inches or more
a year.(Jones, P. Andrew, Cech, Tom, Colorado Law for Non- Lawyers, University Press of Colorado,2009,p.16)
The Rio Grande River is the 5th longest river in the United
States and the 20th longest in the world. This river flows out of the western San Juan mountains ( Spanish for St. John), onto the valley floor carrying tremendous amounts of sediment, which through the years formed a barrier to the flow of streams
and creeks coming from the north and eastern section of the valley, which developed a closed basin with internal drainage. (employees.oneonta.edu/baumanpr/geosat2/dry_land_water/Dry_Land_Water.htm,p.12) This condition resulted in the water from the confined aquifer rising very near the surface. In some areas seeps onto the surface, forming some lakes.
The Rio Grande drains the southern part of the valley through a chasm in the volcanic rocks, referred to as the Rio Grande Rift, (one can get a very interesting view of this canyon/rift by visiting the Gorge Bridge outside of
Taos New Mexico). The Sangre de Cristo mountains (meaning The Blood of Christ) rise to the east of the valley while the San Juans border the west. There are smaller rivers and creeks that feed the Rio Grande such as the Alamosa the Conejos,
and the Rio San Antonio rivers. Saguache Creek, Embargo, Pinos, Carnero, and La Garita Creeks, all originate in the San Juan Mountains. On the eastern side of the Valley, the Culrbra and Trinchera are the main creeks with the Costtia and
Ventero Creeks feeding the Rio Grande below the Colorado New Mexico border.
The Photo below shows the Gorge bridge spanning the Rio Grande Rift.