The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 371
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Restoring the Oldest Water Right in Texas
In 1852 the Texas Legislature authorized the county courts to order
meetings for the election of ditch commissioners and to regulate the
operation of irrigation works located on properties within county jurisdic-
tions such as Bexar County. The courts were also empowered to assess
fines for violations of ditch regulations established by the court or consis-
tent with prior customs and practices under Spanish law.5 Financed by the
payment of assessments based on the number of dulas (water rights calcu-
lated at one day's worth for each dula) held by each grantee, the San Juan
Acequia continued to irrigate the former mission farmlands now under
the private ownership of presidial soldiers, Canary Islanders, Spanish
ranchers, other townspeople, and immigrant newcomers. The irrigators of
the San Juan Acequia managed their communal system with minimal out-
side control following Spanish customs and methods of water distribution.
Periodically the irrigators petitioned the Commissioners' Court to appoint
ditch commissioners similar to those the city council appointed for the
acequias operating within the municipal boundaries of San Antonio.6
An event in the development of San Antonio that was destined to
have substantial impact on the agrarian roots of the community was
the incorporation of the city in 1837 as approved by the Texas
Congress. Although the land surrounding the city's boundaries
remained under agricultural production for decades to come, urban
land uses gradually encroached on the banks of the watercourses, the
numerous springs that supplied water to the San Antonio River, San
Pedro Creek, and the infrastructure of ditches within and south of the
city. At first the city's charter and the early set of ordinances simply val-
idated the status and functioning of the acequias in the city proper
and its environs. Article twenty-eight of the updated 1857 charter, for
example, empowered the mayor and city council to "re-open the old
irrigation ditches, within or beyond the present limits of the city, and
to regulate all matters connected with the dams, water-gates, and distri-
bution of water for irrigation."
For a time the acequias within the municipality of San Antonio contin-
ued to function much as they had in Spanish colonial years. Crude diver-
sion dams constructed of brush and rock, hydro-powered gristmills
(molinos) at the mouth of the acequias, water wheels that lifted water to
higher ground, and wooden headgates along the sides of the main
canals remained part of the San Antonio landscape through the rest of
5Dobkins summarized the Irngation Act of 1852 in The Spanish Element, 136-137.
"Almariz, The San Antonio Mzsszons, 47; Rosalind Z. Rock toJose A. Rivera, Mar. 29, 2ooo, e-
mail (printed copy in possession of the author).
7 San Antonio, Tex., Charter and Dzgest of Ordinances of the City of San Antonio (San Antonio: The
Ledger Office:July 18, 1857), 20.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/439/: accessed September 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.