In 1967, the Rio Grande Compact of 1939 delivery obligations had not been met. As a result of litigation against Colorado by New Mexico and Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court forced Colorado to change its administration of the Rio Grande and Conejos River. The State curtailed water rights in order to meet state line delivery obligations and continues to do that today. One of the tools Colorado used to help meet the obligations was to clean and expand the old Norton Drain and extend it south of Sanford. The Norton Drain salvages waters which would otherwise be lost to the Rio Grande and uses this water to reduce the amount of curtailment of surface rights on both rivers.
On March 16, 1970, the District filed for the water right in Division 3 Water Court and was granted an absolute water right by the Court March 16, 1971 with a priority date of April 29, 1968. The West Branch of the Norton Drain is decreed for 25 cfs and the main branch of the Norton Drain is decreed for 150 cfs. The decree provides that 50% of the waters appropriated and diverted by the applicant (the District) through its drain ditch are salvage waters, which are not subject to the claims of prior appropriators on the Rio Grande river system. The other 50% of the water, which are tributary waters, are subject to being administered according to the appropriation date thereof as a part of said river system.
The original drain was on the Norton Ranch located in the northwestern portion of Conejos County and was approximately 9.25 miles in length. 5.5 miles of the Drain was constructed from the southwestern corner of the Norton Ranch property to the terminus of the Bountiful Waste Ditch 1.5 miles south of Sanford. A west branch of the drain was constructed and is 2.5 miles long. Therefore, the District has the responsibility for the operation and maintenance of 17.25 miles of the drain.
During the rehabilitation of the main drain and construction of the drain extensions a Parshall rating flume with a continuous recorder was installed on the lower end of the drain to the Rio Grande, for compact purposes. This gauging station is operated and maintained by the Division of Water Resources. In the spring of 1990 another Parshall rating flume was installed at a point in the drain to measure the Conejos River contribution to the drain. The Conejos gets credit for their portion of the drain flow at La Sauses. It is also operated and maintained by Division of Water Resources.