Impact Story 2: Colorado Open Lands – Supporting Community-Guided Irrigation Stewardship Through Acequia Advocacy

Posted April 2, 2017

Acequia is an Arabic word that means “water bearer,” and it describes an irrigation system that Spanish settlers established in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The Hispano farming families who still irrigate from acequias and are direct descendants of the settlers of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant, embrace a philosophy that water is a communal resource that must be shared. Their cooperative ditch management method of water resource oversight has many social, environmental and economic benefits – yet this system is vulnerable as it lacks a clear legal status in Colorado’s system of water rights administration. And since 2009, Colorado Open Lands (COL) has worked with Hispano farming families in southern Colorado to protect acequia water rights through conservation easements and other tools.

The People's Ditch, oldest acequia in Colorado, San Luis Valley

The People’s Ditch, the oldest acequia in Colorado, San Luis Valley, serves 16 affiliated water users and irrigates approximately 2,100 acres of hay & other row crops. A majority of parcientes are descendants of the original founders of the acequia.

The Trinchera Blanca Foundation (TBF), affiliate of Louis Bacon’s Moore Charitable Foundation, has partnered with COL as they advocate for the acequia community. Recently, TBF supported COL’s ongoing partnership with the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association to organize and facilitate the fourth annual Congreso de Acequias and the acequia legal assistance program. Both of these programs benefit approximately 300 households in the Southern San Luis Valley that depend on the acequia system.

In 2016, funding from The Trinchera Blanca Foundation additionally secured the permanent conservation of the iconic acequia-irrigated Rio Culebra Ranch, located just outside of the town of San Luis, Colorado’s oldest town. The ranch is irrigated by the San Pedro ditch, the second most senior acequia in the watershed, and one of the oldest water rights in the state of Colorado. Consequently, conservation of this historic working ranch will keep critical senior water rights in agriculture. The ranch also protects critical viewsheds from the town and from the famous Stations of the Cross. The designated Centennial ranch has been in the same family for over 150 years and has a rich multi-generational tradition of stewardship.

The Trinchera Blanca Foundation partnered with Colorado Open Lands to support the permanent protection of the iconic acequia-irrigated Rio Culebra Ranch.

The Trinchera Blanca Foundation partnered with Colorado Open Lands to support the permanent protection of the iconic acequia-irrigated Rio Culebra Ranch.

We commend COL’s unique approach to conservation across the state and we are proud to support their efforts to protect acequia lands and communities in the San Luis Valley. Read more about Colorado Open Lands here.