Funding from the Trinchera Blanca Foundation helped Colorado Open Lands initiate the protection of historic water rights and increase awareness of conservation across the San Luis Valley. Colorado Open Lands is working toward the conservation of 2,000 acres of naturally and culturally significant land and acequia water rights in the Culebra Watershed. This initiative aims to strategically protect private land irrigated by acequias – shared irrigation ditches – which are located throughout the Rio Culebra watershed. The acequias represent the oldest water rights in Colorado, and their protection is critical to preserving their heritage. Many acequia properties have been in the same families since the mid-1800s, and the acequias form the agricultural, social, and ecological foundation of the community.
The protection of these important lands will promote working agriculture throughout the Culebra Basin. Dating back to the historic Spanish Land Grant, the Culebra Basin has the oldest water rights in Colorado and serves as a major wildlife corridor for the nationally protected Southwest Willow Flycatcher, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, and Sangre de Cristo elk herds. Conservation easements will ensure that the water rights can never be sold separately from the land. The LOR Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado are also supporting this critical initiative.
To date Colorado Open Lands has completed three conservation easements, totaling about 700 acres, on acequia-irrigated lands along the Rio Culebra. This group of conservation easements have paved the way for the new and more widespread Acequia Initiative Project.
Over the past 3.5 years, COL has leveraged TBF support for Acequia Initiative properties to raise more than $4.3 million dollars in public funding to conserve the heritage and beauty of the San Luis Valley.