Acequia is an Arabic word that means “water bearer.” An acequia is a physical irrigation system – a ditch — but the term “acequia” in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado also describes a philosophy about water and community. That philosophy encompasses the concept that water is so essential to life that it is a communal resource, one which must be shared. This philosophy shapes intersection of the human and natural environments in the Southern Colorado watersheds in which acequias are found and has created a resilient natural and cultural system. Acequias are found along the southernmost part of Colorado – including four of the state’s poorest counties: Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano, and Las Animas. While water is wealth throughout the arid West, to the small-scale farmer in these traditional communities the acequia culture represents even more: Acequias are the means by which you support your family and by which you participate in your community. A Spanish dicho (mantra) succinctly provides, “Tierra es la Madre y la Agua es su Sangre” – Earth is the Mother and Water is her Blood.
While acequias are legally treated as any other water right within the prior appropriation system in Colorado, their governance system makes them unique. All irrigators along an Acequia work together to ensure each land owners water needs are met. For example, in times of water scarcity, ditches cooperate to ensure an equitable distribution of water, or when that is not physically possible, a sharing of fields. As we look to the future, acequias will offer an interesting model of alternative water administration and use. However, in order for acequias to remain viable, the acequia community must first address some key challenges. For generations, acequias have operated informally – with many remaining unincorporated and without bylaws.
The Acequia Project is a joint effort by the Getches-Wilkinson Center, Colorado Open Lands, and the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association to provide low or no-cost legal assistance and educational materials to Colorado’s acequia communities. The Project represents dozens of community members every year, and has helped to protect the traditional and sustainable farming practices of acequia communities.
In addition, under the guidance of Professor Sarah Krakoff (Colorado Law), Judy Lopez (Colorado Open Lands/Acequia Association), and Peter Nichols (of counsel, Berg, Hill, Greenleaf & Ruscitti, LLP), law students have drafted a Legal Handbook for Colorado Acequias, and a groundbreaking article on the history of acequia water rights in the San Luis Valley. To support the Acequia Project or get involved, click here.
The Acequia Project would not be possible without the help of local attorneys that donate their time pro bono to help with these complex issues. In addition to the attorney’s above, the project is lucky to work with the following partners:
Kelcey Nichols, Wood Nichols, LLC
Megan Gutwein, Berg, Hill, Greenleaf & Ruscitti
Allan Beezley and Marie Vicek, Beezley PC
Sarah Pizzo, Esq.
Will Davidson, Moses, Wittemyer, Harrison & Woodruff
Scott Holwick, Lyons Gaddis
Julia Guarino, Western Environmental Law Center
Gunnar Paulsen and Cassidy Woodard, Porzak, Browning & Bushong
The Acequia Project is also led by student deputy directors representing each graduating class. The current deputy directors can be contacted via the information below:
Class of 2019: Gregor MacGregor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Class of 2020: Leah Fugere (email@example.com)
Class of 2021: Natasha Viteri and Matt Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)
Acequia Assistance Project Trainings