Traditional use of natural resources defines community


A way of life in cotangence with the earth and its water seems mythical, even idealistic; but the everyday is certainly less romantic than an unexamined notion of the integrity, commitment and sacrifice required to sustain it.

The algorithm of the experience of a parciente is shaped by the amount of water decreed in its ditch, where the property is located along the acquia, the characteristics of the land, what is cultivated, who are the neighbors , if flood or closed pipe, or center pivot irrigation are used, if one has an irrigation well – most do not – snowfall, precipitation, etc. Runoff from some watercourses is affected by upstream logging, erosion or sediment. Even family relationships can play a role in acequia function. Each individual carefully weighs their respective formula.

Advertised as a model for self-governance and community stewardship of natural resources, there is a constraint to sustaining the system based on livelihoods, cultural and spiritual significance.

In his book “Acequia Culture, author José Rivera explains how the ethic of acequia is rooted in conservation, including the tradition of sharing water in times of scarcity. Rivera recognizes that in times of drought and individualism, the sharing mentality is difficult to maintain.

“The Acequias have historically had a system of sharing shortages,” said Craig Cotten, engineer for Section 3 of the Colorado Water Resources Division.

“A senior, for example, may voluntarily decide that he is not going to take his full amount – maybe he will only take half of his amount, and he may leave half in the creek for someone else. ‘other,’ Cotten said.

During drought years, depending on an acequia’s agreement, water users may be limited to irrigating on certain days each week, or each landowner may receive fewer turns.

“Sharing water is perfectly legal and perfectly permitted under the doctrine of prior appropriation,” Cotten said. “Sometimes, however, older water users don’t want to share – for several reasons.”

Some parcientes choose not to practice water sharing because of the personal financial constraints that may come with it, Parmer noted.

The familiar aspects of acquia cultivation challenge the fact that “the word ‘drought’ is no longer applicable,” as MacGregor put it. “It’s been 22 years.

Being from San Luis can sometimes be an exception to Colorado’s natural resource management rules, and water isn’t the only area.

Access to pastures and the collection of firewood and wood on a formerly communal land concession have been recognized by the Colorado Supreme Court in 2002 after nearly 40 years of litigation. The center of the Venn diagram between the New World and the Old World is still a bit hazy. Those with access to the old land concession and the current landowner of the mountain were asked by a district court judge in September to determine how best to administer these. hard-won traditional land rights.

“With increasing scarcity, water is becoming more and more precious, more and more important,” said Parmer. “The fear is, I think, because of the priority of these rights, that they become more and more valuable and attractive to outsiders who do not necessarily share the same value system surrounding water connection.

As an antidote, Colorado Open Lands co-created acequia education and a program of conservation easements.

Easements prohibit the sale of water separately from the land and restrict the areas of the property that can be built.

“We really think about it with the lens of water,” said Parmer, who coordinates the easements. “If we place a conservation easement near the end of an acequia, we have the right to object to potential changes in use along the route of that acequia. We can help defend it.

“If there’s a community that has a more natural propensity for conservation, I don’t know what it is,” said Parmer, who grew up on a ranch along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Overlooking farmland west of San Luis.

Today, many farmers and ranchers are changing their outlook and operations.

“There are dire projections that we may not have as much water as we have now – and now we don’t have enough water,” Cotten said.

Arnie Valdez, at the back end of a 13th priority acequia, is experimenting with closed pipes to direct flow to fields more concisely, and studying crops that require less water.

“We are more vulnerable here,” Valdez said. “We do not have access to a priority right to water, so we have to accept what nature brings us each year.

“You have to really, really want to farm and farm,” admits 18-year-old Amyas Maestas.. “You have to be a certain person to do this.”

Maestas is an eighth generation acequia farmer who supports his education through the Move Mountains Youth Bodies.

Amyas Maestas is an eighth generation farmer aged 18.

“I guess you could call me a rookie farmer at this point, ”Maestas laughs from his field. “I just love the beauty in it, and seeing it all grow, and the fruits of your labor. I love it so much, I would like to make it my life.

“A lot of young people are ready to learn,” Maestas said.

“The tradition of being a people based on land and water, of teaching your children that this water is what enables us and our villages to meet our needs is invaluable” , said Martinez. “It’s something that is passed on from one generation to the next.

The Move Mountains project in San Luis enables young people to use local farmland as spaces for agricultural training.

Some entities are turning to a revitalized local economy with the acequia system at its core, using state recognition to increase business and community projects.

For example, “the city of San Luis would like to invest significantly in the restoration of the Montez moat and integrate it into a wider revitalization of the downtown area featuring agritourism,” MacGregor said.

These measures underscore the importance of the entire watershed system – and the way of life that goes with it. In a two-way conversation, as Estevan Arellano sang: the earth needs our participation.

A sunset west of Viejo San Acacio.

Kate Perdoni is a multimedia reporter for Rocky Mountain PBS and can be contacted at

This report, the third in a three-part series in the Río Culebra watershed, was produced through a fellowship with the Gates Family Foundation, the Rose Foundation and Rocky Mountain PBS.

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