Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Acequias Honored by Colorado Legislature


HB1233 passes final with bipartisan support in Senate

DENVER – Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill on final reading sponsored by Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) which promotes and encourages the continued operation of acequias, or historic community ditches, and the viability of the historic communities that depend on this system as a means of irrigation and cultural preservation in Southern Colorado. The bill passed unanimously.

Senator Schwartz presented the bill in front of the Senate this morning. “It has been an honor to carry this historic bill with Rep. Vigil, whose family has lived in San Luis for generations,” said Sen. Schwartz. “HB1233 recognizes the value and cultural importance of the Acequia tradition. In carrying this bill, I have learned a tremendous amount about Colorado’s first water right and the role of early settlers in establishing our agricultural traditions.”

Acequia refers specifically to water management within historic districts on lands settled before to Colorado became a state. Acequia farmers carry out ancient irrigation practices based on a community ditch where water is treated as a community resource. This bill creates a legal structure that will allow Acequia farmers to protect their water rights and formalize their communal water corporations.

HB 1233 recognizes cultural diversity as an important source of resilience in our society and acknowledges the Acequia as one of Colorado’s most important cultural and historic resources. The San Luis Peoples Ditch in Costilla County has the oldest adjudicated water rights in the state, dating back to the 1850’s and is the heart of Acequia culture in Southern Colorado.

Scholars have long recognized Acequia as a civic institution and a significant part of the cultural, historical, economic and ecological history of Southern CO and Northern NM, once part of Spanish colonial territory. Acequias were recognized by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 1987 as valuable cultural, historical and engineering resources that facilitated the settlement and development of agriculture in the American Southwest.

Representative Ed Vigil (D-San Luis) is the House sponsor of the bill.

HB 1233 is now headed to Governor Bill Ritter’s desk for signing.