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Ritter signs acequia bill

April 23, 2009

SAN LUIS — Governor Bill Ritter on Thursday signed the acequia bill sponsored by the San Luis Valley’s State Representative Ed Vigil, a Democrat from San Luis.

House Bill 1233 promotes and encourages the continued operation of acequias, or historic community ditches such 

Photo by Keith R. Cerny A bill promoted by Representative Ed Vigil and signed by Governor Bill Ritter encourages the operation and maintenance of acequia ditches as illustrated here at the San Luis People’s Ditch, the oldest adjudicated water right in the state. This ditch is located in the San Luis area, Vigil’s hometown.
as those located in Vigil’s home county of Costilla County. The bill also promotes the viability of the historic communities that depend on this system as a means of irrigation and cultural preservation in southern Colorado.

Democratic State Senator Gail Schwartz, who also represents the San Luis Valley as part of her senate district, was the Senate sponsor.The acequia bill was a significant victory for freshman legislator Vigil who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. It was personally significant for the representative because his great grandparents were the first water rights owners in Colorado.

“The passage of this bill has been long overdue. It is important that we recognize all of Colorado’s diversity,” Vigil said. “House Bill 1233 attempts to tell a story of the culture and history of some of Colorado’s first Hispanics to move to southern Colorado, specifically the San Luis Valley. San Luis is the oldest town in Colorado, and home of the state’s first water right and the San Luis People’s ditch. I am extremely proud and thankful to my colleagues in the House and Senate to recognize the importance of this legislation.”

Senator Schwartz added, “I am so thrilled that HB 1233 was signed into law. It has been an honor to carry this historic bill with Rep. Vigil, whose family has lived in San Luis for generations. 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 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 and acknowledges the acequia as one of Colorado’s most important cultural and historic resources. The San Luis People’s 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 Colorado and northern New Mexico, 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.