Water is the most important resource for maintaining life, the importance of which is magnified in the arid Southwestern United States. Due to scarce rainfall, hot temperatures, and a sparse landscape, initial human development in the region was limited to areas where water could be easily harnessed (Rivera 2002:1). During the early 1500’s, Spanish conquistadors in Mexico pushed north into modern day New Mexico and Colorado. Familiar with the dry climate, Hispano settlers began building widespread irrigation systems to cultivate the once unusable arid lands (Hicks et al. 2003:410). Water resources were shared equitably among the community via a canal system, and anyone that wanted water had an opportunity to use this common-pool resource. The canal system as well as the social institution that governs the administration of water among the community of irrigators is referred to as an “acequia” (Rodriguez 2006:2). Many of the acequia communities of New Mexico and Colorado have proven to be very durable and are still functioning today (Hicks and Peña 2003:411). However, the privatization of water rights under modern United States water laws and the emerging water markets have put great stress on acequias (Rivera 1998:171). As municipalities, large agribusinesses, recreation interests, and expanding industrial users have increased the demand for water in Colorado, some acequia communities have faced pressure to forgo their water management practices (Rodriguez 2006:1; Rivera 1998:171). When faced with daunting challenges to their water rights, the relatively poor communities often are unable to defend their interest (Rivera 1998:157). In addition, some younger members of acequia communities do not have the strong cultural ties to the land and are tempted by outside interests to sell their water rights or pursue alternate employment opportunities (Jacquez 2014). The Colorado Acequia Recognition Law, passed in 2009 and amended in 2013, addresses some of the factors that are undermining the effectiveness of acequias and gives needed recognition to these historically and culturally significant communities (Colorado Revised Statutes § 7-42-101.5 (2013) (amending Colo. Rev. Stat. § 7-42-101.5 (2009)). In light of the pressures facing acequia communities, I undertook research on the status of acequias in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado and the interaction between acequia water management practices in the Valley and current Colorado water law, including the Acequia Recognition Law. This study is conducted with the awareness that Colorado water law must address the needs and concerns of many different interests. With this understanding, my examination focuses on the viability of acequias in the San Luis Valley.
Our worlds are storied landscapes (Cajete 1994). We shape and perpetuate our realities through the ways we story every aspect of life, including what health and illness look like respectively (Kleinman 1988, Avila 1999, Gonzales 2012), the boundaries of community (Peña 1998), what counts as knowledge, what being a resident of a place entails, and what it means to be human. Power differentials, including those created through colonization and genocide, come into play in determining which narratives enter and remain within public discourse (Scott 1990). When the places where we reside – “place” referring not only to physical spaces but the relationships of things to one another (Deloria 2001) – do not feel safe and accepting, we suffer open wounds to the soul. In order to re-establish our daily realities as embracing places for our souls to return to and reside, we are in need of una gran limpia, a radical cleansing and decolonization of all of our relationships. There exist systems of knowing with far more power than any colonizing narrative, a power that comes from first allegiances, original instructions, and webs of original relationships that we are embedded in. I have chosen to participate in the gran limpia by contributing a creative ethnography and a documentary. My intention is to bring together images and voices into a plática (heart-to- heart talk) (Avila 1999, Gonzales 2012) bearing witness to Indigenous Knowledge as it speaks truth to the concept of residence.