You may have already heard that 2021 is predicted to be a year of extreme drought for much of Colorado and New Mexico. Up until these latest storms, Weld County was designated as abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions as cited on the National Integrated Drought Information System. While it’s better for us now, continued drought conditions are predicted for the future and both southern and western Colorado are still hurting. These situations help make us more aware of the importance of water and how we manage our relationship with this resource.
That brings us to the technology that we know as the irrigation ditch. This system along with check dams, small diversion ditches, and reservoirs are old and effective technologies. How old? Well, at Mesa Verde, one can see the remains of prehistoric reservoirs that were constructed and used between AD 750 and AD 1180. For more about the history of ditches and canals, you might want to check Historic Context for Irrigation and Water Supply: Ditches and Canals in Colorado by Michael Holleran.
Looking more specifically in the southwestern part of our State and jumping to the late 1840s, we can see the use of the acequias (ah-SAY-kee-uhs) which is the topic of an upcoming discussion hosted by We Are Water Project Team. Acequias are a form of community ditch that was brought by Hispanic settlers from New Mexico and they are still in use today. A unique aspect of this irrigation ditch system is that it has a cultural aspect as well as the physical aspect. The book, Enduring Acequias Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water, is the story of how the Río Embudo watershed in northern New Mexico has been the home of Juan Estevan Arellano and his ancestors. From this unique perspective, Arellano explores the ways people use water in dry places and makes a case for preserving the acequia irrigation system.
For those interested in reading the book, copies should be available by the time this article is printed.
Want to watch rather than read? You can learn about how acequia irrigation systems are an important part of history, communities, and families in Southern Colorado by watching this video brought to you by the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association. El agua es vida!
Whether or not you decide to read the book or watch the video, please join us on Facebook at to learn more about acequias and to attend a conversation about acequias through the eyes of Eugene Jacquez from Chama, Colorado. The conversation will be held on Facebook Live on June 8, 2021 at 4pm MT.
The virtual book club about water in the Southwest is kindly brought to the High Plains Library District by our friends at the We are Water project.