Colorado Open Lands conserves land along Rio Culebra River

COSTILLA COUNTY - Colorado Open Lands has announced that its Acequia Initiative Phase II has been awarded $1,948,052 in funding from the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The money will advance the permanent conservation of privately owned farm and ranchland along the Rio Culebra River in Costilla County, as well as providing targeted Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds specifically allotted for use acequia irrigators. This is in addition to $1,722,000 that NRCS awarded to Colorado Open Lands (COL) in Phase I of the project. When combined with other government and private funding sources, this represents nearly $9 million raised for conservation in Costilla County by COL.

The NRCS Award came though the agency’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP is a partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on agricultural land. In this funding round, NRCS is investing $206 million in 48 partner-driven conservation projects across 29 states through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Partners are making nearly $300 million in contributions. “I’m excited to announce the first RCPP awards under the 2018 Farm Bill,” said NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr.

“Through collaboration and aligning our resources toward a common goal, we’re making an impact for natural resource conservation that could never have been realized on our own.” The project received attention from statewide funders as well. In 2017 and 2018, Great Outdoors Colorado contributed $1.2 million through its Open Space Initiative. Other funding for the project was contributed from the Gates Family Foundation, LOR Foundation and the Trinchera Blanca Foundation.

The Acequia Initiative aims to strategically protect private land irrigated by acequias – shared irrigation canals and ditches – along the Culebra watershed. The acequias often represent the oldest water rights in Colorado, and their protection is critical to preserving our heritage and way of life in the San Luis Valley. Communal water use is critical in the area – without these historic water-sharing agreements, the region’s agricultural way of life would not be possible.

Many acequia properties have been in the same families since the mid-1800s, and the acequias form the agricultural, social, and ecological foundation of the communities. In Phase II of the Initiative, Colorado Open Lands is able to expand the Initiative to include more landowners, conserving even more land and water rights.

COL President Tony Caligiuri added, “This is a community-led project. Colorado Open Lands is proud to be a facilitator, convener and fundraiser for this community, which represents everything that makes Colorado special – a rich agricultural heritage, incredible scenic value, and people who place great value on preserving their land and water.”

Local focus features several miles of Culebra Creek, providing important habitat to several sensitive species including the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle and Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. The properties lie at a narrow point in the Culebra floodplain, funneling wildlife onto the lands.

This Initiative is a grassroots conservation effort built from the community’s interest and determination to preserve their historical agricultural heritage and is a direct result of the relationships developed since COL began working in Costilla County a decade ago, and the investments that key partners have provided.

The success of this project combined with the long-term investment in this landscape will provide security and sustainability to the acequia community, so that they continue to support agricultural production and ecological services, to the benefit of all Coloradoans


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