Valdez Rio Culebra Ranch is conserved


VALLEY — The conservation easement of the Valdez Rio Culebra Ranch in San Luis is a significant convergence of natural, historical and cultural resources in the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (SdCNHA).

By funding this conservation easement through Colorado Open Lands, SdCNHA is helping to safeguard the property’s acequia water, requiring that historic use of the water for ranching and farming proposes be continued, and that the water rights never be sold or transferred from the land. This also guarantees a system of stewardship for the Rio Culebra Basin on the San Pedro ditch and ensures neighboring acequias and their lands will also receive water in future years. The conservation easement will also ensure the property is never subdivided. Conservation easements are perpetual, meaning that this project will not only protect the land, water and ranching heritage now, but will also provide a stream of benefits for future generations.

Acequias, which are community-operated canal systems that carry snow runoff or river water to distant fields, evolved over 10,000 years in the deserts of the Middle East and were introduced into southern Spain by the Moors during their nearly 800-year occupation. Spanish colonizers took acequias to the New World where they were blended with similar irrigation systems of the Native Americans. Acequias include specific governance over water distribution, water scarcity plans, and all other matters pertaining to what is viewed as a communal resource. The mayordomo, or watermaster, of the acequia makes decisions about water distribution among community members, with the consent and advice of the acequia members. Each member has one vote, and so each member is an equal in the decision making process.

“In acequia culture, water is intended to be linked to land, not treated as a commodity. We understand that the conservation easements on the Valdez Ranch will permanently link the land and water, by encumbering the San Pedro ditch water rights by the conservation easement.” said Delmer Vialpando, president of the board of directors for the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association. “In addition to protecting the land and water on the Valdez Ranch, we are eager to see the important agricultural scenic views on the ranch be protected from development. One can see the beautiful farming fields from a number of highly visible county roads, as well as from the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross, the number one tourist destination at the heart of downtown San Luis.”

This property provides a critical buffer to a nationally unique historic resource, known as La Vega. La Vega is the only Mexican-Era land grant commons in the country which is still in use for its initial function, communal grazing. The protection of the Valdez Rio Culebra Ranch contributes to the protection of one of the oldest water rights in Colorado, and consequently, supports the state’s oldest agricultural community.

Judy Lopez, Colorado Open Lands (COL) SLV conservation project manager notes, “That even though the land has not historically allowed public access, most landowners do support educational tours to learn about agriculture, ranching, acequias and land stewardship. These tours are set up by COL who works with the landowners to provide quality educational experiences. 

“It is important to protect these historically rich landscapes and who best to promote the historical significance than these centennial farm and ranch families.”

The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area has an annual cycle for heritage grants. Its 2019 call for heritage grants applications will be accepting application beginning in March, and the deadline for submissions will be June 1. The desire is to share the culturally diverse stories of the area, because the board believes that stories are the backbone of identity and culture. The work of past grantees has been to preserve, protect, interpret, and promote the unique stories of people, places, and resources within this area and the San Luis Valley.

These grants are available to local organizations working to promote the mission of the National Heritage Area by restoring historic buildings, providing interpretation, restoring/promoting scenic and recreational resources or documenting culturally significant components of the way of life in the San Luis Valley. These efforts will support Heritage Preservation and Tourism and promote the counties of Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla.

To apply for a heritage grant or for more information please visit