Published: May 24, 2016
 3 men standing on the edge of a river in the San Luis Valley

For Professor Sarah Krakoff and students from CU-Boulder, spring marks a transition from the halls of the Wolf Law Building to the fields of the San Luis Valley.

Since 2012, Krakoff and her law students have regularly trekked to one of the largest high altitude deserts in the world, where they clear debris from irrigation ditches or acequias and provide free legal assistance to farmers whose water rights are in question.

“We work with local farmers or irrigators to draft bylaws for their acequias to help them take advantage of Colorado laws and also represent these farmers whose water rights are at risk,” said Krakoff, a CU-Boulder law professor who specializes in American Indian and natural resources law. “Our goal is to help protect their traditional ways of operating.”

Like many parts of the Southwest, water is a scarce resource in the valley. As the snow from the Sangre de Cristo and the San Juan mountains begins to melt, runoff is caught in acequias, which are gravity-fed irrigation ditches. Many small farmers throughout the valley in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico rely on water from the acequias for their crops.

Acequia is an Arabic word that means “water bearer,” but more broadly it refers to the community’s rules and philosophy about sharing limited water resources in the area. Junita and José Martinez, who own 11 acres of land near the San Francisco irrigation ditch in Costilla County, said their land has been farmed this way for generations.

“At the beginning of the watering season, we clean the ditches, then determine as a community who gets to irrigate when and we establish patterns of irrigation,” said Junita Martinez. “If there is a drought we share. We share water in good times and in bad times.”

Read the rest of this story on the Outreach and Engagement website.