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costilla-seal“Where Colorado Began”

Costilla Conservation District, a county-wide district in Costilla County, was organized on April 9, 1975 as the result of a consolidation of the Mount Blanca, Sanchez, and Culebra Soil Conservation Districts. A certificate of organization was issued by the Secretary of State of Colorado on May 23, 1975.

Overall the districts have a combined history of 67 years of active conservation.

MISSION STATEMENTThe District’s overall objective is to promote sound use, development, and treatment of soil, water, and related resources to maintain a healthy resource base for current and future needs.

Costilla Conservation District encompasses all the land in Costilla County except for those areas that had been previously excluded.  Total acreage within the District is 718,312 acres of privately owned land.


The Acequias are not simply a part of the local culture, but are an organized system to distribute and allocate the irrigation water.  The law of the community Acequias depends on the two values of equity and community: shared duties in the construction and maintenance of the community water supply systems, sharing water in times of scarcity, and full participation and equal rights among the parciantes (members of the ditch community).

Today, all of the Acequias in the San Luis Valley still follow the one parciante - one vote rule, and view water as an asset upon which the existence of the community depends.  Acequias form the heart of the Hispanic agricultural settlements in the upper Rio Grande basin, are part of a sustainable agricultural system, and are the social fabric of the community.

These unique landownerships have not competed well in the EQIP ranking system used in the Rio Grande Watershed for water issues. The Acequias users are generally limited resource farmers and have, in some cases, only 5 to 12 acres of land. Because of this, they are often not viewed by traditional farmers as “real” farmers.  In 2004, the local Watershed Workgroup acknowledged this and recommended that the State Conservationist set aside $75,000 for the Acequias Program.

In response, $75,000 of EQIP funding, under the water quality resource concern, was provided to the Acequias in Costilla County.  There were 38 Acequias applications of which 30 were approved, totaling $53,599.  The average Acequias contract was $1,786 in fiscal year 2004.  In 2005, with the same funding, there were 54 Acequias applications, of which 17 were approved, totaling $64,207. The average Acequias contract was $3,776 in fiscal year 2005.  This amount is well below the state average per-contract funding of $27,600.

Acequias Program Goal: Assist in sustaining the long-established Acequias system, which represents four hundred years of agricultural sustainability in southern Colorado, and is the thread that ties many communities together in the rural areas of the San Luis Valley.

The 65% of Acequias farmers who have contracts in progress or have completed contracts, represent the Acequias farmers in the upper echelon of the income range which may or may not have self certified themselves as a Limited Resource Farmers.

In summary, we, the local watershed workgroup, believe in order to address the Acequias farmer’s resource concerns of irrigated cropland, rangeland, and pastureland; a 75%-90% cost share rate needs to be extended to the Acequias farmers of Costilla and Conejos counties.  Additionally, recognizing the Acequias as a National Outreach Project, would allow program flexibility with the ranking system, cost share rates, and incentives. The Acequias are an excellent representation of a National Outreach Project.



Costilla County was the first area in Colorado to be colonized, with recorded history dating back to 1540, the year Coronado explored the Southwest. Costilla become one of the original 17 counties created by the Territory of Colorado in 1861 (originally called Guadalupe County).  The county's original boundaries had the county extend over much of south-central Colorado. Much of the northern portion became part of Saguache County in 1866, and the western portions were folded into Hinsdale and Rio Grande counties in 1874. Costilla County arrived at its modern boundaries in 1913 when Alamosa County was created from its northwest portions.

  • Costilla County has the state's first water rights, the San Luis Peoples Ditch with the water decree being dated April 10, 1852.
  • It is home to Colorado's oldest Christian structure (the San Acacio Mission) and the nation's newest shrine, the Stations of the Cross. The shine attracts thousands of guests a year.  People walk from as far as Pueblo to the shrine on pilgrimages.
  • R&R Supermarket in San Luis is the oldest business (and family store) in Colorado, dating back to 1857.


  • Costilla County was inhabited by the ancestors of today's families well before Colorado became a state.  Those first Hispano settlers brought with them a language and culture that still exists today, four hundred years after the Spanish first arrived in the Americas.
  • 68% of the population in Costilla County is Hispanic with strong ties to Spain's religious, cultural and artistic traditions.
  • Costilla County has the last working Commons (Vega) in America where local residents have grazed their sheep, cattle and horses on six hundred shared, unfenced acres for hundreds of years. 


    Costilla County has only a few towns, with several smaller communities; San Luis, Fort Garland, Blanca being the bigger towns.

    • San Luis is the oldest surviving town in Colorado; established on April 5, 1851, with a present population of approximately 680 (largest town in Costilla County).  Once a part of four Spanish land grants decreed by the King of Spain, the town's adobe architecture and its classic Spanish town layout retain the texture of the historical and cultural influences which shaped the early communities of Southern Colorado.
    • Fort Garland was once a fort that was built in 1858. It was once commanded by frontiersman Kit Carson, although he didn't take over the post until 1866-67. Carson had orders from the government to keep peace in the San Luis Valley; therefore no battles were ever fought on fort grounds. It served only as a show of force and a staging area to protect settlers from the Ute Indians.  Population 432 (2000).
    • Blanca was founded in August 1908 after a land lottery in the San Luis Valley.  In 1908, the San Luis Valley Land Company used a lottery to sell 65,000 acres by selling 5 acre parcels with “perpetual water rights”, and a Blanca town plot, with the chance at winning 640 acres in a lottery. Over 4,000 people came from 27 eastern and mid-western states by wagon or train to attend the lottery.  6,700 contracts sold for $150 each; thereby founding the town of Blanca.  Population 363 (2006)


    The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are one of the longest mountain chains on Earth. They stretch from Poncha Pass, Colorado, in the north to Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, in the south.

    • Colorado has fifty-four peaks that exceed 14,000 feet and four of those can be accessed from Costilla County, Little Bear, Lindsay and Culebra.


    The Sangre de Cristo Land Grant covered the whole of what is now Costilla County.  See map.

    • There are no Public Lands in Costilla County (with the exception of a few stray acres)



    • Trinchera Ranch.  One of Colorado's largest and most successful Ranching for Wildlife projects, this 81,400 acre ranch is also the Colorado’s largest donated conservation easement (CO Open Lands).  Th Trinchera Ranch is the largest remaining undeveloped land parcel within the historic Sangre de Cristo land grant, which dates to 1843.  Purchased by the late Malcolm Forbes in 1969 as a family retreat and then by current owner Lewis Bacon the property has been managed since that time to maintain and enhance its ecological and conservation values.
    • Cielo Vista (formerly the Taylor Ranch).  This 77,500 acre ranch encompasses Culebra Peak, and is the only Colorado 14er to occur entirely on private lands.


    • Three CO State Wildlife Areas are in Costilla County: Mountain Home Reservoir, Sanchez Reservoir, and Smith Reservoir.
    • The Trinchera elk herd is one of the largest in the world.