The 2023 Trinidad Water Festival & the Acequia Assistance Project  

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By Gretchen Minekime


University of Colorado Law School students Oliver Skelly and Ellen Beckert represented the Acequia Assistance Project* at the 2023 Trinidad Water Festival. Below is a Q & A with Skelly and Beckert. 

How would you describe the water festival?  

Beckert: I would describe the Trinidad Water Festival as a place for students to realize just how central water is to so many facets of their lives. Through play, learning, and imagination, students are inspired to think critically about the ways in which we manage our water resources. 

Who puts on the festival?  

Skelly: The Water Festival is put on by a group of community partners in the Trinidad area. Tom and Linda Perry, members of the planning committee, invited us on and led a lot of the organization. They were also assisted by Colorado State University, Trinidad Youth Club, Purgatoire Watershed Partnership, and Trinidad State College, who hosted the event. Come showtime, there is a HUGE range of organizations represented at the festival, from the local fire department to Trout Unlimited to the Bureau of Land Management, to name just a few. 

What do you think the pay-off of the festival is for the community members there?  
Beckert: Community members receive an entire day of celebration with good food and great conversation. Ideas are shared and new connections are made.  

What does CU Boulder get from participating?  

Beckert: The Acequia Assistance Project and the University of Colorado Law School now have more name recognition in the Trinidad area, which is a central goal of our outreach efforts. For our booth in particular, we made some inroads with both the students, teachers, and local community members and organizations of Trinidad and the surrounding area. We should be able to leverage this into new and exciting partnership opportunities to come. Moreover, students who attended our booth are hopefully inspired to learn more about acequias. This was especially rewarding seeing as many of the students came up from New Mexico, a place with a thriving acequia community. 

How did you get involved?  

Skelly: I came to CU Law in no small part thanks to the Acequia Project. I am very interested in Western water law and thought taking on a leadership role at the Project would be a great way to learn more while also giving back. 

Tell me your favorite story from the day?  

Skelly: It’s more so a general sentiment, but I really liked how every student group realized the immense tradeoffs between the prior appropriation doctrine and the acequia system of water sharing. Without explicitly saying “high transaction costs,” students were able to identify how much more work the acequia system required, while also acknowledging the more equitable outcomes. 

What’s going to happen between now and the next festival?  

Beckert: Next year’s representatives from the Acequia Assistance Project are going to come up with an even more entertaining slideshow. It was hard to compete with the slip-and-slide going on outside! 

* The word acequia means “water bearer” in Arabic. An acequia is both a physical irrigation system (a ditch) and a philosophical approach to water management. In Colorado, acequias exist in Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano, and Las Animas counties. As water becomes scarcer, acequias offer a powerful model of alternative water administration and use. To maintain their viability, the acequia community must first address some key challenges. For example, acequias have operated informally for generations thus many remain unincorporated and without bylaws. With the guidance of faculty and numerous pro bono lawyers, University of Colorado Boulder law students help address these challenges. Learn more