By Quita Ortiz, Land and Water Program, New Mexico Acequia Association
The New Mexico Acequia Association has partnered with researchers from NMSU and UNM on an interdisciplinary acequia study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), under their Dynamics of Coupled Human and Natural Systems program which promotes the interdisciplinary analyses of the interaction and relationships between human and natural systems.
A couple of years ago while the proposal was being developed, Dr. Sam Fernald, Interim Director of the Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) and Associate Professor in the Animal and Range Sciences Department at NMSU, asked me if NMAA would be interested in partnering with him and other researchers on this study. I knew Sam from my days as a graduate student at NMSU where I researched land use change impacts on acequias; I collaborated with him on the research and he served as a member on my thesis committee. He'd known that I landed a position with NMAA and invited us to collaborate on this study. Both myself and NMAA executive director, Paula Garcia, were interested in the research and decided it was appropriate to join forces.
The research is being conducted in 3 sites – Alcalde, El Rito, and the Rio Hondo region near Taos. This study is incredibly valuable to acequias. It aims to understand the resiliency of acequias in the face of so many challenges, particularly regarding climate changes that could significantly affect the water supply. This study is concerned with combining the natural and human components of the acequia system that foster the sustainable practices embodied by acequias (for example, the way in which acequias maintain an equitable distribution of water to parciantes in times of drought or otherwise) in order to better understand their resiliency as sustainable resource management regimes; and to identify strategies for acequias to adapt to so they can thrive for many years to come.
This is taking a holistic view of acequias that incorporates the relationships concerning hydrology, ecology, economics, and socio-cultural components. These interconnected components aren’t a new discovery by any means – acequias have been aware of these intrinsic connections all along, but this study will provide quantified results that back up this long standing knowledge of the sustainability that acequias represent. In the realm of policy-making, unfortunately a layperson’s knowledge of such characteristics is not likely to hold up; but objective and quantified research results will have a lot of weight, and we expect that these results will be to the benefit of acequias.