Acequia Customs and Water Management

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By Janice Varela

The New Mexico Acequia Association's monthly workshop topic in March was Acequia Customs and Water Management. Over 35 comicionados, mayordomos and parciantes from throughout the state attended this workshop at the Lodge Hotel in Santa Fe.    


New Mexico Legal Aid attorney and acequia advocate, David Benavides, facilitated some great conversations amongst participants about how each acequia manages and distributes its scarce water. Surprisingly, we learned that some of the biggest challenges have been dealing with sediment filling acequias due to flooding from the monsoon rains. Drought and shortages are common, and in all cases the mayordomos distribute the water as equitably as possible to all irrigators. This usually means that in times of shortage it is not possible to get water to every field or to all parts of fields or crops needing water. Many acequias have a historical practice of prioritizing water for kitchen gardens, then to larger gardens and orchards, then for alfalfa.


Discussion about water sharing between acequias followed the discussion on internal sharing. Cooperation is key, Charles Esquibel, Water Manager for Santa Cruz Irrigation District reminds us that the key is that the entire community support the acequias not only the acequias themselves.


William Gonzales from San Augustine Ditch and President of the Rio de las Gallinas Acequia explained that broken infrastructure is another issue adding to equal sharing. The City of Las Vegas Diversion is upstream from most of the community acequias in that basin and the city has a history of taking water as they need without much regard for the needs of the downstream acequias. William and other leaders have worked diligently with city officials and the entire community to work out a sharing agreement between eight affected acequias in the middle basin.  When faced with shortages the eight acequias take turns diverting from the Gallinas River.


Gilbert Sandoval, President of the Rio Jemez River Basin Coalition asked whether acequias could get credit for the return flow of water back in to the rivers. Municipalities and other water users are afforded this credit and he argued that acequias should as well. 


Mayordomos are on the front line in all acequia communities, dealing with complaints from parciantes, demands for water delivery, etc. The mayordomos are backed up by their commissioners and work very closely. On some acequias parciantes call the mayordomo to pedir agua (asking for water); other acequias have rotation schedules. Each acequia in New Mexico is unique in the way it manages its own water. The adjudication of water rights and how this affects acequia customs is being tested in our communities and in the legal system.  This was a great workshop and we appreciate the participants' willingness to be open among one another about this topic.

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