Sacando la Acequia: A Community Tradition

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By Paula Garcia


For generation upon generation, the acequia tradition of sacando la acequia has endured in New Mexico and Southern Colorado. We often call water the lifeblood of the community; it is also true that the people are the lifeblood of the acequia. The annual spring cleaning reminds us of the hard work of our ancestors, the significance of water to our way of life, and the hope that renews us this time of year that we will have some water for our fields, crops, gardens, and orchards.   


We can still marvel at the design and the hard work needed centuries ago to create the acequias.  Fragments of our history remain and give us an idea of the persistence of those who came before us.  In some cases, the contour for the course of the acequia was determined using a bottle with a bubble as a level; and in other cases the water was coaxed to flow along the edge of a valley to help carve out a course for itself. To dig through rock, some stories tell how our predecessors would build a fire and pour water thereby shattering the rock to create the watercourse. We can only imagine that acequias must have taken years of collective labor and cooperation to be created.


The cleaning of the acequia is one of the few occasions where many of our neighbors see each other. In our acequia, the Mayordomo goes door-to-door with a memo for each parciante providing the details of the spring cleaning. This one-on-one relationship gives us an opportunity to stay connected and to talk about our plans for the growing season. On the morning of the cleaning, the peones with their shovels in hand talk in the resolana before walking to the start of the acequia madre which is the part maintained in common by all the parciantes.  For young men, having the strength to labor for a full day with an acequia crew is part of their coming of age.  In addition to their support role to their family members cleaning the acequia (meals, etc.), some women also participate in the labor of the spring cleaning.  


During the acequia cleaning, we gain a greater appreciation for the bordo of the acequia which is the ditch bank where the acequia has an easement for collective use for maintenance and improvements of the ditch. The bordo is the space where there is passage along the length of the acequia. The easement of an acequia also includes traditional points of access through individual properties along the ditch.  Generally, any disagreements or disputes about the extent or nature of acequia easements should be resolved prior to the day of acequia cleaning.


One of the most enjoyable moments following the cleaning is to see the water flow through the acequia for the first time in the Spring. The hope of growing food for our families and communities is fed each year that the water flows. As long as we have parciantes who are actively irrigating, there will be people who care about keeping the acequia flowing and who will serve as peones to continue the tradition of sacando la acequia each year.

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