As we give thanks for the recent rains, a dicho comes to mind, “Dios tarda pero no olvida.” The prayers and blessings over the past several weeks were answered with some beautiful spring rains that have given farmers and ranchers hope of sustaining our traditions for another growing season. And, yet, while we remain faithful, we are also seeing major changes in our weather that require us to adapt and plan for the future. Acequias are also addressing legal and policy issues surrounding the issue of water rights as part of the necessary work of keeping our acequia waters flowing. In this regard, acequia leaders around the state are working vigilantly to protect our water rights and the water that flows in our rivers and aquifers for future generations.
During times of water shortage, acequias practice the tradition of the repartimiento. Even with the recent rains, our watersheds and rivers will take time to recover and bring us a good runoff that can last the whole summer. Therefore, many acequias around the state are renewing their water sharing traditions or adapting to develop new agreements and understandings about the best ways to share limited water supplies to provide for irrigation of our crops and gardens. These efforts will be ongoing and will be a work in progress. NMAA encourages collaboration, cooperation, and good faith when acequias are negotiating their water sharing and encourages local leaders to agree among themselves and retain their own local decision-making.
Tradition and custom are important, but so is adaptation. NMAA has worked with an acequia in Dixon that is intentionally working to be more resilient through an Acequia Resiliency Plan that addresses water sharing, governance, drought/flood recovery, agricultural production, and intergenerational participation.
As weather patterns become more erratic, acequias are developing new skills in rapid response, communication, and decision-making. Infrastructure investments are also vital to the continued viability of acequias and numerous acequias are actively rebuilding and improving their irrigation works around the state.
During this time of scarcity, acequias are also grappling with the difficult issue of metering and water masters. Acequias in the Mimbres Valley have worked in good faith to develop an understanding with the State Engineer on their approach to metering. While it is clear in state law that the State Engineer has the authority to require metering, acequia leaders in metered stream systems have maintained that the State Engineer has a lot of flexibility in working with local acequias. Our goal as acequias has been to retain as much local decision-making over water allocations as possible. Acequias in various areas have worked diligently to negotiate with the State Engineer over the language in metering agreements so that the process is fair and so the state does not usurp the local authority of Mayordomos.
Looking ahead to the future, acequia leaders are also on the front lines of protecting our water for the long term. In the South Valley, Atrisco and surrounding communities, acequias are raising concerns about the proposed Santolina development that could require upwards of 40,000 acre feet of water. If we are having water shortages already, how can the Middle Rio Grande sustain such an expansion?
Likewise in the Upper Hondo and Ruidoso area, a historic number of protests have been filed against a water transfer of 600 acre feet to Ruidoso. The protest raises the question about water transfers generally. When there is little or no surface water, how will the State Engineer determine impairment of existing water rights? As acequias and other like-minded advocates raise concerns about water transfers, it highlights some basic questions about our water policy in New Mexico.
Several acequia leaders were involved in raising concerns about possible oil and gas development on BLM lands near Cebolla. Responding to public pressure and the backing of elected officials including Rio Arriba County, the BLM decided to pull their plans to explore potential drilling. While this is a temporary win for the community, it gives local leaders an opportunity to continue building support for protecting water in our aquifers from contamination. All the water is connected and acequia leaders are gravely concerned about any industry that could pollute our precious waters.
In this era of water shortage and scarcity, more and more people are aware of the importance of protecting our water. Acequias continue their day-to-day responsibilities of allocating water for their member parciantes but also take up the cause of protesting water transfers, protesting oil and gas drilling, and addressing concerns about the role of water meters and water masters.
We want to take a moment to acknowledge their vigilance, their dedication, and their love of their acequias. Que Vivan las Acequias!