Acequias as Global Heritage – February Green Fire Times

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GFT-February-2015-cover-250x250The February issue of Green Fire Times is dedicated to Acequias as Global Heritage. View the online version. This is one of several articles included which is written by Don Bustos, officer of the NM Acequia Association:


In September 2014, along with other members of the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA), I was invited to Valencia, Spain, to attend a symposium entitled “Irrigation, Society, and Landscape: Tribute to Thomas H. Glick,” the pioneer acequia scholar. Three other major events occurred during the trip that will impact the future of sustainable agriculture, the preservation of traditional people, and water and land for future generations in New Mexico.

The NMAA has been working with professors from several universities and community-based organizations to document and articulate the importance of traditional ways of governance and water distribution for the continuance of using water in a manner that gives voice to the people who use it to benefit their communities.

I first met Dr. José Rivera at a NMAA conference. His book, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, mentions the farm I own, Santa Cruz Farm, as an example of small sustainable agriculture in northern New Mexico. That was the first time I had heard of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Intangible Cultural Heritage List and that there are acequias in Valencia, Spain that have ties to northern New Mexico’s. For many years, Dr. Rivera and others have been working to strengthen ties between the two countries and the acequia communities.

El Tribunal de las Aguas de la Vega de Valencia and the Consejo de Hombres Buenos de la Vega de Murcia were added to the UNESCO list in 2009. With the knowledge and connections of various community members and professional people, the idea of giving New Mexico acequias the same designation is moving forward. As secretary of the NMAA, along with Martha Trujillo from Pojoaque, Santiago Maestas from the South Valley of Albuquerque, as well as other parciantes (landholder-irrigators) from New Mexico, we were invited to the signing of the Hermanmiento between the two entities from across the Atlantic Ocean. This document represents the communities of irrigators of the Júcar and Moncada Royal Acequias, the Water Tribunal of Valencia and the New Mexico Acequia Association. It recognizes the cultural and environmental significance of the acequias and the links that unite the people who live on arid and semiarid lands. It illuminates the common challenges we confront in the current context of globalization of economy and agriculture. The document ends by declaring the alliance and commitment to strengthen our ties and to promote the exchange of experiences and solutions for irrigators who share the ancient acequia culture.

The second major event, which, for me, was a once-in-a lifetime, life-changing experience, was when I was presented with the Medalla de Honor of the Tribunal on the steps of the Pórtico of the Apostles of the ancient Cathedral of Valencia, where the tribunal has convened every Thursday morning since medieval times and earlier. There, irrigators from seven acequias present any issues to be resolved before the elected judges, who are not lawyers but hombres buenos, or well-respected farmers. The court then makes a decision, unless there is a need for further investigation, in which case the decision is made the following week. All of their decisions regarding uses for water along the river are honored and enforced by all Spanish courts.

The tribunal has four guiding principles: those elected to the tribunal must be in good standing in their acequia community; decisions must be made in a timely manner; the process must be made affordable; and, to ensure that all decisions are fair and just, issues are resolved by acequia representatives from the opposite side of the Turia river.

The third and most historic event for me was the signing of the Libro de Oro del Tribunal. I was given the responsibility and honor of writing on one page of the tribunal’s book of history, a book that records over 800 years. New Mexico and its acequia association now have a page in the history of Spanish water law. As I write this, my heart races as I think of the importance of using our water responsibly for growing food and to ensure the healthy system that the acequias protect.

I appreciated learning more about the history of farming in this region of Spain, from the conquest by the Romans, when grains were the main crops to feed the troops, to now, where Valencia is the winter garden of Spain, with four harvests to satisfy the tastes of the people. They maintain a strong sense of pride because of their independence and a feeling of being secure in knowing that decisions made are based on a thousand year history.

Don Bustos is secretary and board member of the New Mexico Acequia Association and runs his family’s Santa Cruz Farm as an example of small sustainable agriculture in northern New Mexico.