As most everyone knows, the best way to protect your water rights is to irrigate your land. Often times, however, irrigating is not an easy option. Maybe a family member out of state is ill and an extended stay away from your property is looming. Or maybe time has marched on and opening your headgate just isn't as easy as it used to be. In any case, when irrigating or getting someone to irrigate your land for you is not an option, the next best solution is to place your water right in your acequia's water bank.
In 2003, the New Mexico legislature passed a law (73-2-55.1 NMSA 1978) that allows acequias to create a water bank for the purpose of protecting water rights. Water rights placed in the "bank" are considered "in-use" under the statute. The practical effect of the water bank is not only to protect the landowner's water rights placed in the bank, but also to reallocate water to the other parciantes while the water rights are in the bank. Essentially the statute validates the custom and practice of water allocation that already exists on most acequias: when one parciante doesn't irrigate, the water he would have used to irirgate his land is shared among all the other parciantes in the water rotation.
Acequias should adopt a water banking provision in their bylaws in order to ensure that they get the full benefit and protection of the law. The New Mexico Acequia Association and New Mexico Legal Aid have created a water banking system that makes it easy for acequias to implement this important tool to protect water rights. The new and improved version of the water banking provision allows for automatic deposits. When a landowner has not irrigated for two consecutive years, his or her water rights are automatically deposited in the water bank and his or her water is reallocated until he is ready to one again begin to irrigate. Please contact NMAA for assistance in implementing the latest version of the water bank.