16th Annual Congreso de las Acequias Review

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Photos by: Seth Roffman



"Unidos, Defendemos Nuestras Aguas"

By Olivia Romo

On Saturday, November 21st 2015 our acequia leaders, farmers, and supporters gathered at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in the South Valley of Albuquerque to honor, reflect, and stand in solidarity for the protection of acequias. This year's Congreso was a great success, with our biggest turnout ever! We had over 300 attendees, including delegates from at least 20 regional acequia associations, youth, students, supporters and water defenders from across the state. Our co-hosts, South Valley Regional Association of Acequias, graciously provided a warm breakfast of local atole, menudo and sopapillas. Many volunteers sacrificed their time and energy to make sure the event flowed smoothly and we are so grateful for their help.

 The Bendicion de las Aguas, led by Sister Joan Brown, renowned climate justice activist, was elegant and thoughtful with offerings of water from over 70 different acequias or streams. In addition to this, Las Comadres Caucus helped set up a beautiful altar with pictures of cherished women, remedios and flowers to kick off a special initiative in 2016 to support women leadership in acequias and agriculture.  



This set the stage for powerful moments of recognition during "Unidos, Defendemos Nuestras Aguas" a space for water defenders and stewards to speak about their individual fights and struggles to protect their water and communities. Leaders from various efforts recognized one another and shared stories of acequia projects, protests, and the denial of water transfers successfully accomplished in their region, a true glimpse into the Acequia water rights movement!

Yet, that's only the beginning, the Sembrando Semillas youth and mentors presented their photo voice project that narrated all the tarea they have done en la communidad, their querencia, and how being a part of Sembrando Semillas has impacted their lives. Being at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, these same youth got the opportunity to tour the museum, where they visited the Torréon Fresco titled "Mundos de Mestizaje" painted by local Santa Fean, Frederico VigilThe New Mexico Centennial Poet Levi Romero had us all laughing then brought us to tears with his poetry that captures the Manito experience of northern New Mexico. These moments of artistic expression remind us of why we fight so hard for our water and the future! These creative and cultural reflections reinforce identity and traditions of acequia culture, nurturing a generation who are connected to the land and prepared to paint the future of acequia agriculture with ancestral wisdom.

Yet, this intergenerational movement toward    a sustainable future is a model that the South Valley has been practicing for generations! Lorenzo Candelaria and Dora Pacias with Cornelio Candelaria Organics and Travis McKenzie with Grow the Future specifically presented about the work they have done across generations to grow food and strengthen the acequias. Filled with music, youth, and food, this partnership is healing towardsa future that reclaims food justice as an honorable way of living, like our ancestors. We were also blessed with a healthy meal prepared by Mayahuel's Catering to nourish our farmers, supporters and leaders. Of course, the Congreso would not be the same without the uplifting music of our local musicians David Garcia and Jeremias Martinez leading us through favorites such as "Cancion de las Acequias" and many others!

During the luncheon, we presented the annual acequia awards to six individuals and one organization. We extend another heartfelt congratulations and thanks to each awardee for the well-deserved honor: José Maestas- Mayordomo of the Year; Ernest Chavez- Acequia Farmer of the Year; Dr. Virginia Necochea- Acequia Advocate of the Year; Hector Gonzales- Acequia Lifetime Achievement Award; and Taos Soil & Water Conservation District- Organization of the Year. NMAA also inaugurated the first annual Ben Lujan Leadership Award for policymakers who have continued the legacy of acequia policy advocacy of former House Speaker Ben Lujan who championed acequias during his legislative career.  Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and his family presented the awards to Senator Carlos Cisneros and Senator Peter Wirth for their sponsorship of legislation benefiting acequias. 

In the afternoon we were honored to have Tom Blaine, New Mexico State Engineer present on Water and Acequias: Current Issues and Vision for the Future. He addressed the multiple issues the Office of the State Engineer faces particularly with adjudications, infrastructure repairs, and other support and assistance they can provide as local governments and the state work closely together to solve and help mitigate the issues we will see in the future of water planning and sharing. We closed the day with La Marcha de los Acequieros led by Virgil and Isabel Trujillo which brought us into the annual meeting where resolutions were adopted, such as the Plan del Movimiento de las Acequias and others that NMAA will use to help steer projects that address needs identified by the acequia community.

We hope that everyone enjoyed themselves and nourished their bodies and minds  fueling themselves and any acequia project, initiative, and community to continue thriving together! Porque si es la verdad, Unidos, Defendemos Nuestras Aguas!! We are not alone, and we have a strong future!


See you next year! Que Vivan las Acequias!