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Acequia Annual Meetings: Opportunities for Building Community

In acequia country, Fall is a time for harvesting crops, enjoying the changing colors, picking pinon, and stacking firewood for the winter. In many acequias, it is also time for acequia annual membership meetings. While the sacando la acequia (cleaning the acequia) is an important Spring tradition, acequia annual membership meetings are also an important tradition and customary practice. Membership meetings are a great opportunity to build community, address concerns, and renew commitments to maintain and improve the acequia for the next growing season. This article addresses the typical governance issues associated with annual meetings but also recommends that meetings have serve a broader purpose of strengthening community.

• Community Building: Host a meal or potluck, invite youth to participate or give a presentation, set aside time in the meeting for visiting with each other, recognize elders and past elected officials for their contributions to the community, etc.

• Plans for the Future and Special Projects: The annual membership meeting is also a good time to address the future of the acequia. For example, there may be a need to more intentionally recruit future commissioners and mayordomos to serve. An acequia may wish to discuss how engage youth in the operations and governance of the acequia. The acequia may also with to give some of their members an opportunity to share information about their success stories or challenges from the previous year. Parciantes can learn a great deal from each other about conservation practices, irrigation systems, and farming and ranching.

• Dates of Meetings: Membership meetings are a long-standing practice in acequias but they are also specifically mentioned in state statutes governing acequias. State law requires that acequias hold a membership meeting at least every other year on odd-numbered years. Depending on the county in which the acequia is located, the statute specifies having meetings either in October or December*. However, the statute also allows for the acequia to hold its meeting “or as soon as is practicable thereafter.” So although the statute provides a specific date, acequias often hold meetings at other times of the year. Furthermore, while the law requires a meeting every other year, most acequias hold their membership meetings on an annual basis.

• Open Meetings Act Compliance: As political subdivisions, acequias are required to follow the Open Meetings Act, which is intended to allow the public access to decision-making by elected officials. The Open Meetings Act requires that meetings of the acequia be open to the public and that such meetings can only be held after reasonable notice. Each acequia should have an Open Meetings Act resolution adopted annually that specifies the time and method for providing notice. The template resolution prepared by NMAA includes a 10-day notice by posting in a public place. Some acequias provide additional notice, beyond what is required by the Open Meetings Act, such as mailed notice to their members. The agenda should be posted or available (the notice should specify how to obtain a copy of the agenda) within 72 hours of the scheduled meeting time. It is especially important that any action items be identified on the agenda prior to the meeting. It is desirable for information items to be on the agenda in advance but they can also be added the day of the meeting.

• Elections: The acequia annual meeting is generally a time to conduct acequia business. This often includes elections. Each acequia has a three-member commission and mayordomo, and, depending on the bylaws of each acequia, the elections may be held staggered each year or held for all seats every other year. According to statute, acequia elected officials serve two-year terms. Prior to holding an election, it is helpful for the acequia to have an updated list of parciantes or members of the acequia. Additionally, the acequia commissioners who are presiding over an election should be clear on the method of voting. Bylaws generally contain the method of voting on the acequia, which may be a one vote per water right, a vote by proportion, or a variation of those. The acequia should also clarify the policy on proxy votes. State law allows proxy voting but the acequia should be specific about the use of proxy votes, including a form that specifies the date of the meeting and the names of the water right owner and the person serving as proxy. NMAA can provide sample proxy forms.

• Reports to the Membership: Another typical item of business is reports to the membership. At minimum, it is a good practice for the Treasurer to present a financial report to the membership. This could take the form of a statement of revenue and expenses. Additionally, a report from the Mayordomo may include an update on issues related to water distribution or the condition of infrastructure.

• Water Supply and Allocation: In addition to the Mayordomo’s report, some acequias may find it useful to discuss the availability of water. Ultimately, the elected officials of the acequia will make the decision about the most efficient and equitable approach to allocating water, but the annual meeting is a good time to get input from the members/parciantes. As a general trend, there are more people interested in growing gardens for home use or commercial use. As more people transition to vegetable and fruit crops, it may help for the acequia to consider the diverse water needs of the members and how to fairly allocate water. In times of water shortage and drought, having a common understanding of sharing scarce water is important and the annual meeting can be a good place to communicate to reach that understanding.

Infrastructure Planning: The annual meeting is an excellent opportunity to have a discussion about the short-term and long-term infrastructure needs of the acequia. The Mayordomo may give a report on his recommendations based on day-to-day experience on areas that need attention including major improvements such as a new diversion dam, repairs such as culvert replacements, or bank stabilization. If there is an ongoing or recently completed construction project or improvement, the annual meeting is a good time to provide an update. In recent years, many acequias have been affected by flooding in which case there may be discussion about how to improve disaster planning for the acequia. Parciantes can have the opportunity to offer their input about infrastructure priorities. This discussion should be summarized in the minutes and can be used to develop an Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan (ICIP) or funding applications later in the year.

Critical Issues: In addition to the more common agenda items for an annual meeting, acequias may consider having other items on the agenda. For example, an acequia involved in an active adjudication may have a report on the adjudication proceedings. There may be critical threats facing the acequia such as water transfers, water contamination, or litigation. The annual meeting is the best time to keep the full membership aware of the many, diverse issues facing the acequia. *Dates of acequia meetings: For Article 2 acequias, the specified date for acequia meetings is the first Monday in October (Section 73-2-12, NMSA 1978). For Article 3 acequias, the specified date for acequia meetings is the first Monday in December (Section 73-3-1, NMSA 1978). If an acequia does not have a meeting on those dates, a meeting can be called “as soon as practicable thereafter” according to Section 73-2-15, NMSA 1978. For more information about the difference between Article 2 and 3 acequias, please call NMAA at 505-995-9644.