Las Nueve del Rio Grande Acequia Association Annual Meeting- Photo taken by NMAA Staff
By Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff
In the deep winter months of January and February you will find acequia commissioners hard at work firming up their plans for the spring cleaning, infrastructure evaluations, and billing. As a commissioner or mayordomo you may not be physically out on the ditch but preparing diligently for the spring while sipping on some warm atole or café. During your study, you come across your membership list that has some outstanding dues and assessments. How should you handle this problem? How should you communicate to parciantes who haven’t participated in acequia duties for 3 or 4 seasons? Maybe years? Here some ideas to get your parciantes more involved and legal remedies for those tough situations.
If a parciante on your acequia is out of state, and unable to irrigate or participate in acequia duties be sure to suggest they deposit their rights into the water bank for the season, send labor to the spring cleaning and continue to pay dues. This small act of participation contributes to keeping the acequias clean, financially afloat, and protecting water rights. In some cases, it is not this simple, when parciantes or their children are no longer living in the community and have not paid dues. . . .
Action items for Commissioners:
1. Automatically water bank those rights not actively being used
- Encourage parciantes to submit a water banking deposit slip
- Caution parciantes that the water bank is not permanent and they need to put water back on the land within 4 years maximum
- Remind parciantes that not participating in their acequias puts their water rights at risk
2. Withhold the right to vote and irrigate until bills are paid up to date
If parciantes continues to irrigate after commission/mayordomo directs him or her not to, the penalties available under 73-2-64 are:
- Commission, Mayordomo or DA may file criminal complaint in magistrate court. If convicted, landowner is guilty of misdemeanor and fined $300-$1,000.If not paid, may result in 5-30 days in jail.
- If the landowner “knowingly, intentionally, or willfully” violated § 73-2-64(A), acequia officials or D.A. may also file a civil complaint for penalty up to $5000.
3. Send a friendly letter to the parciante(s) encouraging them to pay their dues and send labor to the spring cleaning in order to protect their water rights and property value. Maybe the acequia starts a membership campaign and offers to forgive all or a portion of past delinquencies if members are willing to participate in the acequia again. The acequia can encourage participation by offering opportunities for agricultural activities on parciante’s land: Can you recommend someone in the community who is willing to cut their hay? Keep their land in production through a lease? Can a group of parciantes commit to irrigating their land this year if they commit to pay their dues and stay involved?
On the other hand, we also have situations in our communities where the acequia must take action in recovering outstanding dues. If a parciante still doesn’t pay after being notified , the mayordomo and/or commissioners may file a complaint in magistrate or district court to collect dues. § 73-2-26. If the acequia is successful in court, but has difficulty recovering the awarded amount, the acequia may file a post-judgment lien against the individual’s property. Because this is a lien that originates from the court judgment in favor of the acequia, it is permissible; however, the case law cited above does not appear to allow any attempt to file a lien before a court judgment, i.e., pre-judgment liens are prohibited. These liens can be established only if the acequia receives a money judgment awarding a certain amount of money to the acequia. If the money judgment was issued by a magistrate court, to be able to file a post-judgment lien against the party, the acequia would need to docket the judgment in district court.
Here at the NM Acequia Association we encourage commissioners to inspire their parciantes to get involved with their acequia before taking legal action. For example, by starting a small vegetable garden, or restoring a piece of land through cover crops or forage that will contribute to the ecology of life that can flourish in our acequia communities. Encourage new landowners to respect and utilize the acequia system and young heirs of agricultural land to attend meetings and start farming! NMAA staff are available to help craft letters and guide commissions through membership campaigns or legal actions for the collection of assessments. For further assistance or information please contact NMAA Staff at (505) 995-9644