Acequia Custom & Traditions of Allocating Water

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 Victor Villapando planting in Espanola -Photo of mural taken by Donatella Danvanzo

As we move from the spring cleaning of the acequias into the irrigation season we are reminded to practice the Repartimiento de la agua (sharing of the water.)  Every acequia has its own rules and local customs for the repartimiento either in a formalized form (court decree, bylaws) or maintained through practice and word of mouth.

 It is the responsibility of the mayordomos to know the rules and customs and their duty to apply and enforce them.  The mayordomo/a must allocate water on a fair and equitable basis according to the rules and customs.  Parciantes who have paid their dues, owe no fines and who have proportionally contributed or paid for labor on the ditch are then entitled to receive water.

Even in the spring when there is a good runoff and plenty of water for everyone, parciantes must still request the water from the mayordomo. The mayordomo/a may assign water on a first-come-first-serve basis or else on a rotating basis, starting at either the upper or lower end of the ditch, depending on local custom and on how much water is available. The length of time a parciante needs the water depends on the size and location of his/her irrigated acreage.

Along with the rules and customs of the repartimiento, there is a technical aspect to maintaining the flow of the water.  The first water and the spring are periods of importance.  It is recommended that for the first water a crew follow the water as it flows through the entire acequia.  Debris and loose dirt from the limpia are removed during this exercise.

Early in the irrigation season is when danger from storms is the greatest.  The springtime is the period when high winds, rain storms, etc., can occur without warning. Debris can quickly plug a culvert or headgate and water backup can occur with the accompanying release of water outside the banks of the acequia causing damage.

A mayordomo’s daily routine during the middle of the irrigation season must include giving the rounds. What this means is visiting trouble areas (culverts, low slope areas, diversions, and headgates) on a regular basis, daily if possible. With experience, the mayordomo/a get to know the landscape of his/her acequia and by studying the speed of the water flowing at various sections of the acequia during normal periods, a mayordomo can tell when the flow of water is just not right.  The mayordomo/a will be able to count the number of trouble spots on his/her acequia.  Needless to say, troubleshooting known trouble spots becomes second nature to the mayordomo who knows his/her acequia like the palm of his/her hand. Troubleshooting is important throughout the irrigation season.  

Daily maintenance activities must include the flushing of the acequia at various points along it and checking of debris screens and culverts.  Usually, once a day is required during the early run off period or during a rain storm. Culverts and headgates tend to be troublesome in that debris (weeds, branches, etc.)tends to get hung up on them.   The spillage of water over the banks of the acequia is usually caused by a back up at a culvert. Depending on the amount of water flowing out of the acequia, varying amounts of damage to property can take place.

To learn more about water Allocation, Repartimiento and Local Customs, and Maintaining Water Flow contact the NMAA office to request a Mayordomo’s Handbook.  Cost for the handbook is $5.00.