Written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff
On November 4, 2017 over 275 acequia farmers, leaders, and advocates gathered at the Santa Maria de la Paz parish hall in Santa Fe to honor the profound role acequias play in the future of agriculture in New Mexico. This year’s theme “La Sabiduria del Agua: Stories of Enduring Acequias” highlighted testimonies of farmers who are organizing to defend water from urban development, to defend their water rights in adjudication, and commemorate the next generation of farmers. This year we were honored to have Deacon Eloy Roybal who sanctified the acequia waters offered in our annual Bendición de las Aguas. NMAA was delighted to welcome esteemed candidates and elected officials as well to the annual meeting.
The Congreso was a day filled with laughter, music, tears, and celebration! A community memorial and altar was built in dedication of the recently passed acequia leader Josie Lujan who committed years of her life to the Rio Quemado, Rio en Medio, Rio Frijoles & the Rio Santa Cruz Acequia Association. Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the NMAA gave the 2017 State of the Acequias address which celebrated and honored the powerful contributions of acequia to agriculture in New Mexico.
Next, distinguished acequia leaders and advocates discussed their organizing efforts in defense of their water rights. Peter Salazar and Andrew Chavez of the Cubero Land Grant spoke of their recent initiative in forming an acequia association in order to have a representative body in the Keer-McGee Adjudication. Afterward, a compelling testimony from Community organizer Jenny Greb of CESSOS discussed the hydrological problems and opposition to the Santolina Development on the West Side of Albuquerque. Jenny emphasized “that the development would use one-and-a-half times more water annually than that consumed every year in Santa Fe and is only one example of an outside threat to local water”.
The room was then infused with youthful energy as Sembrando Semillas participants and Los Sembradores farmer trainees gave memorable presentations as the upcoming generations of farmers and ranchers. Shane Tolbert, Farmer Apprentice with pride stated, “For us it’s become a form of activism; we consider ourselves water warriors and as the acequia traditions changes hands to the next generation, we are looking for other young farmers to stand with us” Nicanor Ortega, an apprentice, prayed and meditated with the crowd reflecting that, “The only thing that is going to keep us safe is water and seeds.” Matthew Encinas expressed his gratitude for the program creating community and giving him the tools to return to the land. Donne and Edward Gonzales who lead the Sembradores program shared the triumphs and challenges of the year.
We were then entertained by Teatro Acequiero, a group of farmers from the Taos Valley Acequia Association who are using Gorilla Theater to inspire and invigorate the acequia communities in Taos. They came in with shovels, boots, and told a story that left the crowd in laughter! A delightful lunch catered by Theresa’s Tamales of Cleveland, NM. Following lunch the 2017 acequias awards were bestowed upon Wilfred Romero, recipient of the Mayordomo of the year award from Acequia de la Cañada Ancha and David F Garcia, Ph.D. recipient of Acequia Scholar of the Year from El Guache, NM.
The day concluded with a presentation by Enrique Romero, 21st “Century Powers vs. 19th Century Powers of Acequias. Enrique then introduced lifelong acequia leaders; Edward Romero, Mayordomo for Acequia de la Joya, Gilbert Sandoval, Jemez River Coalition of Acequias and Gabriel Estrada, Rio Gallinas Acequia Association to give presentations regarding community based governance and the challenges or opportunities in managing water. Gilbert Sandoval passionately testified about some of the water sharing negotiations between Jemez, Zia Pueblo and the acequias during their adjudication process. He shared a story of having a breakthrough on their adjudication process when “Governor Pino and we right there decided to hold a meeting with no bureaucrats or lawyers and crafted a shortage sharing agreement and took it to the judge for a blessing. I can still remember the words of my father, ‘We are going to settle in good will’ and because of that we are going back to mediation and hold lots of meetings.”
NMAA would like to thank in a special way our sponsors who helped us organize another successful Congreso: TEWA Women United, NM Land Conservancy, USDA, The Utton Center, and Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. We also would like to give a special thanks to our dedicated volunteers! Our event would not have happened without your all your muscle, time, and support: Priscilla Romo, Stacy Talachey, Cassidy Spillman, Antonio Gomez, Lucinda Vigil, Ignacio Gonzales, Angelica Vialpando.