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Through The Drought We Will Survive: A Few Thoughts On How

A Santa Clara Acequia On A Rainy Day -Photo taken by Maya Peña

By Serafina Lombardi, NMAA Staff

The drought we are facing is real – while I continue to hope for precipitation there is no avoiding what is. We can look to history that analyzes drought in terms of tree ring growth and people’s teeth. It was not long ago that a small harvest meant eminent hunger for a community. While we may have alternative means of feeding ourselves, the economic impacts of drought for those who live off the land can be quite profound. Without plentiful hay harvests, the price of pastura skyrockets, and many folks are forced to sell off large amounts of their livestock holdings. Farmers under the MRGCD are looking at the possibility of being cut off from water in late June, a very short season especially for those market farmers who depend on the water to make a living. And yet drought after drought the people of this land have persisted. Drought means hardship, and the best way to address hardship is to see it as an opportunity, a chance to be creative, and a reminder of how precious our world is.

Historically, acequias have prioritized kitchen gardens in times of drought – because this was the most nutritious food that was needed to survive. As witnessed in the Article “Repartimiento, Drought and Climate Change” acequia values are sharing and drought tests our abilities to do this. But it also calls on us to be our best, kindest self, most called to generosity. During these times of shortage, folks have historically left many acres uncultivated, knowing there would not be enough water to go around to all parcels. None-the-less I have heard it over and over again, “siempre sembramos, con fe” (with faith, we always plant). Earlier this winter I commented anxiously to my 91 year old neighbor “it is so dry . . . what will the year hold, what will we do?” With great calm and patient words he told me, “Sometimes there is water, sometimes not much, but always a little . . .” and something to the effect that “it will be ok, you’ll see.”

Now is a time to be grateful for our locally adapted seeds handed down through generations with the memory of surviving drought (See Ideas for Growing, Saving & Sharing Local Seeds This Year). Now is a time to question what crops can survive on little water and make our selections carefully. Miguel Santistevan is ever promoting the garbanzo as extremely drought tolerant. You can begin by asking the elders in the community, what did they do to survive in dry years? For many farmers drought is a motivator to experiment, particularly with irrigation methods such a drip tape, cisterns, piping laterals. Ask farmers in your area or look online about how that might work on your field and visit your local NRCS office to see on what  farm improvements they can help you with. Those with wells will make careful decisions about how much to pump in times of less recharge. For smaller gardens, using shade cloths to reduce the intensity of the sun as well as plantings that will shade other crops is a strategy. Mulching around plantings to help retain moisture in the soil is an old trick, and almost anything can work; cardboard, grass clippings, woodchips, pumice etc. The golden rule of drought resilience is healthy soils rich in organic matter that dramatically retain more moisture. One resource is:

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/soils/health/

The long view has us eager to care for our watersheds and considering how to be careful with our aquifers. There are myriad ways to adapt and survive a drought all which will be unique to your goals and land. We encourage you to share with us your stories and the strategies that work for you so we can share them with the statewide acequia community.

While severe drought may be intermittent, we know we have been entering hotter drier times challenging the plants and animals we care for. Let us be aware of how we live on this earth and attempt to tread as lightly as we can for the sake of future generations.

One final thought, what-ever your faith, pray for rain!

Please share your drought practices with us at: serafina@lasacequias.org

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