Acequia Drought Summit

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Water Sharing Panel -Photo taken by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

Written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

On April 3, 2018 acequia leaders from across the state gathered at Los Luceros Ranch to strategize about water management during times of drought. The main topics of the gathering were water sharing, active water resource management, and water quality. The dialogue began with Chris Romero, NRCS Hydrological Technician and Snow Surveyor who reported on the science of our current snow pack condition for the state of New Mexico. In April, the state was at an overall 15% snowpack with a projection that the runoff will be over at the end of May. Unfortunately, we are not getting either snow or rain! Chris also reported that we have a 7% snow water equivalent when in normal years we have at least 34%. How far off is this from our normal in New Mexico? In a thirty year average, 2018 is in the bottom tier for the worst year in precipitation and snowpack.

Afterward, esteemed acequia leaders from Taos, Embudo and Anton Chico facilitated a panel discussion that focused on water sharing practices between acequias.  The panelists explained that historically acequias have rationed water equitably based on verbal understandings or written agreements.  These water sharing practices continue today and are especially relevant during this year’s drought. Water sharing agreements keep the management of acequia water under local jurisdiction.

Former Mayordomo speaks about his experience distributing water fairly in Taos -Photo taken by Pablito Hererra

The next panel consisted of commissioners who have endured long standing disputes about water within the context of adjudication or administration of basin specific rules and regulations implemented by the State Engineer.  Commissioners within the Rio Gallinas, NPT (Nambe, Pojoaque, Tesuque) and Rio Chama expressed concerns with the installation of meters, being assigned water masters, and having to report to the State Engineer acreage “to be irrigated” during the irrigation season.   Commissioners expressed their continued resistance to the systematic unraveling of our acequia systems and affirmed local autonomy, decision making, and leadership development for the future of managing of our watersheds.

Finally, the topic of water quality was discussed to raise awareness of the potential devastation of acequia-served farmland due to discharge and effluent being dumped into rivers by municipalities and cities. The conversation extended beyond protecting farmland and addressing the need to protect fish and wildlife.  Participants were encouraged to get involved and keep the State’s Water Quality Control Commission accountable and to do their own water testing.

Gael Minton of Acequia del Monte in Taos expresses the difficulty in sharing water in a growing community -Photo taken by Pablito Hererra

The outcome of the summit encouraged acequias to begin organizing more intentionally around creating water sharing plans that adapt to a changing climate, changes to western water law and affirming cultural customs in our communities. At a minimum, acequia leaders must critically engage in the administration of water, be vigilant in ensuring that water metering agreements are fair and water meters are accurate, and get more involved with county governments especially on developing land use codes that protect acequias. Commissioners and Mayordomos are encouraged during the drought to take inventory of farm infrastructures and beginning making improvements by applying for funding and creating an infrastructure capital improvement plan.

The NM Acequia Association appreciates and affirms the uniqueness of every acequia especially as agriculture is under great pressures. We extend our respect to and appreciation for acequia farmers and ranchers who are exercising their water rights and defending land-based ways of life. A more in depth discussion about acequias and drought will take place at the 6th Annual Commission and Mayordomo Conference on Thursday, June 21st 2018 at Los Luceros Ranch in Alcalde, NM. Please join acequia leaders to learn more about water management, conservation, and planting methods as we move into an era of unpredictability with the climate and agriculture.

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