Acequia Community Spotlight: Pilar Acequia Association

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Carl Gray Witkop and Leroy Naranjo, current and former Mayordomos of Pilar Acequia Association. -Photo taken by Pat Blumm

Interviews with Acequia Commissioner Patrick Blumm and Mayordomo Carl Gray Witkop

Interviewed and written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

What is the history of your acequia community, as you know it (or as you’ve been told)?

The riverside village of Pilar is located 16 miles south of Taos at the intersection of State Highway 68 and 570 in Taos County. Pat Blumm, Acequia Commissioner jokes that, “the population of the village is about 120 people or maybe more like 150 if you count all of our dogs”. Pilar is the first populated community on the banks of the Rio Grande and was settled in 1775 by the Spanish as the Cieneguilla Land Grant.  Pat excitedly confirms that, “the heirs of original settler families Vigil, Archuleta, Suazo, Sanchez and Gurule are still active members of our community and acequia today”. With a respectful interjection, Carl, Mayordomo of the Acequia adds, “However, prior to Spanish occupation the indigenous Ute and Apache people farmed and irrigated the land they called the womb from local springs on the north side of the Picuris Mountains. These 5 springs create the Aguitas Caliente Creek and today feed the five miles of the Pilar Acequia Association.

A historic event that occurred in our community was the Battle of Cieneguilla on March 30th 1854 an act of resistance of the Jicarilla Apaches and Ute Allies against the American 1st Cavalry Regiment from Fort Burgwin in their attempt of Western Expansionism in the Four Corners Region”. The result was an Apache/Ute Victory with a retreat by the dragoon regiments to Ranchos de Taos after 20 were killed and 30 wounded by flintlock rifles and arrows.

With a grin, Pat chimed in, “You see, Pilar is rich in a history of resistance. In the early 1900’s a legal dispute broke out between the acequia and the Copper Hill Mining Company as they illegally diverted more than half of the water of Aguatita Caliente creek that historically irrigated community of Pilar.  The community refused to allow the company to divert a majority of their water resulting in an injunction that the mine filed trying to prevent people from trespassing on the springs to divert the water and commanding the acequia to court. Mysteriously, the attorney for the mine withdrew from the litigation and the company had to back pay the association for damages to their acequia. This was one of the most heroic victories of our community, as you could image that our predecessors who challenged the mine did not speak any English but defended our water in court and resisted industry so that we can continue to farm and irrigate today!”

What traditions and practices does your acequia community maintain? (Food and agriculture, limpia, etc.)

“Our acequia for many years honored the traditional Spring cleaning of the acequia but as people got older and the traditional families grew and left the community, people began to lose hope in the acequia. It wasn’t until only 14 years ago when Leroy Naranjo was nominated for Mayordomo that he began to take initiative to re-organize and re-establish our association for the better”. Carl emphasized, “because of Leroy we have members participating, irrigating, and respecting our officers and the acequia system again. Although our traditional annual cleaning has changed we have made a strong agricultural come back. Our parciantes plant maiz concho, squash, grapes and also maintain fruit orchards like peaches, apples, and cherries. If you didn’t know, our very own Leroy Naranjo has been nominated for 7 years in a row for best green chile in Taos County!”

Carl Witkop encouraged us not to forget that their local parish honors Nuestra Señora de Dolores every December with a procession and novena. Our community as a whole celebrates the outdoors and is a tourist destination for rafting, fishing, hiking and biking.”

Carlos Padilla’s crew for Pilar Acequia Association Photo by GG Witkop

What is your irrigation season? (Time frame)

Carl testifies that, “We typically irrigate the months of May through September with 6-7 days of irrigating a week and refill our holding tank every night. The association is currently trying to re-establish our water tank to have more capacity allowing us to irrigate all summer which the acequias in Taos do not have that ability”.

What are your commissioners and mayordomos doing this time of year?

Mayordomo Gray is opening and closing valves every morning and night, walks the ditch twice a week to remove obstructions, weeds, and to divert the water into the North and South ditches. “I go check around to different parciantes if they are getting water, if someone forgets to turn water back to the ditch, I mediate disputes and coordinate work parties so we can walk the ditch freely.”

Pat explains that, “the commission has been focusing on putting in pipe in the slow and troublesome spots to keep the velocity of the water going. Have recently installed a new headgate at our lower pond and even dredged a part of the lower pond. In addition to this, the Commission is working tirelessly alongside the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, NM Acequia Association and the Interstate Stream Commission to apply for monies, conduct infrastructure repairs, updating bylaws and ensure compliance with state law”.

What makes your acequia special?

Spoken with a smile, Pat concludes that “the Mountain Springs are very special to our community and most importantly this acequia brings us together! We are headquarters of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the most southernmost habitable community in Taos County. We are a paradise community surrounded 360˚ degrees by BLM land with a vision to continue supplying our members with water and keep expanding our agricultural abilities not just our recreational attractions!”

Pilar Acequia Association Pond Photo by GG Witkop

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