Just as acequias were preparing in March for the annual ritual of sacando la acequia, or the acequia spring cleaning, in addition to annual membership meetings, the spread of Covid-19 caused the state to issue a public health order. The purpose of the order was to slow the spread of the potentially fatal virus by prohibiting any gatherings of five or more individuals and requiring people to maintain a “social distance” of six feet.
Based on the public health order, NMAA issued a guidance letter in March with recommendations on how acequias could continue their vital work of keeping acequias flowing while also staying safe. During the months of March through May, some acequias completely cancelled their meetings and cleanings. Others modified their cleanings by working in small crews while maintaining social distancing. Some acequias held meetings by conference call via phone where there was an immediate need to hold a meeting.
On June 1st, restrictions were reduced in New Mexico for places of worship and businesses (with restrictions on occupancy of 25% or 50%, see order for details). Local restaurants or small businesses, for example, are allowed to open at 50% capacity with masks and social distancing, click here to see the latest order.
NMAA has received several questions about whether acequias can resume having in person meetings. The updated public health order continues to prohibit “mass gatherings” defined as any gathering of five or more people. However, some acequias are proposing to have meetings in person since many of their members have difficulty with online or teleconference options.
Here are some options for acequias:
- Acequia commissions, which have three members, can have meetings to conduct acequia businesses. With the commissioners and mayordomo meeting in person, this keeps the total below the number five, thereby complying with the restriction of “mass gatherings.” With these small, in person meetings, the commissioners and mayordomo should wear masks and observe social distancing.
- An acequia can have meetings by conference call or online conferencing using tools such as Zoom. Since few elders have the ability to use Zoom, a telephone conference may be the preferable option. To have a conference call meeting, the meeting notice must provide the conference call number. Such meetings can be either a commission meeting or a membership meeting. The Attorney General has issued guidance on having online or telephonic meetings, view it here.
- If an acequia decides to hold an in person meeting with more than five people, it could be at risk of violating the public health order. If an acequia decides to proceed in this manner, measures including masks, social distancing, and limits on occupancy (or meeting outside) would be advisable. Vulnerable community members, such as the elderly or immunocompromised individuals, should not be put at risk.
It is also important to note that another public health order prohibited any meetings of shareholders during the months of April, May, and June. Although acequia meetings are not shareholder meetings, the guidance may be relevant, please see guidance here.
Regardless of whether you have an in-person meeting or a teleconference, the meeting is still required to comply with the Open Meetings Act and the bylaws of the specific acequia.
NMAA staff is available to assist acequias with meeting these requirements. We will also provide use of our conference call phone number and use of our Zoom account for any acequia who makes a request. For more information, please contact Toribio Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-995-9644.