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Fall 2021 – Acequia News Updates

Deadline for Comments on First Phase of 50-year Water Plan

The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) launched its new 50 Year Water Plan website and hosted several webinars in August and early September to discuss the many impacts climate change is having on our state. The new website provides webinar recordings, opportunities for public participation, key data, and recommendations. NMAA is one of many stakeholders in this planning effort. The goal of the Plan is to prepare for New Mexico’s water future, centering water planning around three pillars: stewardship, equity, and sustainability. The Plan’s scientific report, known as the “Leap Ahead Analysis”, was released on September 15th and the public may submit comments through October 15th. NMAA encourages the acequia community to engage in this planning effort and learn more about how climate change is impacting our most precious resource. To view past webinars, read the report, or to submit a comment, visit the ISC planning website: https://www.ose.state.nm.us/Planning/50YWP/

“El Agua Es Vida” Acequia Tour Highlights Drought Impacts on Acequias

Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández looks out on the Rio Chama River and Abeyta-Trujillo Acequia diversion with RCAA President Darel Madrid and Vice President, Tim Seaman. Photo credit: Senator Leo Jaramillo

On August 30th, Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez spent a day listening to local acequia leaders about the impacts of drought and climate change on water supplies, and about infrastructure needs such as climate-resilient infrastructure and water storage. The full day was named the “Agua es Vida” tour and included site visits to acequias with officials from the Rio Chama Acequia Association (RCAA), as well as to Don Bustos’ farm in Santa Cruz. Accompanied by Senator Leo Jaramillo, Rep. Leger Fernandez listened to presentations near Abiquiu including an explanation by Darel Madrid, President of RCAA, about plans to acquire water and storage to make it through the irrigation season. RCAA leaders also showed examples of damaged infrastructure from the pulse releases from reservoirs to deliver water downstream to Albuquerque. The second leg of the tour was a visit to Santa Cruz Farm and Greenhouses where Don Bustos and officers from the Rio Quemado, Rio en Medio, Rio Frijoles, Rio Santa Cruz Acequia Association explained the importance of water sharing and the need to maintain their reservoir for water storage. Don led a tour of his farm which included demonstrations of traditional and modern irrigation techniques as well as greenhouses which allow for year-round production of fresh produce. Young farmers, including Joseluis Ortiz and Donne Gonzales, spoke of the importance of training new farmers and the important role that Don has played in being a teacher for a new generation of acequia farmers in northern New Mexico. Along the way, David Garcia, NMAA Education and Outreach Coordinator, made the visits festive with music honoring our acequia traditions.

USDA Responds to Rancher Concerns about NAP

On March 25, 2021, Senator Ben Ray Lujan announced that USDA Secretary Vilsack has given direction to the New Mexico FSA office to clarify that acequia producers in certain counties would be eligible for the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (“NAP”) program to obtain coverage related to drought losses for irrigated forage. In 2020, then FSA Executive Director, Michael White, issued a memo interpreting FSA rules such that drought was not an eligible cause of loss on irrigated forage. However, after several ranchers raised concerns, NMAA pointed out in a letter to FSA that the memo was not consistent with the NAP Handbook, which clearly states that drought can be an eligible cause of loss if there is an adequate supply of water at the beginning of the season and if the crop is a perennial.

Based on the dispute, several ranchers asked Senator Lujan to advocate to  Secretary Vilsack for intervention. Vilsack’s decision earlier in 2021 is a temporary policy to allow acequia irrigators growing forage to sign up for NAP. A long-term solution to NAP eligibility has not yet been reached, as Vilsack’s decision only applied to the 2021 season. While the new FSA director has yet to be announced, there may be some potential that new leadership can work collaboratively to address the needs of ranchers who are affected by drought.

Update on Comexico/Tererro Mine

In 2019, mining corporation Comexico submitted an application to the Mining and Minerals Division (MMD) for a exploratory mining permit and also submitted an application to the US Forest Services for a permit to drill in an area near the old Tererro mine in the Upper Pecos watershed, an area that has substantial contamination from past mining operations. The timeline on these permits is uncertain and NMAA does not have any specific updates on dates of hearings or public comment. When those become available, NMAA, along with other advocates, will disseminate action alerts. In the meantime, NMAA continues to participate in the Stop Tererro Mine Coalition along with several community-based organizations and conservation groups.

San Miguel County Approves Mining Ordinance

NMAA recently supported the San Miguel County Mineral Resource Exploration, Extracting and Processing Ordinance (“County Mining Ordinance”), adopted on September 15th. The County Mining Ordinance authorizes the county to exercise its regulatory authority over  environmental impacts from the mining industry within county boundaries. This ordinance is similar to the Santa Fe County mining ordinance adopted in 2019 and applies to all future mining activities. The ordinance ensures that future mining operations comply with regulatory requirements, enables the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners to meaningfully exercise its regulatory authority, and holds mining operators accountable for impacts to cultural and natural resources. The Pecos River Watershed provides critical water resources to numerous downstream acequias, therefore clean water is essential for the health and wellbeing of these acequia communities. NMAA commends the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners for taking this necessary and prudent action to help protect the health, safety and welfare of county residents.

State Decennial Redistricting Underway

New Mexico is currently in the process of “redistricting”, which is the redrawing of the geographical boundaries that correspond to certain elected offices to account for changes in population. For example, all US House Representatives represent specific geographical areas of a state. This is the same for state legislators and many local elected officials. As populations change across districts, they must be redrawn to provide for an equal population across all districts (one person, one vote).  Our legislature passed the Redistricting Act during the recent  legislative session, which created the Citizen Redistricting Committee, an independent, non-partisan body tasked to develop and propose updated district maps for New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, the New Mexico Senate, the New Mexico House of Representatives, and the Public Education Commission.

The mission of this committee is to propose district lines that are drawn fairly through a transparent, open, and participatory process and “to develop district maps that allow New Mexican voters to choose their elected representatives, not the other way around.” NMAA submitted its proposed redistricting maps on September 1st, along with written comments. Of primary importance to NMAA is the preservation of acequia communities of interest, preservation of existing district cores, as well as the prevention of acequia voting strength/representation dilution. The committee released its draft redistricting maps on September 15th for another round of public comment, and NMAA will submit supplemental comments.

Pecos Locals and Jemez Pueblo Urge Protection of Pecos Watershed

At a legislative committee hearing in Taos, Ralph Vigil, Chairman of the NM Acequia Commission and owner of Molino de la Isla Farm and Kurt Mora, second Lieutenant Governor of Jemez Pueblo gave a presentation to the Water and Natural Resources Committee about the significance of the Upper Pecos watershed to the health and well being of downstream communities. They also pointed out that the Pecos area contains sacred sites and is the ancestral homeland of families from Jemez Pueblo with ancestors who were displaced from Pecos Pueblo centuries ago. They noted that the watershed is threatened by potential mining operations which would be catastrophic for the communities who rely on clean water for a vital recreational and agricultural economy in the communities along the Pecos River. They urged protection of the Pecos River and noted several ongoing efforts to defend the area by various organizations working on water quality and land protection.

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