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Author: Chavela Trujillo

Semillas pa’ la Gente

During this time of crisis, we are grateful to have strong communities and land-based traditions to hold us together as we try to minimize suffering and loss of life from COVID-19. Most importantly, we hope that you, your families, and your neighbors are safe and healthy. We have learned from this crisis that local food, family and youth connections to the land, and caring for neighbors are vital to our survival and well-being. 

Now is a great time to be planting seeds! 

Our acequias and food traditions have never been more important. Generations who came before us kept our acequias flowing, cared for the land and water, and saved seeds. As we prepare for a profound transformation of our economies, educational systems, and communities, we will continue to be vigilant in protecting our water, acequias, and farmland. We also have a renewed focus on engaging more families in growing gardens with the water, land, and seeds that are our common heritage. Seeds carry ancestral memory and they also carry our potential for the future. By sharing and growing seeds, we are shaping the future for our children and grandchildren, and also taking practical action to ensure health, food access and food security for our communities

We encourage you to start your gardens this Spring! We are asking you to share stories about your gardens and we are giving away seed packets to community members who need seed.

We invite you to participate in our project Semillas pa’ la Gente!

The New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) has launched the ‘Semillas pa’ la Gente’ campaign to provide seeds to community members who are in need of seeds to plant gardens and grow food for their families and neighbors. We are sharing native seeds such as corn, peas, havas, beans, and calabazas as well as popular, nutritious vegetables such as chard, kale, beets, and carrots. As soon as you plant your seeds, you can have fresh greens in about 30 days! 

There are several ways to participate:

* If you already have access to seeds and are ready to start planting, we encourage you to share your stories with our statewide network of acequiero/as a source of inspiration and hope at this challenging time. 

* If you do not have access to the seeds you need to farm this yearwe invite you to fill out our online request form by clicking here or call our office to make a request for seeds. NMAA will be working to safely mail out packages of seeds, including both vegetables and traditional crops.

* You can share your planting stories with us on social media using #SemillasPaLaGente; by emailing your stories to donne@lasacequias.org or emily@lasacequias.org; or by adding a comment at the bottom of this blog.

* All participants will also be invited to conference calls and web-based workshops for you to share your stories about your gardens and to ask questions from other gardeners and farmers. 

WE KINDLY ASK THAT YOU ONLY REQUEST SEEDS IF YOU DO NOT ALREADY HAVE ACCESS TO SEEDS FROM ANOTHER SOURCE. Before making a request, please have a conversation with your elders, family and neighbors to see what is already available in your community. We will be prioritizing sharing seeds with land-based peoples and acequia community members, but welcome anyone who is in-need to make a request.

NMAA will work to safely mail out packages of seeds. We hope to get seeds in the mail as soon as possible, but thank you in advance for your patience as we get this new system going! We will continue fulfilling request until our seed stock runs out.

Covid-19: An Update from NMAA

Dear Acequia Leaders,

On behalf of the New Mexico Acequia Association, we are sending well wishes and hoping that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our normal routines but it has not changed the fundamental need in our communities to keep the waters flowing in our acequias. In that regard, we have received many inquiries about how to serve responsibly as acequia elected officials to protect your communities from the spread of the virus. Here are some recommendations based on the public health order from the Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel. The following language is part of the order:

Mass Gatherings. Pursuant to the order issued on March 23, 2020, “mass gatherings” are prohibited. The order defines a “mass gathering” as any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other but does not include the presence of five or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside.

Essential Businesses. The public health order also requires that all businesses, except those defined as “essential businesses,” reduce their in-person workforce by 100%. Essential businesses may remain in operation provided that they maintain social distancing, wash hands often, and keep surfaces clean. Our team has interpreted that acequias can be considered essential businesses because they provide water for agriculture and because they are also infrastructure operations. The order defines essential businesses to include the following: 1) Farms, ranches, and other food cultivation, processing, or packaging operations and 2) Infrastructure operations including public works construction and water.

In order for acequias to continue to operate, we have interpreted the order to mean that acequias and community ditches are considered essential businesses. We are also recommending that acequias avoid mass gatherings and maintain social distancing. We are providing the following guidance:

Acequia Cleanings. We have spoken with several mayordomos about how to conduct Spring acequia cleanings, i.e. sacando las acequias, and we have developed the following options for you to consider so that you are in compliance with the public health order:

  1. You may consider canceling or postponing the acequia cleaning if that is possible. Some acequias have opted to do this in cases where cleaning is not essential to get water flowing through the ditch.
  2. You may consider taking these precautions if you decide to proceed with your annual acequia cleaning:
    1. Work in crews of five (5) peones or fewer. Break up your work crew into smaller groups and space them out along the acequia so that at no time do you have a group larger than five (5) people.
    2. Within your small work crews, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet or maintain a distance of more than 6 feet and completely avoid person-to-person contact.
    3. Require that each parciante be responsible for the section of ditch that runs through their own property. This is a traditional practice used in several acequias where each family is responsible for their own “en frentes.”
    4. Some acequias are restricting the individuals that may be part of a cleaning crew to exclude anyone who traveled outside the state who should be in isolation or individuals over a certain age.

Acequia Meetings. We recommend that any regular annual membership meetings be postponed until a later date. Any gathering of more than five (5) people would be in violation of the public health order. However, if your acequia has an urgent matter to address, such as basic water delivery or emergency flooding, a meeting of your three-member commission and mayordomo can take place while also adhering to the Open Meetings Act. Other governmental entities are using conference calls for this purpose.

Acequia Elected Officials. Provided that elected officials avoid mass gatherings and maintain social distancing, they may continue their duties. Commissioners generally work from home so their continued work in governing and managing acequia operations may continue. Mayordomos are needed to operate acequia infrastructure so they may also continue work.

We know that the safety and health of each family and community is your primary concern. Our guidance is based on an interpretation of the public health order from March 23, 2020, also known as the “stay at home” order. We urge everyone to be safe, to comply with the public health order, and to be responsible when acting within the exceptions carved out for essential businesses (including how we interpret that order to apply to acequias).

Thank you for all your hard work in keeping our beautiful acequias flowing!

 

With heartfelt gratitude and concern for your well-being,

The NMAA Team

Acequia.Guidance.Lettter.Covid19

SignedPHO03-24-2019

Remembering Carlos Cisneros

By Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director

It is impossible to discuss the acequia movement in New Mexico during the past three decades without including Senator Carlos Cisneros as a major player. He was one of the longest-serving Senators and his passing came as a sudden shock to his friends, loved ones, and supporters. He was a staunch advocate of acequias during his 34 year tenure as a lawmaker, sponsoring numerous bills and memorials for acequias over the years in close partnership and solidarity with the state’s acequia leadership.

The first time I met Senator Cisneros, he was walking in a parade for the Mora fiestas sometime in the 1980s. Years later, as the new Executive Director of the NMAA in 1998, I met him again as Chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee, the gateway through which all water bills must pass. Over the years, he would be the key sponsor of acequia and water bills, many of them with Speaker Ben Lujan of Nambe.

Over the years, he became not only an ally in our acequia cause, but also a close friend. Most of the time I spent with him was at the Capitol or at interim committee meetings. In between talking about legislation and politics, I learned a little bit about his personal history, including that he was the youngest in a large family and his parents died when he was a boy. He was raised mostly by an older sister who he continued to visit on a regular basis and help with chores around the house and yard. His parents operated a ranch and he remained connected to Acequia del Llano in Questa. Although he was not an active rancher, his roots in the land informed his values as a legislator and eventually as one of New Mexico’s greatest acequia advocates.

He started his role in leadership with his union at the mine in Questa. He was a welder, eventually earning a leadership role as a union steward. He became a Taos County Commissioner and was later appointed to the State Senate, where he would continue to serve for over three decades. He once told me that when he started as a Senator, he would work the graveyard shift at the mine and drive to Santa Fe for the legislative session the next morning. He continued to be a staunch supporter of labor and unions during his long career as a lawmaker.

Our current NMAA President, Harold Trujillo, often credits Carlos Cisneros with being a co-founder of the organization, since he passed a memorial in 1989 commemorating the founding of the organization. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when NMAA began to be engaged in legislative advocacy, that the Senator would begin passing a string of legislation that would re-shape the water policy framework in New Mexico by strengthening the water management and governance powers of acequias. Over the course of two decades, starting in 1998, the Senator would sponsor legislation with origins in NMAA’s grassroots policy advocacy.

Perhaps his most significant pieces of acequia legislation were those that he passed in 2003, with Speaker Ben Lujan as the co-sponsor in the House of Representatives: 1) acequia authority to approve or deny water transfer applications and 2) acequia authority to operate water banks to internally reallocate water rights and prevent loss for non-use. Following these bills, Senator Cisneros also created a funding stream for the Acequia and Community Ditch Education Program, which to this day is a major funding source for NMAA’s education and outreach work. Since the establishment of the program, NMAA has worked directly with over 500 acequias in updating their bylaws and developing infrastructure plans.

Even when acequia bills encountered opposition from strong interests, such as real estate developers or industry, he remained steadfast in his support of acequias. One of our elders said about him, “El Carlos no se raja.” (In English, “Carlos never gives up.”)

One of the controversial pieces he carried was a memorial about Otowi gage, a gaging point that has been a barrier to transfers from northern New Mexico to the areas south, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque. His memorial stated that it was in the public welfare of the State of New Mexico that the existing policy of not allowing transfers across the gage as a de-facto protection for areas north of the gage (located north of Pojoaque). After a three hour floor debate and split vote, Carlos remarked, “You acequias are getting me in the middle of all your battles!”

He would later go on to sponsor legislation affirming acequia easements, clarifying the flexibility in the width of acequia easements, providing stronger enforcement powers for acequias, clarifying tort immunity for acequia volunteers, and providing protections for land fallowed as a result of drought from losing their agricultural special valuation method. Most recently, he passed a bill requiring improved public notice procedures for water right applications after learning at a Land Grant Interim committee that rural communities were not being properly notified about water transfers.

During all of the years of carrying acequia bills, he served not only as a sponsor but also a teacher and mentor on the legislative process. He would always insist that when carrying a bill that we as the NMAA team diligently work to gain the support of his fellow legislators. He would say, “Make everyone understand why acequias are important and then you can gain support for your bills.” He took an active interest in every step of the process and would go the extra mile to be present for votes, sometimes running back and forth in the Capitol when he had committee hearings scheduled concurrently. Over the years, we also forged friendships with his staff and analysts who he urged to help us in every way possible to get bills passed.

An area where he had some of his greatest impact was with funding. He ensured that every year the acequia program was funded with $1.9 million in recurring funding to the Interstate Stream Commission. In years when there was more Capital Outlay, such as in 2014 and most recently in 2019, he took the lead in adding another $2 million for the ISC acequia program. Additionally, the culmination of these years of funding advocacy was to create the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund – a highlight of his legislative career.

In the 2019 legislation session, Senator Cisneros, with co-sponsors Senator Pete Campos, Senator Richard Martinez, as well as House Representatives Andrea Romero and Bobby Gonzales, passed legislation creating a $2.5 million fund with recurring funding from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund, a trust fund intended for irrigation and a beneficiary of the Land Grant Permanent Fund. This ensures a steady, recurring source of funding for acequia projects for generations to come.

New Mexico lost in Senator Carlos Cisneros a champion for the rights of rural communities to retain control and democratic decision-making over their water. He understood the unique issues facing rural New Mexico and remained a steadfast advocate throughout his career. As an acequia champion, he lifted our voices to the highest levels of policymaking in New Mexico and gave us a seat at the table. He never wavered in his support for acequias, even in the face of strong political forces that countered our collective efforts. He used his position for good. For that, we remember Senator Carlos Cisneros with great affection, con mucho carino. Estimado Senador, gracias por su apoyo y su liderazco. Estamos muy agradecidos. We are grateful for the life you lived and the fights that you fought on our behalf.

2019 Acequia Summer Conference: Young Voices, Hope for Hemp, and Mapping our Future

NMAA’s 2019 summer conference will be a vibrant gathering with diverse and intergenerational voices engaged in conversations about the future of our acequias. Young farmers and ranchers will share their stories and insights about the future of acequia agriculture. Hemp growers will assess the 2019 growing season and contemplate plans for 2020. Lastly, a network of acequia-centered mapping projects will share their motivations for mapping and its use as a tool for protection and use of acequias.

August 23rd, 2019

9:30am-3:00pm

Los Luceros Community Room

253 Co Rd 41Ohkay Owingeh, NM 87566

Please register for this workshop at www.lasacequias.org or directly at this link

or call the NMAA office  at (505) 995-9644

Sponsored by the New Mexico Acequia Association with support from the United States Department of Agriculture.