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Author: Emily Arasim

Taos Ski Valley Expansion Sample Scoping Comment Letter

PLEASE COPY AND PASTE THE SAMPLE LETTER BELOW TO MAKE A COMMENT ON THE TAOS SKI VALLEY EXPANSION PROJECT. LETTERS ARE DUE BY MAY 6TH.

FOR MORE DETAILS AND INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR LETTER, SEE OUR NEWS POST HERE: https://conta.cc/3vEdUhb


James Duran, Forest Supervisor

c/o Paul Schilke, Winter Sports Coordinator

P.O. Box 110 Questa, NM 87556

Re: Taos Ski Valley Gondola and Other Improvements Project

Dear Supervisor Duran:

My name is [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] and I am a [INSERT YOUR ROLE – COMMISSIONER/PARCIANTE/MEMBER OF…] the [INSERT ACEQUIA OR COMMUNITY NAME]

[IF DESIRED – ADD A SENTENCE ABOUT WHY THIS ISSUE IS IMPORTANT TO YOU, OR DELETE THIS LINE] 

I strongly urge the Carson National Forest to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) to meaningfully address the many negative ecological and environmental justice impacts, including cultural and socioeconomic impacts, the “Taos Ski Valley Gondola and Other Improvements Project” (Project) will have on my acequia, community, the Rio Hondo Watershed, and Taos valley. 

The following concerns demonstrate the reasonably foreseeable, harmful and significant negative impacts this Project will have on my acequia, community, the Rio Hondo Watershed and Taos valley, which must be addressed in an environmental impact statement rather than through a brief and insufficient environmental assessment. The Project’s direct, indirect and cumulative adverse effects will disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities including Pueblos, acequias and land grants, therefore triggering numerous environmental justice requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), its implementing regulations, and several executive orders. CNF has the responsibility of ensuring that all of the Project’s adverse effects are meaningfully and equitably addressed. Most importantly, the EIS must include a No Action Alternative analysis.

 

Environmental Justice Concerns, Including Cultural and Socioeconomic Impacts, that Must Be Addressed in an EIS:

 

  • The EIS must take a hard look at whether Tribes, Pueblos, acequia, land grant and other environmental justice communities have been sufficiently involved in the decision-making process. This includes whether CNF has engaged in tribal consultation prior or during this scoping phase, consultation with impacted acequias and land grants, and with other environmental justice communities. This also includes whether CNF has invited Tribes, Pueblos, acequias and/or land grants with political subdivision of the state status to serve as cooperating agencies in the NEPA process, and whether traditional ecological knowledge is being centered in the NEPA process.

 

  • The EIS must also take a hard look at how traditional land-based communities including Tribes, Pueblos, acequias, and land grants currently suffer and have historically suffered, from environmental and health risks or hazards, and from large-scale development projects such as the Proposed Action.

 

  • With respect to natural resources such as water, land and wildlife, the EIS must include Tribal, Pueblo, acequia, and land grant dependence on natural resources for their economic base, as well as the cultural values that the Tribe, Pueblo, acequia, or land grant community places on water, land and wildlife at risk by the Proposed Action.

 

  • The EIS must also include an analysis of the socioeconomic impacts to environmental justice communities, specifically addressing the Proposed Action’s contribution to low-wage seasonal employment, skyrocketing demand for short-term housing rentals, unsustainable population growth, increased stress to public services, and overall decreased quality of life.

 

 

Water Resource Concerns that Must Be Addressed in an EIS:

 

 

  • Generally, the EIS must take a hard look at the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the Proposed Action on all surface water and groundwater resources. This includes analyzing the potential impacts to water quality, groundwater supplies, surface water supplies including drinking water, and aquatic wildlife. Special consideration must be given to project elements that threaten traditional agricultural water supplies for impacted acequias. Baseline data is also needed to meaningfully analyze these impacts.

 

  • Specifically, the Proposed Action seeks to install a septic system or sanitary sewer line based on engineering recommendations, with water supplies coming from an onsite well to support the on-mountain guest service facility at the top of Lift 7 and the new Whistle Stop Cafe building. These developments would not only require significant quantities of water, but they would also likely impact water quality in the project area, as well as the greater Rio Hondo Watershed. For example, disturbance of soils along the Lake Fork of the Rio Hondo for installation of the gondola and all its towers would result in impacts to surface waters, therefore requiring diligent analysis and collection of baseline data. The EIS must therefore take a hard look at the Proposed Action’s impacts to water resources, mitigation measures, long-term monitoring of water quality and volume, and a No Action Alternative. Any mitigation measures identified in the EIS must include detailed measures to protect the integrity of the Rio Hondo headwaters through all phases of the project.

 

  • Also specifically, the Proposed Action seeks to utilize a 65.2 million gallon water tank (annually storing a diversionary right of 200 acre-feet)  and booster station near Lift #2. The EIS must take a hard look at whether this action will result in over-appropriation of the Taos Ski Valley’s 200 acre-feet water right and conditions of approval associated with the Taos Ski Valley’s water rights permit. For example, while Taos Ski Valley, Inc. holds a diversionary right of 200 acre-feet, this water right is severely constrained by the permit condition limiting consumption to only 21.42 acre feet, and a hard cap of only 0.11 acre feet of daily consumptive use between April 11th and October 25th of each year. The EIS must analyze whether the Taos Ski Valley, Inc.  has sufficient water rights to implement the proposed project actions, must clearly identify the source and usage of water to be pumped up the mountain, and must analyze effects of removing water from the Rio Hondo Watershed, including the water needed to replenish the tank on a regular basis.

Thank you for considering my comments. This NEPA scoping process is an opportunity for CNF to equitably engage with traditional, land-based communities that have been historically marginalized by CNF project permits and associated water and land management decisions. Inclusion of environmental justice stakeholder concerns will ensure compliance with NEPA and other applicable laws, and will result in a meaningful, equitable analysis of the Proposed Action’s impacts.

Respectfully,

[INSERT YOUR NAME HERE]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Cannabis Bill Stalls Leaving Water Protections Intact

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Paula Garcia
lamorena@lasacequias.org
505-231-7752

Cannabis Bill Stalls Leaving Water Protections Intact

(Santa Fe) – As the session drew to a close, it became clear that SB 100, the Cannabis bill, would not pass. A House committee scheduled to hear the bill on Wednesday never met while the full House met for a marathon floor session to try to get other bills across the finish line. 

“We were calling upon the House Judiciary Committee to restore water protections in SB 100 as amended by the Senate.” said Paula Garcia, New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA), Executive Director. “Our goal was to maintain the requirement that water rights be verified at the front end of the cannabis licensing process.”

The NMAA was working alongside several other organizations (see attached letter) to remove what was being called the “Pirtle amendments,” which removed the up front water rights check. “We believe that the House Judiciary Committee would have restored the water protections to SB 100,” continued Garcia. “The sponsors had prepared an amendment to remove the Pirtle amendments and we thank them for that.”

Garcia notes that the difficulty some producers face with their water rights has to do with the basic tenets of water law and not the Cannabis Regulation Act. “It can take months to get a State Engineer permit if you don’t already have water rights in place. These are water laws that have been in place for over a century.”

Moving forward, the water rights verification that is in the Cannabis Regulation Act will remain intact. “We believe the CRA has a reasonable up front verification that enables good water management and accountability,” said Harold Trujillo, President of NMAA. “We are interested in working to ensure that the Office of the State Engineer and Regulation and Licensing Department have the resources needed to implement these provisions.”

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Guidance on Acequia Meetings During the COVID Pandemic

Attention Acequia Commissioners and Mayordomos:

Guidance on Acequia Meetings during the COVID Pandemic (updated 12/21/21)

Covid case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths are on the rise nationally. In response to the new Omicron variant, the CDC has strengthened its recommendation saying, “The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19.” Acequia communities are vulnerable because of our elder population and because our health care system and hospitals are strained.

Prevention efforts include the following:

  • Avoid large, indoor gatherings.
  • Wear masks.
  • Maintain social distancing.
  • Wash or sanitize hands frequently.

Many acequias have asked for direction on whether to hold their annual membership meetings. It is important to point out that although acequia statutes state specific dates for scheduling of annual meetings, there is also language that allows for meetings to take place “as soon as practicable thereafter.”

Also, an Attorney General memo from 2020, advised during the state of emergency declared by the Governor, that local governments could postpone meetings or could hold them virtually. 

Therefore, NMAA is offering the following guidance. This is not legal advice. If there are any specific questions, you may contact our office or consult with your own attorney.

  • Avoid indoor meetings. 
  • Membership meetings CAN be postponed until pandemic conditions improve.
  • If there is urgent business, such as deadlines for funding applications or project management, commissioners can hold special commission meetings provided that the meetings are compliant with the Open Meetings Act. 
  • Membership meetings should be held virtually via online platforms provided that meetings are compliant with the Open Meetings Act until current conditions related to the pandemic improve.
  • Consider outdoor meetings if weather allows provided that the meetings follow the Open Meetings Act.

The NMAA can provide assistance in hosting online meetings via Zoom including technical assistance with the online meeting and ensuring the meeting is OMA compliant.

If you have general questions, contact Serafina: serafina@lasacequias.org

If you would like NMAA support in hosting a online/phone meeting, contact Emily: emily@lasacequias.org

2021 Acequia Art & Photo Contest Winners!

We share our big appreciation with everyone who entered the 2021 Acequia Art & Photo Contest!

Please join us in sharing and celebrating the winning submissions:

Youth Art

First Prize: Jeremy Rodriguez and Jeremiah Martinez of Peñasco

Second Prize: Katelynn Sanchez of Peñasco

Third Prize tie: Feliciana Mitchell of Vadito


Third Prize tie: 
Simona Santistevan, Canon de Taos, Acequia Madre Sur de Rio Don Fernando in Taos, “Flores y Arbol”

Youth Photo

First Prize – Simona Santistevan, Acequia Madre del Sur, Taos

Second Prize -Isabela Gonzales of Peñasco

Youth Essay

We celebrate Alyson Archuleta of Taos, who shared a beautiful essay!

Grandpa Adonais is 90 years old and Grandma Alice is 80 years old. They still plant their vegetable garden just to pass their culture and traditions to their grandchildren. Southside Acequia runs on the side of their property. 

They taught me how many seeds to drop into the hole and to step on the ground over the seeds. We planted purple havas, sweet peas, carrots, lettuce, garlic, onion, corn, strawberry popcorn and different pumpkins. Later on the week the Acequia is open and water gets into the garden through rat holes and the ground gets wet. The rows that we planted were out about two weeks later. Many other plants were out and I thought they were weeds.

My grandpa says that grandma thinks she is a curandera, a person who collects herbs and uses them as medicine….When we get home after school grandma or moomsy as we call her blesses us with a bunch of sage tied together and smoke flows over us. It smells funny but good.”

Click here to read her full essay!

Adult Art

First Prize – Ariana Montez of La Puebla

“The artwork is supposed to be of the acequia on my grandfather’s home in La Puebla. I painted it shortly after he passed away in April and thought of the happy times I spent there playing in the Acequia with my grandparents and cousins. It represents the reflections made on his life when he passed. My grandfather Arsenio was an exceptionally kind man and taught us the importance of caring for the environment and animals.”

Second Prize – Emilio Arellano of La Acequia Madre and the Acequia de Abajo in San Cristobal, “A Glimmer of Hope”

“Emilio is a 23 year old on the spectrum.  He is a very quiet  person but loves the water landscapes all over NM. Emilio is from San Cristobal, NM and spends time outdoors taking photos of the waters near his home.  The acequia that runs through here is La Acequia Madre and the Acequia de Abajo.  We live in Taos County.   We look forward to the spring time to paint new scenes of the beautiful colors and planting our small garden.”

Third Prize – Lee Lee and Thatcher Gray of Los Lovatos Acequia in Taos

“The painting was done by myself, Lee Lee in collaboration with my son, Thatcher Gray…it is a portrait of my father and son cleaning the Los Lovatos ditch in Taos. I painted the figures using watercolor over textures we made together from materials pulled from our garden that flourished from acequia waters (stains from red beets, cabbage, tea and soil).”

Adult Photo

First Prize – Helen Perraglio of the Ojo Caliente Ditch in Ojo Caliente “Corn Flowers”

Second Prize – Miguel Santistevan of Acequia Madre del Sur in Taos, “Regando Ajo”

Third Prize – Yasmeen Najmi of Lane Lateral in Albuquerque, “Agua y Tierra Together Forever” (digitally altered image)

Apply today: Los Sembradores Farmer Training Program 2022

The New Mexico Acequia Association is pleased to announce that we are now accepting applications for the SIXTH year cohort of our Farmer-to-Farmer training program, Los Sembradores!

‘Sembradores’ take part in a nine-month, intensive apprenticeship at the Chicoyole farm, and are supported to work their own plots in their different home communities. They gain skills and experience as acequia farmers, including traditional irrigation techniques and ancestral farming methods, as well as modern farming techniques that incorporate season extension, nutrient management, soil health, farm business planning, and regenerative agriculture.

Training includes: farm and business planning, season extension, fertility and soil health, irrigation methods, maintenance of equipment and usage, planting and harvesting techniques, organic pest management, marketing, value added processing, seed saving, remedio making, processing of traditional foods, leadership training, and participation in different NMAA events throughout the season.

Program schedule, location and compensation: Mid-Feb. to Mid-Dec. 2022 with commitment to 3 days a week for the full term of the training. This is a PAID position with bi-weekly work stipends provided.

Our program is run on-site at Chicoyole Farm in Chamisal, NM – apprentices are expected to have reliable transport to and from Chamisal. We are committed to being covid safe, and will implement safety measures as necessary for community health and safety.

Preference is given to applicants from historic acequia communities who have access to a home garden or farm space to implement what they learn during the program.

2022 APPLICATIONS ARE DUE JANUARY 7th, 2022

If you are interested in applying for the program, click here to complete the application form and/orcontact: donne@lasacequias.org (505) 995-9644

Upper Hondo Flood Damage and Lessons For Acequias on Emergency Response

by David F. Garcia, NMAA Education & Outreach Coordinator

  Flood damage to the Antonio Sanchez Ditch, which included a damaged section of pipeline which conveyed water to numerous landowners. 

While New Mexico experienced severe drought in 2021, another challenge faced by many acequias was flooding from extreme rainfall. During Memorial Day weekend in May, numerous acequia communities in the Upper Hondo experienced devastating flooding which prompted Governor Luján Grisham to issue two state emergency declarations for Lincoln and Chaves counties. According to locals, it was perhaps the worst flood disaster to impact this area since the floods brought by Hurricane Dolly in 1968.   

Jackie Powell, leads an emergency response team to view flood damage to numerous acequias.

The NMAA team was invited by Jackie Powell of the Upper Hondo Water Users Association to accompany site visits by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the New Mexico Department of Homeland security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), and a representative of Senator Ben Ray Luján’s office to assess damage. Powell emphasized the need for acequias to better understand the emergency assistance bureaucracy at both the local and federal levels.

At a meeting, Gregory Suko, Recovery Officer for DHSEM, introduced the FEMA and DHSEM teams, and explained their role in coordinating emergency response. These two teams directly worked with Jackie Powell, who made individual contacts with local acequias officers. In addition, Powell also invited an engineering consultant to help with accessing local costs estimates of the damage.

We headed out from the office in a caravan following Powell. It is important to note the importance of Powell’s position as a liaison between the acequias and the state agencies. Without her vast local knowledge of the watershed, it would have been very  difficult to know where the flood damage is located, “you wouldn’t be able to see the damage from the road and they [agency officials] would not know where to go.”

The group visited the following acequias:

  • Antonio Sanchez Ditch: David Montez, an acequia parciente and property owner, retold how flood waters from the nearby canyons brought down trees, large stones, and even moved vehicles through his yard. Mayordomo, Richard Ford, led us on a walk to identify acequia infrastructure areas that had sustained the most damage. The acequia, which is enclosed in pipe, was damaged when flood waters broke the pipeline, which interrupted the flow. Quick estimates for repair of the breach were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the need to repair a significant length of the pipeline.

    Richard Montoya, Mayordomo of Upper Chosas ditch, led a tour of their main headgate, which was destroyed in the flooding.
  • L. Gallegos Ditch: Mayordomo George Mendoza led the group to view heavily silted areas. He stated that sand had filled in their diversion gate, and had damaged their diversion dam preventing the water levels from rising high enough to fill the presa. An important point made here by one of the FEMA representatives was that the federal government could only remediate a site to pre-existing flood conditions.
  • Upper Chosas Ditch: Mayordomo Richard Montoya led the teams to view damage to the main headgate, which collapsed during the flooding. The diversion was buried under silt and debris and it was difficult to imagine how it looked before the flooding. It was also mentioned that 600 feet of the main acequia pipe would need to be repaired or replaced because it was filled with silt. Estimates of the damage were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Powell continued to lead site visits for an additional two days visiting several other acequias, and  expressed concern regarding the need for acequias not only in her watershed, but regionally, to be prepared for such disasters. With the short-term and long-term effects of drought and wildfires, acequias are susceptible to flooding damage to their infrastructure by any storm system that may come.

Powell outlined some lessons learned to share with fellow acequias including:

  • Disaster Handbook: One of the most important takeaways from this experience was the importance of a quick response and knowing how to navigate state and federal agencies. FEMA and DHSEM have resources available for rebuilding infrastructure, but there are important constraints and rules to understand. For example, a Governor’s Emergency Declaration will release $750,000 of emergency aid to a county. A federal declaration is needed to make available resources from FEMA which can be significantly higher, depending on the extent of damage. There are also different programs that serve different purposes including the NRCS Emergency Watershed Program and various FSA Disaster Programs, both of which are separate and distinct from FEMA or DHSEM funding. It is vital that acequias and their parciantes understand the programs and are informed of their deadlines. More information on these programs are provided at the end of the article.
  • Local Liaisons: Jackie Powell illustrated the importance of having local acequia leaders who can communicate with FEMA and DHSEM. Counties and towns have emergency managers to coordinate with agencies, and acequias need a similar person who can be a liaison and assist with doing damage assessments. It is also helpful for acequias to have a liaison who can coordinate with their local county emergency manager to effectively respond to disasters.
  • Local Mapping and Documentation: Because emergency funding can be used only to restore the pre-existing condition of infrastructure, it is vital that acequias have good documentation of their infrastructure including GPS points, photos, and descriptions. Absent this documentation, it is difficult for agency officials to estimate the cost of replacement of acequia infrastructure. In some cases, acequia irrigation works were completely washed out or covered with silt and their original condition was difficult to visualize.

The following are some useful resources for local communities in the event of a disaster:

David Montes, parciante on the Antonio Sanchez Ditch, led a tour of his orchard which had heirloom apples and other fruit. The orchard was severely damaged by silt and debris from catastrophic flooding.
  • The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM). Local emergency managers should immediately contact DHSEM when an emergency or disaster exceeds county resources. The Response and Recovery Team is responsible for overseeing and coordinating state-level all-hazards emergency response and recovery preparedness, response, recovery and homeland security activities within NM. Their 24 hour hotline is 505-476-9600. A Governor’s emergency declaration can  make available $750,000 per county for disaster response resources.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – The US President can make an emergency declaration or can declare a major disaster within 30 days of the occurrence if it is determined the impact of the damage is of such severity that it is beyond the combined capabilities of state and local governments to respond. An emergency or a major disaster declaration provides a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent works. This is in addition to the state funds made available through a Governor’s declaration.
  • The NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Programis a federal emergency recovery program that helps local communities recover after a natural disaster strikes. It offers technical and financial assistance to help local communities relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters that impair a watershed. State or federal declarations are not necessary. EWP is a cost share program – 75% of the cost is covered by NRCS and the 25% is the local share. In the summer flooding in the Upper Hondo, Lincoln County and the local SWCD covered the 25% local cost share. This program was used to remove debris from the river where additional flooding placed property or life at risk. Some of this work was done within days of the flood.
  • NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) EmergencyWhile not designed to be an emergency response program, EQIP can play a vital role in assisting producers recover from natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and drought. It provides financial assistance to repair and prevent the excessive soil erosion caused or impacted by natural disasters. These practices include activities like stream bank restoration, grassed waterways and buffers. NRCS-funded conservation practices protect your land from erosion, support disaster recovery and repair, and can help mitigate loss from future natural disasters. Socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers, Tribes, veterans and young/beginning farmers are eligible for an increased payment rate and may receive advance payment of up to 50% to purchase materials and services needed to implement conservation practices included in their EQIP contract.
  • The FSA Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)helps farmers and ranchers to repair damage to farmlands caused by natural disasters and to help put in place methods for water conservation during severe drought. The funding for ECP is determined by Congress. Up to 75% of the cost to implement emergency conservation practices can be provided, however the final amount is determined by the committee reviewing the application. Qualified limited resource/ socially disadvantaged, and beginning farmers/ranchers may earn up to 90% cost-share. The FSA County Committee is able to approve applications up to $125,000 – while $125,001 to $250,000 requires state committee approval. Amounts over $250,000 require the approval of the national FSA office. Federal or state emergency declarations are not always required. In the case of the Upper Hondo flooding, some landowners were planning to submit requests for funding assistance to replace fencing that had been destroyed by floodwaters. 

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.

Acequia Funding Announced: Application Deadline October 25, 2021

NMAA is excited to announce a new funding source for acequia infrastructure, the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund (ACDIF)! This fund is the result of legislation that passed in the 2019 legislative session (sponsored by the late Senator Carlos Cisneros) that directs $2.5 million dollars of funding each year to the Interstate Stream Commission for acequia projects.

The ISC has announced that they are now accepting applications from acequias for the fund. This new program builds upon years providing funding for acequia projects through the ISC with some key improvements:

  • Planning and engineering design: Unlike the previous ISC programs, funding from the ACDIF can be used to cover 100% of the cost of engineering design (up to $50,000). ISC staff may also assist with the planning phase of a project.
  • Construction: The ACDIF will cover up to $250,000 of the cost of an acequia project. Other state, federal, and local sources can be used as cost share including Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Capital Outlay, and local funds from Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The new ACDIF program is designed to provide more support to acequias from start to finish by ensuring that acequias have an engineering design (and a cost estimate) prior to requesting funding for construction.  Applications for either engineering design or construction are due to the ISC by October 25, 2021. To be eligible, acequias are required to be compliant with audits and financial reporting, to secure any necessary easements, as well as other criteria that support project readiness. For assistance in completing the application and required attachments, contact Serafina – serafina@lasacequias.org. To get an application, contact Jonathan – jonathan.martinez@ose.state.nm

Acequia Legislative Advocacy Update

by Jaimie Park, Policy Coordinator & Paula Garcia, Executive Director

The NMAA has given several presentations to legislative committees in recent months covering topics related to drought, water sharing, climate change, infrastructure, cannabis, and water transfers/leases. Presentations included background information, overviews of policy priorities of acequias, and policy recommendations. A brief overview of recent presentations are provided below, along with copies of presentation slides.  

Over coming months, we will continue to engage with legislative committees and prepare for advocacy in the 2022 Legislative Session. We send our deep appreciation to all of the acequia leaders who continually show up to share testimonies and lend their voices to these important statewide efforts.

Supporting Acequia Resiliency in Megadrought – Gallup, July 13, 2021

Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director, was invited to give a presentation to the Water and Natural Resources Legislative Committee (WNRC) on the impacts of drought and climate change on acequias in New Mexico. Paula shared acequia testimonials about reduced snowpack, earlier spring runoff, low stream flows, and dry river beds, as well as first hand accounts of flood damage from extreme weather events. These testimonials were aligned with climate change predictions that were presented by climatologist Dr. David Gutzler, who presented before Paula at the same meeting of the WNRC.

The NMAA provided the following recommendations:

  • Support and affirm acequia water sharing practices through capacity building, leadership development, and technical assistance for acequias and regional associations, along with providing more resources for OSE staffing;
  • Strengthen acequia infrastructure by developing the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund (“ACDIF”) into a robust program with staff and reliable funding, protecting ACDIF funding, and institutional support for climate-adapted designs that are more resilient to flooding;
  • Strengthen disaster response and assistance to acequias by conducting and completing an acequia infrastructure inventory and mapping for both state and federal hazard mitigation plans, develop capacity for acequia leaders to serve as liaisons with state and federal disaster agencies, and provide more resources for state agencies to respond to disasters that do not receive a federal emergency declaration;
  • Support water conflict resolution through provision of resources for conflict management mediation services; and
  • Strengthen acequia conservation practices by connecting landowners to USDA Farm Bill programs for soil and water conservation practices, leveraging federal funds with state funding (i.e. the Agriculture and Natural Resources Trust Fund), and building upon the recent work with the state Healthy Soils Program to support drought resiliency through soil health practices.

** Click here for a copy of the Supporting Acequia Resiliency in Megadrought presentation **

Water, Equity, and Cannabis Production: Implications for Acequias – Taos, August 12, 2021

In this presentation to the WNRC, Paula was part of a panel that included Martha Graham from the New Mexico Rural Water Association, John Romero from the Office of the State Engineer, and Linda Trujillo, Superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department. The presentations by Martha and Paula focused on the challenges that are facing rural communities as a result of the demand for water from cannabis production. Martha noted that several rural community water systems are facing a variety of requests to use domestic water for commercial cannabis. Paula discussed the potential impacts to acequias, including the potential of water transfers out of acequias or transfers of surface water to groundwater. Paula went on to explain the rationale for advocating for language in the Cannabis Regulation Act to require valid water rights and compliance with water provider rules prior to receiving a license. One of the key issues that surfaced was that the OSE does not have the capacity to enforce illegal water uses, a situation that will be exacerbated by cannabis production.

** Click here for a copy of the Water, Equity, and Cannabis Production: Implications for Acequias presentation **

Irrigation Works Construction Fund – Taos, August 12, 2021

Also in testimony before the WNRC, Paula was part of a panel that also included staff from the Interstate Stream Commission to discuss the Irrigation Works Construction Fund (“IWCF”). NMAA’s IWCF presentation focused on this trust fund’s insolvent status and what actions are needed to restore the fund. The IWCF is a trust fund the legislature created in 1953, with the purpose of funding costs of investigations, construction, and other expenses directly chargeable to an infrastructure project. In 2019, NMAA was able to secure a statutory amendment to the IWCF, codifying an annual allocation of $2.5 million into the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund (“ACDIF”). The ACDIF is an exciting endeavor to establish a one-stop shop for acequia infrastructure projects, providing funding for design and engineering as well as construction.

Unfortunately, the IWCF is nearly depleted, requiring immediate legislative action to replenish that fund and to secure ACDIF funding. NMAA has recommended to the Legislative Finance Committee they restore solvency to the IWCF with two specific actions: 1) use General Fund monies to replace $12 million in trust fund monies for the OSE-ISC agency budget starting in FY23 and 2) appropriate a one-time infusion of $100 million of state or federal funding into the IWCF to restore the balance to previous levels that existed before the fund was tapped to pay for agency expenses.

** Click here for a copy of the Irrigation Words Construction Fund presentation **

Supporting Acequia Infrastructure in New Mexico – Mora, July 19, 2021

For the first meeting of the Rural Economic Opportunities Task Force (REOTF), Executive Director Paula Garcia was part of a panel with Ralph Vigil, NM Acequia Commission, and Jonathan Martinez, Acequia Program Manager for the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) to draw attention to acequia infrastructure as one of the most pressing policy issues for acequias. Paula’s role on the panel was to raise awareness regarding the importance of acequias to New Mexico, what acequia infrastructure is, the pressing infrastructure needs and challenges, current funding programs for acequia infrastructure, and specific policy solutions needed.

Acequia infrastructure challenges involve the following: 1) the number of acequias requesting funding and assistance exceeds the current capacity of funding programs (i.e. ISC, RCPP, Capital Outlay); 2) acequias vary greatly in capacity and project readiness, with most needing assistance with governance, pre-planning and project management to prevent unfinished projects and delaying in spending Capital Outlay; and 3) there is a bottleneck for engineering design, limiting the number of acequias ready to receive construction funding. Specific policy solutions include 1) protecting funding for ACDIF by restoring solvency to the IWCF (see previous section for more details), 2) creating an Acequia Bureau at the ISC to ensure adequate staffing levels and provision of project support, technical assistance, and professional engineering services; 3) and continuing to fund the Acequia and Community Ditch Education Program at DFA, which funds NMAA’s Acequia Governance Project and Infrastructure Planning Work.

** Click here to view a copy of the Supporting Acequia Infrastructure presentation **

Acequia Land Grant Education (ALGE) Project – Anton Chico, September 23, 2021

Paula presented on a panel before the Land Grant Committee with Adrian Sandoval of the Center for the Education and Study of Diverse Populations (CESDP) at New Mexico Highlands University and Dr. Jacobo Baca, Research Historian with the UNM Land Grant Studies Program to give an update on the progress related to two legislative memorials from 2019. HM 31 (Miguel Garcia) and SM 31 (Peter Campos) requested that acequia and land grant leaders work together to develop recommendations for youth curriculum development. Some seed money was appropriated to CESDP to facilitate a series of meetings with community leaders and educators to develop recommendations. The panel shared a white paper that summarized the project background and results of the community meetings. The next steps are to work with the NM Public Education Department on teacher training and educational materials.

** Click here for a copy of the Acequia Land Grant Education project presentation **

Water Transfers and Water Leases: Impacts on Acequias – Anton Chico, September 23, 2021

Paula and David Benavides, Attorney with New Mexico Legal Aid, presented to the Land Grant Committee on water transfers and water leases. David’s presentation covered the tenets of NM water law including the basic requirement that existing water rights be protected any time there is a new appropriation or that an existing water right is transferred. He went on to explain that a recent OSE practice turns this long-standing legal principle on its head by granting preliminary approvals on water lease applications. He explained that this practice is unlawful and that a recent district court decision explicitly explains all the reasons that the OSE is not authorized to grant preliminary approvals. Paula provided some further background and shared a case studies that illustrate how water transfers in general affect acequias, and how preliminary approval could be extremely detrimental to acequias and rural communities who use protests as a tool to raise concerns about the impacts of water transfers/leases on their water rights.

** Click here for a copy of the Water Transfers and Water Leases presentation **

Our Youth Are Our Light: Updates From NMAA Youth Education Initiatives

By Emily Arasim & Donne Gonzales, NMAA Youth Education Co-Coordinators

Despite the changes and challenges caused by the pandemic, our youth education team has continued to be hard at work connecting youth and families across the state with learning opportunities to deepen their understanding of and passion for acequias!

Learn more about recent projects below! For more information about any of our youth programs contact: emily@lasacequias.org and donne@lasacequias.org

Con Fuerza y Querencia’ the 2021 Acequia Culture Youth Leadership Institute

We are so excited to celebrate the graduation of our cohort of 2021 Acequia Culture Youth Leadership Institute students!

Over the past five months, 16 middle school, high school and college aged youth from across the state have gathered for learning and skill building sessions on topics including the history and importance of acequias; the meaning of querencia; acequia farming, ranching and seeds; language and oral history; the movement to prevent commodification of water; challenges facing acequias and youth solutions for health and justice; acequia music, art and poetry; and traditional skills such as remedios, adobe work, and butchering.

In early September, we held a graduation celebration and heard from youth leaders about the visions they have for their role in their communities, as well as beautiful projects such as maps of their acequias and gardens, family seed story boxes, remedio identification projects, poems and art pieces!

The future is bright, as we know they are just some of the many young people who have a deep love for their cultures and histories, and are dedicated to protecting the health of their communities, and the land and water of New Mexico.

2021 Acequia Culture Youth Leadership Institute Graduates:

~ Orlando Pino, Des Montes/Valdez

~ Diego Salazar, Pilar

~ Elaine Mitchell-Gonzales, Placita/Vadito

~ Guadalupe Savannah Gallegos, Villanueva

~ Michael Lucero II, Dilia

~ Cruz Martinez, Cordova

~ Ignacio Gonzales, Chamisal

~ Joseph Salazar, Valle de Atrisco/Albuquerque

~ Keira Marquez, Shiprock

~ Matejo Heitzman, La Mesilla

~ Maira J. Juarez Martinez, Santa Fe

~ Jonathan Gonzales, Anton Chico

~ Joaquin Romero, Mora

~ Angel Chavez, Valle de Atrisco/Albuquerque

~ Veronica Griego, Mora/Guadalupita

~ Anya Manzanares, Abiquiu

Sembrando Semillas Youth Project

Sem Sem youth in Taos experiment with several different methods for growing potatoes
Sem Sem youth in Chamisal clean their harvest of havas

Over summer 2020 and 2021, our Sembrando Semillas intergenerational learning sites in Chamisal, Abiquiu, and Taos have continued to meet in small, covid safe groups.

At the Chamisal site, youth continued to grow their knowledge in preparing soil and fields, maintaining acequias, caring for and choosing seeds and bulbs for planting, irrigating, weeding and harvesting diverse fields with their mentors. Youth also learned about care of fruit trees, and participated in the seasonal work of pruning, watering, harvesting, and processing value added goods including jams and dehydrated fruits. Older youth also had the opportunity to gain new skills in caring for chickens, guineas, geese, and turkeys – as well as a herd of 35 sheep, which included daily care, fence and pasture maintenance, shearing and butchering.

Sem Sem youth in Abiquiu work together to build a horno

At the Taos site, youth worked together to raise chickens, and learned about proper care and how to address different sicknesses and seasonal challenges facing their animals. Other projects included learning to grow heirloom wheat, experimenting with different methods for growing potatoes, and building skills in food processing and preservation, including pickling and canning to make value added farm goods. Taos youth also focused on honing their digital skills by learning to film, edit and manage data of photos and videos capturing their seasonal work and farm learning.

At the Abiquiu Sem Sem site, youth learned to plant and care for their own patch of potatoes, and worked together to design and build a large horno which was used as part of Fall projects in sheep sheering, meat processing and matanza celebration. Abiquiu youth also took part in a multi-day training on how to plant trees, and took a deep dive into learning about the many uses and health benefits of the fruit trees they tended.

We love our Sem Sem youth, and can’t wait to continue to see them grow next season.

Online Class Presentations

While we have not been able to present in-person in classrooms during the pandemic, we have still been able to meet with hundreds of youth via online class presentations. The positive light of this change has been the chance to connect more easily with youth in the far southern and eastern areas of the state. Teachers, school, and youth group administrators are encouraged to reach out to us to schedule an online acequia education presentation anytime!  We look forward to resuming in person presentations when we can do so safely. Youth activity print-outs to use at home or at school are available on our website: www.lasacequias.org/presentations-curriculum

March 2021 Acequia Career Day

During the online Acequia Career Day event, over 250 youth and community members from across the state gathered to learn about the many different career and livelihood opportunities they can follow to be caretakers for acequias and acequia community and culture.

We began with a panel discussion where youth got to hear about the passions and life-paths of amazing mayordomos and commissioners – poets and musicians – engineers and infrastructure specialists – farmers and ranchers – remedio makers and food business owners – adoberos and leñeros – historians, documentary film-makers and storytellers – lawyers and policy advocates. Youth were then able to choose which area interested them most, and went into small groups to ask questions and learn more. Our NMAA team was deeply inspired by the huge turn-out and positive feedback for this event, and is committed to offering more acequia career and mentorship opportunities into the future.