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Author: Emily Arasim

2020 Acequia Art & Photo Contest


Submit your photos and art to the 2020 NMAA Acequia Art & Photo Contest and show us what acequia culture means to YOU! Prizes for ADULTS (19 years and up) and YOUTH (18 years and under)!


  • Submit poems, videos, paintings, sketches, mixed media, models, and MORE! – showing us “What does acequia culture mean to you?” or “Why are acequias important to your family, culture, or community?”
  • Art participants are limited to one entry.


  • Send photos in any of these categories – Acequieros Working the Land; Digitally Altered Imagery; Regando; Food and Seed Traditions
  • Photo participants are limited to one entry per category!


  • Art and photos must be submitted by November 30, 2020
  • Submissions must be sent in HIGH RESOLUTION/high quality format
  • Please email to emily@lasacequias.org OR mail to 805 Early Street Bldg. B, Suite 203 Santa Fe, NM 87505
  • Include: (1) Name of Artist (2) Town (3) Acequia Name (4) County (5) Art/photo description or title.


  • You could win the following PRIZES: 1st Place: $60.00 & NMAA T-Shirt – 2nd Place: $40.00 & NMAA T-Shirt – 3rd Place: $20.00 & NMAA T-shirt (separate prizes for adult and youth submissions!)
  • Terms and conditions: Upon photo submission, you agree to the use of your work(s) in NMAA materials including but not limited to publications, calendar, website pages, and outreach materials. Photo credit will be given where appropriate.

Flyer images – 2019 winners Eluid Martinez (art, adult) and Miguel Santistevan (photo, adult)

September 3 – Vamos a Guardar la Cosecha: Food Preservation with the Acequia Harvest

You are invited to join us for ‘Vamos a Guardar la Cosecha: Food Preservation with the Acequia Harvest‘ – the fifth gathering in our series of seasonal garden pláticas!

** Thursday September 3rd from 6:00-7:30 pm **


Online using Zoom or your phone

Our featured maestras – Margaret Garcia (Taos Real Food, Sol Feliz Farm) and Juliet Garcia (Chicoyole Farms, NMAA Director of Operations) – will share their stories, experiences, and tips on how they preserve and save the harvest from their farms and gardens, including canning, drying, and fermenting. David Garcia will also join us to share canciones and reflections on the historic and cultural importance of preserving our own food.

We know many community members also have important ideas to share – so please also join us to share your own expertise and techniques!

Questions? Contact: donne@lasacequias.org – This special community gathering is presented by the NMAA Los Sembradores Farmer Training Program, as part of our Semillas Pa La Gente project.

PRESS RELEASE: New Mexico Groups Appeal EPA’s Dirty Water Rule


Wednesday, June 24, 2020


Rachel Conn, Projects Director, Amigos Bravos, 575.770.8327

Charles de Saillan, Staff Attorney, NMELC, 505.819.9058

Paula Garcia, Executive Director, New Mexico Acequia Association, 505.231.7752

Allyson Siwik, Executive Director, Gila Resources Information Project, 575.590.7619 

New Mexico Groups Appeal EPA’s Dirty Water Rule

Yesterday, three New Mexico based organizations – Amigos Bravos, the New Mexico Acequia Association, and Gila Resources Information Project – joined together to appeal the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers so called Navigable Water Protection Rule (“2020 Rule”).  The 2020 Rule, which went into effect yesterday, drastically shrinks the number of New Mexico waters that are protected under the Clean Water Act. The groups filed their appeal with the US District Court for the District of New Mexico.

“The Trump administration has opened the pollution floodgates,” said Rachel Conn, Projects Director with Amigos Bravos. “This 2020 Dirty Water Rule protects the interests of polluters over the interests of the public who rely on clean water for drinking, agriculture, recreation, and cultural values.”

New Mexico is disproportionately affected by the 2020 Rule because of the large number of small streams in the state that flow only during wet times of the year. These smaller ephemeral streams have historically been protected by the Clean Water Act but under the new rule they are left unprotected.

“We are deeply concerned that many of our streams and rivers would lose protections under the 2020 rule. We rely on clean water to grow crops and raise livestock, to provide locally grown food for families, and to support agricultural livelihoods in our communities,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association.

Unlike federal rollbacks in other areas of environmental protection, New Mexico’s waters do not have state protections to fall back on. New Mexico is one of just three states that does not have delegated authority from the EPA to regulate discharges of pollution into rivers, streams, and lakes. There is now no entity with regulatory authority to manage existing discharges from the wastewater treatment plants, mines, federal facilities, and other polluters that currently discharge into these smaller New Mexico streams.

According to Charles de Saillan, Staff Attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. “This federal rule all but nullifies the protections of the Clean Water Act over many streams and wetlands in New Mexico.  It reverses nearly fifty years of interpretation of the Clean Water Act by EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the courts.  As this regulation is implemented, permits will not be necessary for discharging pollution into many rivers, lakes, and streams.  Water quality will become degraded.  Our clients will suffer because they rely on clean, unpolluted water for their businesses, irrigation of crops, watering of livestock, and recreation such as fishing, river rafting, and kayaking.”

Even some of our larger iconic rivers such as the Gila River in the south and the Rio Costilla in the north are threatened by this rule. The rule removes automatic protections for interstate waters – both  the Gila and Rio Costilla are interstate waters – and because both of these rivers run dry before meeting up with larger downstream rivers, it is uncertain if under this new rule they will remain protected.

“It is horrifying that a New Mexico river as important as the Gila is left unprotected by this rule,” said Allyson Siwik, Executive Director of Gila Resources Information Project. “Irrigators and the growing recreation-based economy of southwestern New Mexico are dependent on clean water flowing in the Gila.”

The New Mexico Environment Department has estimated that as much as 96% of the surface waters in the state could lose protection under the new rule.


Photo caption: Several acequias downstream from the Village of Ruidoso, including Acequia de Ambrosio Pablo Chavez, are faced with water quality issues due to effluent from the wastewater treatment plant. The regulatory permits along streams that are ephemeral or intermittent would be at risk under the 2020 EPA rule on Waters of the US which only protects “navigable waters.”

Acequias and the Public Health Order

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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 toribio@lasacequias.org or 505-995-9644.

PRESS RELEASE: Diverse Coalition Urges New Mexico to Protect the Upper Pecos Watershed

For immediate release April 20, 2020


Ralph Vigil, Molino de las Isla Organics, 505-603-2879

Pancho Adelo, Upper Pecos Watershed Association, 505-470-5429

Janice Varela, San Miguel County Commissioner, 505-231-2802

Paula Garcia, New Mexico Acequia Association, 505-231-7752

Diverse Coalition Urges New Mexico to Protect the Upper Pecos Watershed
Conserving these special waters will boost outdoor recreation while protecting cultural history and clean water

Pecos, NM, 4/20/20 – The New Mexico Acequia Association, San Miguel County, the Village of Pecos, the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, and Molino de la Isla Organics LLC today are submitting a petition to the state of New Mexico to protect water quality in the Upper Pecos Watershed. The coalition of community members, local governments, farmers, and ranchers is asking the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) to nominate portions of the Upper Pecos River Watershed as Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRWs) under the Clean Water Act. This critical watershed supports agriculture and large outdoor recreational industries threatened by development and transportation, waste disposal, potential hard rock mining, and climate change. As New Mexicans’ health, jobs, and communities are impacted by COVID-19, it is important now more than ever that the state safeguards the lifeblood of our communities.

“The designation of the waters of the Pecos River as Outstanding National Resource Waters will go a long way in protecting both the quality of the water and the local traditional uses” said Pancho Adelo, President of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association and Pecos business owner. “ONRW protections will also contribute to the economic significance of recreational tourism in the area.”

The Upper Pecos Watershed is culturally significant to the people of Jemez Pueblo, as ancestral homelands. Since the mid-16th century, people in the Upper Pecos Watershed have depended on these waters for traditional land-use practices like growing crops and raising livestock. There are numerous acequias in the Upper Pecos Watershed for which clean water is vital to support local food, agriculture, and communities.

“Agua es Vida and the Upper Pecos Watershed provides water for our acequias which are the life-line for many of our cultural traditions and ecosystems” added Acequia user, farmer, and petitioner Ralph Vigil. “It is through the preservation of this precious resource that our ancestors have maintained their will to survive, and it is through ONRW protections that they will continue to sustain future generations for centuries to come. “

Pecos Canyon in the Upper Pecos Watershed is one of the state’s top outdoor tourism destinations and popular among New Mexicans for a variety of outdoor activities. These local users and visitors spend money at local outfitters, stores, restaurants, and hotels. In 2013, anglers alone spent $29 million in San Miguel County, while hunters spent more than $18 million.  Outdoor recreation is a booming business in the Land of Enchantment, confirmed by the state legislature’s creation of a new Outdoor Recreation Division of the New Mexico Economic Development Department in 2019. It is critical that New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry – and the local jobs it supports – can thrive once people emerge following the pandemic.

“San Miguel residents depend on the Pecos River and its tributaries for their livelihoods,” said San Miguel County Commissioner, District 2, Janice Varela. “From water for drinking and agriculture to outdoor recreation and tourism dollars, the Pecos is truly the lifeblood of our community.”

The clean, clear waters of the upper Pecos River and its tributaries are a refuge for Rio Grande cutthroat trout and significant investments have been made to conserve this species across the state.  The area is also home to Rocky Mountain bighorn, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, and golden eagles.

Local Angler Norm Maktima said, “As an angler, my family and the families of my coworkers depend on the Upper Pecos Watershed remaining clean and healthy. The original Pecos people and the Pecos community now, have and will always protect these lands and waters. It is time for our government to acknowledge and join our efforts.”

The petitioners are calling on the WQCC to designate 14.1 miles of the Pecos River, 56.2 miles of its named tributaries, 698 acres of wetlands, and 180.03 miles of ephemeral and intermittent drainages of the Pecos River Watershed as ONRWs. ONRW protections allows current activities, such as farming and ranching to continue, but requires new activities to demonstrate that they will not degrade water quality.

Upon receiving the petition, the WQCC will vote on whether to schedule a hearing on the matter later this year.

To view a copy of the nominating petition, see: https://www.ourNMwaters.org

To learn more about the WQCC, see https://www.env.nm.gov/water-quality-control-commission/wqcc-rules-and-responsibilities/

To learn more about ONRWs, see https://www.env.nm.gov/surface-water-quality/onrws/


Acequia Education: Youth Activity Print-Outs

The New Mexico Acequia Association is excited to offer this selection of fun and educational acequia learning worksheets for children, youth and families currently spending lots of time together at home during the Covid-19.

Having our children out of school and doing distance and home learning can be challenging, but is an amazing opportunity to talk more with them about our families traditions and knowledge around the acequias, farming and gardening, and taking care of the water, seeds, animals, orchards, and land. 

Click the links below to download, view, and print PDF’s. 

If you do not have access to a printer and want to share these activities with your family and community, email us at emily@lasacequias.org or call (505) 995-9644 and we will do our best to print and send you worksheets by mail.

If you work with a school or youth program, and plan to share these activities with your students, please email us at emily@lasacequias.org so we can keep a record of where these materials are being used.

El Agua Es Vida – Suggested Reading on New Mexico’s Acequias

* This list was curated by the New Mexico Acequia Association for educational purposes only, and represents only a small portion of the resources available. We do not formally endorse any of these books or materials. V 3.30.2020 *

If you have suggestions of other materials to add – please email us at emily@lasacequias.org 

We will continue to update and add to this list.


* There are a limited number of children’s book available that are directly about acequias – so our suggestions also include books focused more broadly on New Mexico farming and food traditions. 

– Juan the Bear and the Water of Life: La Acequia de Juan del Oso – Enrique La Madrid and Juan Estevan Arellano (Spanish and English)

– The Mother Ditch / La Acequia Madre – Oliver La Farge (Spanish/English dual language)

– Owl in a Straw Hat, El Tecolote del sombrero de paja – Rudolfo Anaya

– Carlos and the Squash Plant; Carlos and the Cornfield; and Carlos and the Skunk – Jan Romero Stevens

– I Know the River Loves Me / Yo se que el rio me ama – Maya Cristina Gonzalez [Listen to the book read aloud here]

– In My Mother’s House – Ann Nolan Clark

– Abuelita’s Heart – Amy Córdova

– Los Ojos Del Tejedor: The Eyes of the Weaver – Cristina Ortega

– Tortilla Sun – Jennifer Cervantes [Listen to the book read aloud here]

– Tia’s Tamales – Ana Baca

– My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande – Rudolfo Anaya

– The Santero’s Miracle: A Bilingual Story – Rudolfo Anaya

– Alejandro’s Gift – Richard E. Albert [Listen to the book read aloud here]

Young Adults & Up

– [Listen] ¡Que Vivan las Acequias! Radio Show – Acequias, Agriculture, Seed Sovereignty, Land, Water & Culture with Miguel Santistevan

– [Listen] Cancion de las Acequias – David Garcia and Jeremiah Martinez

– Bendición del agua – Poem by Olivia Romo, video and poem text

Farmers Take to Legislature to Defend Water Traditions – Rio Grande Sun (2020)

Centuries-old Irrigation System Shows How To Manage Scarce Water – National Geographic (2019) 

A Bird’s-Eye View of Northern New Mexico’s Acequias – Alejandro López, Green Fire Times (2014) 

Poet Olivia Romo sings to the acequias – Taos News (2020) 

Doing Their Part: Acequias Feed Hope in Drought & Uncertainty – Taos News (2018)

La Limpia de las Acequias, El Trabajo de Todos – Alejandro López, Green Fire Times (2018)

Acequia Culture and Regional Food System – Miguel Santistevan, New Mexico Acequia Association Blog (2016)

The Art of Acequia Irrigation In Times of Drought – Miguel Santistevan, New Mexico Acequia Association Blog (2018) 

South Valley Farm Grows Connections Rooted In Culture – KUNM Radio (2015)

Protecting A Centuries-Old Tradition – Santa Fe New Mexican (2017)

Ancient Traditions Keep Desert Waters Flowing – Yes! Magazine (2010)

In the Water-Scarce Southwest, an Ancient Irrigation System Disrupts Big Agriculture – Yes! Magazine (2017) 

Why Does Barclays Want To Build a City in the Middle of the New Mexico Desert? – The Guardian (2015) 

Communities Follow Centuries-Old Tradition of Blessing Waterways in Honor of San Ysidro – Albuquerque Journal (2016)

Neighbors Taking Part in Tarea – Rio Grande Sun (2019)

This Acequia Life – NM Political Report (2018)

University Students & Adults

Books – Non-Fiction

– Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water – Juan Estevan Arellano (2014)

– Acequia Culture: Water, Land and Community in the Southwest – José A. Rivera (1998)

– Acequia: Water Sharing, Sanctity, and Place – Sylvia Rodriquez (2006)

– ¡No Se Vende! (Not for Sale) Water as a Right of the Commons – Kay Matthews (2018)

– Unsettled Waters: Rights, Law, and Identity in the American West – Eric Perramond (2018)

– Dividing New Mexico’s Waters 1700-1912 – John O. Baxter (1997)

– River of Traps – Bill deBuys and Alex Harris (1990)

– Sabino’s Map: Life in Chimayó’s Old Plaza; Chapter 7: Food from the Garden and the Llano – Don J. Usner (1996)

Books – Fiction

– Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico – Stanley Crawford (1993)

– Milagro Beanfield War – John Nicols (2000)

– Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works by Levi Romero (2008)

News Articles (also see list above in ‘young adults’ section)

Returning to the North: The Limits of the Northern New Mexican Dream – Rio Grande Sun (2020) 

A Vision for New Mexico’s Water – Paula Garcia, Santa Fe New Mexican (2019) 

The Future of Acequias: ‘The Veins of Our Community’ – Rio Grande Sun (2020) 

The Land is the Source of Our Identidad, Survival, Health, Strength and Happiness – Alejandro López, Green Fire Times (2016) 

Repartimiento, Drought and Climate Change – Sylvia Rodriquez, Green Fire Times (2018)

Can New Mexico’s Ancient Irrigation Canals Survive a Changing Climate? – The Food and Environment Reporting Network (2017)

Acequias as a Sustainable Model for Hydrology Ecology – Quita Ortiz, Green Fire Times (2014)

¡Viva la Acequia! – On The Commons Magazine (2012) 

Acequia Activism: Men and Women Help Protect A Vital Network of Irrigation Throughout New Mexico – Albuquerque Journal (2015)

Papers and Studies

La cultura de las acequias, paisajes históricamente irrigados de Nuevo México – José A. Rivera and Luis Pablo Martínez, Agricultura, Sociedad y Desarrollo Vol 6 No 3 (2009) 

– Protecting Resources for Land-Based People: The New Mexico Water-Transfer Conundrum – David Benavides (2012)

– Acequias: Water Democracy in the US – Paula Garcia, Chapter 13 in ‘Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource’, Edited by Tara Lohan (2010)

– Acequias: A Model for Local Governance of Water – Paula Garcia in ‘Water Consciousness’, Edited by Tara Lohan, AlterNet Books (2008)

The Rio Chama Basin: A Social-Ecological History Linking Culture and Nature – Sam Markwell, José A. Rivera, Moises Gonzales, and J. Jarrett García, Center for Regional Studies, University of New Mexico (2016)

Customary Practice and Community Governance in Implementing the Human Right to Water: The Case of the Acequia Communities of Colorado’s Rio Culebra Watershed – Gregory A. Hicks and Devon G. Peña (2010)

Hydrological, ecological, land use, economic, and sociocultural evidence for resilience of traditional irrigation communities in New Mexico, USA – Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions 11(2) (2014)

Linked hydrologic and social systems that support resilience of traditional irrigation communities – Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 19(1):293-307 (2015)

A framework for assessing ecosystem services in acequia irrigation communities of the Upper Río Grande watershed – Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water 2(5) (2015)

Water Matters – The Utton Center (2015)

Hundreds Gather for Congreso de las Acequias in Taos

Mentees honor their acequia mentors. Congreso atendees were also invited to take a blue ribbon to give to someone important who has passed down acequia and farming traditions to them. Photo via NMAA

By Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director

The coffee was ready by 7:30am. Farmers and ranchers, who are inclined to be early birds, started arriving before 8:00am for on-site registration for the Congreso de las Acequias, the annual membership meeting of the New Mexico Acequia Association. Soon after, the conference room started to come to life with Las Mañanitas, the traditional mexican ballad that welcomes the day. On an early Saturday morning in Taos, nearly 400 acequia parciantes and supporters from across the state gathered for the Congreso de las Acequias, which was also the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the New Mexico Acequia Association. The previous day, Friday afternoon, the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District hosted a tour of local acequia projects that would contribute to the long-term viability of irrigated agriculture in the Taos Valley. 

As is customary, the official start of the Congreso was Canción de las Acequias, a song written by David García, Roger Montoya, and Cipriano Vigil, which has become the anthem of the New Mexico Acequia Association. A collective of musicians, led by David García and Jeremías Martínez, and which included former Lt. Governor Roberto Mondragon, performed music throughout the day. In the Bendición de las Aguas, waters from acequias and rivers throughout the state were shared and mixed together with a prayer for the well-being of families and communities and for protection of waters that are believed to be a don divino or divine gift. 

The Congreso de las Acequias is the gathering and governing body of the New Mexico Acequia Association. As a federational body of regional delegations, one of the important moments in the annual convening is the roll call of regions which illustrates the statewide scope of the acequia community in New Mexico. While the gathering is infused with culture from the very beginning, the Congreso is very much a meeting of governance, where leaders come together and affirm their core values and to make collective decisions that form the basis for the policy positions and strategic directions. 

The day included a moving tribute to the late Senator Carlos Cisneros including testimonials from important leaders in his district who spoke of his commitment, work ethic, and the wit that so many of his friends and colleagues had grown fond of over the years. Esther García, former mayor of Questa and former commissioner on Cabresto Lake Irrigation Community Ditch, and Mary Mascareñas, long-time school board member for the Peñasco Independent Schools and former commissioner on Acequia del Llano de San Juan Nepumoceno, shared their memories of the Senator as a friend and as an advocate for rural communities. Musicians ended the tribute with a despedida, a traditional farewell ballad. 

Harold Trujillo, NMAA President, and Paula García, Executive Director, provided a retrospective of the NMAA’s 30 years of advocacy and contributions to the acequia movement in New Mexico. Special thanks was given to the Taos Valley Acequia Association as the first regional association to help form the Congreso de las Acequias as a statewide governing body. A timeline included some of the major milestones in acequia advocacy over the past thirty years, including important pieces of legislation and the founding dates of some of NMAA’s education and youth programs. Attendees were invited to add to the timeline with important dates from their own acequias.

A highlight of the day was a segment entitled, “Sharing Querencia Across Generations.” It was a time of recognition of both mentees and their mentors who have made a conscious effort to keep traditional knowledge alive across generations. The recognitions were an expression of gratitude by mentees for their mentors and an affirmation that the acequia tradition would continue for another generation. Chavela Trujillo of Abiquiu recognized her mom Isabel Trujillo, Juanita Revak from Jemez Springs recognized her father Gilbert Sandoval, Marcos Valdez recognized his mentor Kenny Salazar from La Mesilla, Zia Martinez recognized her mentor Lorenzo Candelaria, Nicanor Ortega recognized his mentor Miguel Santistevan, and Donne Gonzales recognized her mom Juliet Garcia-Gonzales. The heartfelt recognition illustrated the intergenerational nature of the acequia movement.

Other topics on the agenda included a youth mapping project with the Carson National Forest and presentations by participants in NMAA’s Sembrando Semillas youth project and Los Sembradores Farmer Training project. For some of the youth participants, the Congreso is one of the most important public speaking experiences of their young lives. It is part of NMAA’s leadership development work to include youth as speakers at the Congreso.

Another highlight of the day was a performance by renowned poet Olivia Romo, who shared a poem entitled “Fighting the Tragedy of the Commons” in which she critiques the privatization of communal waters of the acequias and pays homage to the elders who dedicate decades of their lives to defend water rights in the adjudication process. Her poem recognizes the work of the acequia leaders of the Rio de las Gallinas Acequia Association in the Las Vegas area who fought for fifty years to overturn a doctrine for the city to have an expanding water right and who continue to fight the fragmentation of their acequias.

Vibrant and spirited conversations took place during the lunch hour which was followed by an awards ceremony honoring two individuals who have likely spend the most years of their life directly involved with NMAA’s grassroots organizing and advocacy work. Harold Trujillo was honored as a co-founder of NMAA in 1989 and David Benavides was honored for his nearly 30 years of service as an attorney dedicated primarily to acequia water law. In the midst of the festivities, volunteers Martha Trujillo, Patrick Blumm, Olivia Romo, and Priscilla Romo worked the silent auction as an NMAA fundraiser.

The day concluded with the adoption of a series of resolutions that were proposed by NMAA’s regional delegates, leadership caucuses, and policy working group. Generally, NMAA’s resolutions express a policy statement or a proposal for a new programmatic direction. There were four policy resolutions addressing a range of issues including opposition to proposed exploratory mining in the upper Pecos watershed, support for expanding the use of a fund for acequia legal expenses, and details regarding the guidelines for the newly created Acequia Infrastructure Fund. Another resolution generated by caucuses involving youth and young adults urged NMAA to implement a project to document storytelling by community members and elders. All resolutions passed unanimously in large part due to the extensive participation in writing the resolutions well in advance of the Congreso.

The 30th Anniversary Celebration was a day to celebrate history and the passing of the torch to new generations. The event was a success with the teamwork of the NMAA staff and our much-appreciated volunteers. It will long live in the memories of those who were there. Que Vivan las Acequias!

Additional Photos:

Acequia roll call. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Bendición del Agua. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Concilio Member introductions. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Bendición del Agua. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Ofrenda. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Despedida to Carlos Cisneros. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire times
Teatro Acequiero. Photo via NMAA
NMAA Sembrando Semillas youth program shares their visions for the future of their acequias. Photo via NMAA
NMAA 2019 Los Sembradores Farm Apprentices, and NMAA staff, share about their year. Photo via NMAA
Olivia Romo shares her poem ‘Fighting the Tragedy of the Commons’. Photo via NMAA
David Benavides (left) and Harold Trujillo (right) receive awards for their outstanding service to acequia communities. Photos via NMAA

A Retrospective on NMAA’s Policy Achievements

In 2013 NMAA hosted a rally to encourage the passage of a new Farm Bill. Photo: Serafina Lombardi

By David Benavides, New Mexico Legal Aid Attorney 

When I think of the New Mexico Acequia Association and its influence on the state as a whole, I think about the long arc of New Mexico history and the fact that NMAA was formed at a point when there was a historic need for acequias to gain back some of the sense of self-determination they had before modern times. 

When New Mexico became a state in 1912, acequias were one of its strongest institutions.  Elephant Butte reservoir did not yet exist, nor did the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD), nor most of the larger scale agricultural districts.  Those areas were all primarily acequia agriculture, which was the backbone of agriculture in the state. As such, a great deal of deference was given to the authority that acequias had over their water rights, their easement rights, and their locally unique systems of water allocation.  Any water law or policy that acequias would have felt they needed for their own defense they probably could have easily passed in the Legislature. No one at that time could have imagined a future in which acequias would need protection or would need to be recognized and respected as valuable to the state.

78 years later, the picture was quite different.  The state’s population had almost quintupled from 330,000 in 1910 to 1.5 million in 1990, and one-third of those people lived in the Albuquerque area, which had seen its acequias largely absorbed into the MRGCD.  A similar process took place in Lower Rio Grande with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. The San Juan-Chama Project was completed. These were three examples where the state had put its resources into large, expensive water projects, and had put its faith in the State Engineer to develop them. The State Engineer in turn required that water rights be more exactly quantified, and so a dozen stream adjudication suits were filed, and all of a sudden thousands of acequia parciantes were defendants in state-initiated lawsuits, and the validity of many long-held water rights were questioned.  Quantifying water rights in turn led to water rights being analyzed outside of the context of the community and the acequia that gave rise to those rights. Proposals were made to transfer acequia water rights to distant areas, without regard for the effects on the community that would lose those rights. This marked a change, where water was being treated as a commodity, rather than as an essential and integral part of rural agricultural communities. Some people began advocating – to address the issue of getting water rights where they were needed for development, industry, or municipalities – that a New Mexico-wide water market run by the state be established. The assumption in this idea was that water rights would be moved out of agriculture to whoever or wherever offered the most money.

Acequias were getting lost in this new way of thinking.  They were becoming invisible outside of their local communities, their needs neglected.  

This extremity of position was one that would spur NMAA to place a great emphasis on policy work as one way of addressing the loss of acequia self-determination and prominence. Through its Concilio, Policy Working Groups, and Congreso de las Acequias (a federation of regional acequia associations), the organization has engaged grassroots leadership to assist in identifying and addressing their most pressing concerns. NMAA has worked at the local, state and federal levels to create policies that address those concerns. After 30 years it can truly be said that NMAA has made acequias visible once again. 

Some examples of NMAA’s work influencing decision-makers include:

  • Water Right Transfers.  Acequias now have decision-making power over proposed transfers of acequia water rights, thanks to a law NMAA passed in 2003.
  • Water Banking.  NMAA several times defeated in the Legislature bills to set up statewide water marketing or statewide water banking.  Turning that conversation toward a more useful avenue, NMAA instead enacted a state law in 2003 for local water banking, whose purpose is not to market water rights but rather to protect water rights from being lost for non-use.
  • Condemnation.  NMAA passed a bill in 2009 prohibiting cities from trying to condemn acequia water rights.
  • Easement protection.  Passed in 2005, Acequia mayordomos and commissioners now have more legal remedies available to them for situations where a landowner is not respecting an acequia’s right-of-way or where a landowner is blocking or interfering with the acequia.  
  • Tort claims.  Like other public entities, acequias and their members, officers and employees are now shielded against tort lawsuits as of 2006.
  • Notice of State Engineer Water Right Transfers. In 2019, NMAA passed a law expanding the outdated system of OSE legal notices being published only in newspapers – adding on-line notice, assisting acequias in their ability to file a protest.
  • Liens for non-payment of dues.  Acequias now have a simpler process for placing liens on property after receiving a Magistrate court judgment for non-payment of dues as a way of inducing parciantes to come current on their dues.
  • Funding for acequias.  NMAA has successfully advocated many times for various types of funding for acequias the state level including funding for infrastructure improvements, adjudication expenses, and legal and technical assistance on governance issues. 
  • Federal funding for acequias. For years, NMAA worked with NM Association of Conservation Districts and our Congressional Delegation to make acequias as local governments eligible for EQIP funding for infrastructure. This was finally achieved in the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • Easement/Maintenance rights on federal land.  NMAA has campaigned to get federal agencies – particularly the Forest Service – to honor the easement rights of acequias that cross federal lands.  Including the right to do maintenance and improvements without the cost and delay of getting a permit from the agency. After twenty years of NMAA working on this issue, in 2019 we achieved a Guidance Document from the USFS directing their field offices to cease requiring permits for the repair and replacement of existing acequia structures. 
  • Supporting local governments to protect Acequias. NMAA has collaborated with local governments to strengthen ordinances that protect acequia easements, acequia served water rights, and agricultural land.
  • Court advocacy:  NMAA has also weighed in on a number of court cases involving important questions of acequia rights and water rights.  Most recently, NMAA filed an amicus brief in the New Mexico Court of Appeals, successfully defending the right of an acequia to hold its meetings in Spanish.  

Reflecting on how this was accomplished:

 In the movies, great popular movements and political change happen as if by magic – the lead character makes a speech and the world changes!  In reality, this type of progress is never made simply because you are on the side of what is right. Good ideas are almost always met with resistance, and overcoming that resistance takes a tremendous amount of effort and organizing. The gains that acequias have won over these past 30 years happened because, fortunately, acequias had several key ingredients for success:

  • Statewide Leadership.  For acequias to come together after centuries of acting locally and autonomously took a certain rarely-found type of leadership – one that was patient and credible and that inspired confidence in the vision of acequias moving beyond their local spheres of influence and building an organized statewide presence.  Slowly at first, and then accelerating under Paula Garcia’s leadership beginning in 1998, acequias joined together in a way they never had before.
  • Local Leadership. Every victory turned on the fact that countless acequia leaders stepped forward at a crucial point in time.  For example, when the water transfer law was passed giving acequias the right to decide on water transfers, each acequia had to amend its bylaws to include this new power.  Without hundreds of acequias holding meetings they would not have the trasfer protection under the law.
  • Legislative Leadership.  Acequias in New Mexico have been blessed with some of the most dedicated legislators working on their behalf.  Two stand out in particular: the late former House Speaker Ben Lujan, Sr., and Senator Carlos Cisneros, whose passing we now mourn.  They sponsored the most important of the legislation listed above. They never gave up, but remained committed to these bills until they would finally pass.  These two exceptional men exemplified what it means to be a public servant and the acequias of New Mexico are fortunate to have had them by their side.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships. NMAA has worked with a variety of organizations and entities in our advocacy through the years. NMAA’s closest partner in visioning these changes has been New Mexico Legal Aid. Additionally, NMAA is grateful for its partners across the Agricultural Community, various governmental agencies, those with interests in conservation, water resources and open government. NMAA’s issues have been ones that have often led disparate groups to find common ground in our values of protecting the land, water and its people.

The policy achievements listed here are a mere sampling of NMAA’s work. While acequias have made great strides working together, continued advocacy is vital for us not to lose the ground we have gained. Economic interests are still driving many decisions concerning water, new issues are constantly emerging, and changes long in the making such as demographic shifts, a move away from an ag-based economy and climate change, to name just a few, must be reckoned with. Through it all, NMAA is committed to being a platform that offers acequias a voice, to share our visions for policy change and to advocate together.

By David Benavides, New Mexico Legal Aid Attorney 

Job Openings – Acequia Education Coordinator & Acequia Program Assistant

The NMAA is seeking to hire two full-time positions as follows:
Acequia Education Coordinator: The New Mexico Acequia Association’s Acequia Education Coordinator is a full-time position that is responsible for providing acequia consultations as well as stakeholder and youth education. The position is focused primarily on responding to requests for assistance from acequias in matters relating to acequia governance.  The Acequia Education Coordinator will assist acequias through one-on-one sessions by phone, email, or in-person meetings.  Primary topics for acequia consultations include acequia bylaws, Open Meetings Act compliance, acequia easements, elections, and infrastructure planning, financial compliance, among other topics.  CLICK HERE TO REVIEW full Education Coordinator job description, overview of responsibilities, and qualification requirements.

Acequia Program Assistant: The Acequia Program Assistant is a full-time position. The primary responsibilities of the position are assist the Acequia Governance Team in providing services for acequias such as consultation on water rights, infrastructure, mapping, and governance as well as to provide education to youth and stakeholders about acequias. This includes assistance with database management and generation of reports. The Program Assistant will work as part of NMAA’s Acequia Governance Team which meets regularly. CLICK HERE TO REVIEW full Program Assistant job description, overview of responsibilities, and qualification requirements.

Anyone interested in applying for these positions should submit a letter of interest and resume via email to juliet@lasacequias.org. The positions will remain open until filled. Questions should be directed the same email or by calling the NMAA at 505-995-9644.