FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paula Garcia
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. It is also important to remember there is no cap on the number of licenses to be issued, so there is still time for entry into this emerging market.”
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.”
This is a letter from a broad coalition to the NM House of Representatives. For a PDF of the letter click here: Cannabis coalition Letter to House 2.15.22
CALL TO ACTION: RESTORE WATER PROTECTIONS IN CANNABIS BILL SB 100
Dear House Members,
We, the undersigned, are calling upon the House of Representatives to restore water protections to the Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA). SB 100 (Lopez-Romero) was originally intended to increase plant counts and other “technical” changes. However, a hostile amendment by Senator Pirtle in the Senate Judiciary Committee stripped essential water protections requiring that an applicant have valid water rights as a condition of being granted a license to grow cannabis. We are asking the House to remove the Pirtle amendment and restore existing water protection requirements of the CRA.
We know that these protections are necessary because other states with legal cannabis (California, Oregon, Colorado, etc.) are struggling with illegal water uses. In New Mexico, many new producers mistakenly believe they can:
1) use domestic wells for commercial production,
2) pump surface water from acequias or rivers without a valid water right,
3) use residential water from mutual domestics for commercial production.
OSE Director of Water Resources Allocation Program has recently stated that the CRA’s water validation requirement is working to prevent water theft by cannabis producers and results in less agency resources being expended in the long term:
- 85-90% of applicants “have presented invalid water rights, need to reconfigure the water rights or plan to use a domestic well, which is not allowed for agriculture,” Romero advised.
- OSE also advised that removal of the existing water protection requirement is “going to make it that much more difficult on the agency when we’re already resource-strapped.”
Moreover, the water protection requirements ensure water equity. Tribal and Senior water rights holders in NM are from historically underserved and marginalized communities which will now be put at greater risk of unlawful uses of surface and groundwater impairing their senior water rights. This is an issue of water equity. Requiring validity checks for water actually ensures water equity for rural and tribal communities such as acequias and water providers such as mutual domestics.
Finally, the Legislature has required OSE water rights validation and use oversight for other industries: NM Subdivision Act, specifically Sections 47-6-11, 47-6-11.2, and 47-6-11.4 NMSA 1978; Section 72-12-5 NMSA 1978 pertaining to use of non potable deep aquifers in multiple sectors; and the Mine Dewatering Act, Section 2-12A-5 NMSA 1978.
New Mexico is now in an era of long term aridification, where we need more careful stewardship of our limited water resources and cultural integrity. By removing the water protections, rural entities, such as mutual domestics and acequias, who are entrusted with managing water at the local level, will bear the burden of enforcement. This would put our precious water resources at risk. We are urging you to remove the Pirtle amendment, restore existing water protection requirements, and allow time for a meaningful analysis during the legislative interim.
NM Cannabis Justice Project Shiprock Traditional Farmers Cooperative
Pueblo Action Alliance El Chante
National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Ass.-NM Southwest Organizing Project
National Young Farmers American Friends Service Committee
New Mexico Acequia Association Tewa Women United
Western Landowners Alliance Yucca
Trout Unlimited Los Jardines
Agri-Cultura Cooperative Network Earth Care
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Black Farmers and Ranchers NM
N.M. Association of Conservation Districts Bueno Para Todos Farm
NM League of United Latin American Citizens
Please contact the Senate NOW to remove the Senate Judiciary Committee amendment to SB 100 Cannabis Regulation!! There will like be a vote on the Senate Floor MONDAY. When the original Cannabis Regulation Act was passed in 2021, NMAA advocated for water protections as a condition of obtaining a cannabis producer license. The protections are to prevent illegal uses of water. IT IS URGENT that we contact the full Senate to remove the SJC amendment, which was made in the Senate Judiciary Committee WITHOUT ANY TRANSPARENCY or opportunity for PUBLIC COMMENT.
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, “Campos, Pete” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Candelaria, Jacob” <email@example.com>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paula Garcia
Acequias Cry Foul on Cannabis Legislation
(Santa Fe, NM). Acequias are denouncing a last-minute gutting of water protections in the Cannabis Regulation Act. On Sunday morning, a Senate committee met to consider a bill dealing with cannabis plant count limits. Without notice or opportunity for public comment, the committee adopted an amendment eliminating existing requirements aimed at preventing illegal uses of water.
“We worked very hard with the legislature in 2021 to enact safeguards for water resources from the negative impacts of the cannabis industry,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. “In a few minutes, with no opportunity for public comment, all that hard work was erased.”
Senator Pirtle, a Roswell Republican, introduced an amendment to SB 100 to remove language in the Cannabis Regulation Act requiring cannabis producers have valid water rights. The only dissenting vote was Senator Linda Lopez, the bill sponsor who called the amendment “not friendly.” Three of the committee members who are attorneys practicing cannabis law cited their own experience and argued that the water rights requirements were burdensome.
“We are calling upon the full Senate to remove the amendment that gutted the water protections,” Garcia remarked. “If the Legislature was planning to remove the water protections, stakeholders including the acequias should have been consulted.”
Harold Trujillo, President of the NMAA and a member of the Cannabis Advisory Committee, countered remarks by the committee that the removal of water protections would benefit smaller producers. “We are concerned that the cause of equity is being misrepresented,” said Trujillo. “The root cause of inequity is the lack of capital for micro-producers. Requiring validity checks for water actually ensures water equity for rural communities such as mutual domestics and acequias.”
In a public meeting in November 2021, the OSE reported that they had received approximately twenty requests for water rights validation and that the majority did not meet validity checks. “We have learned from other states as well as specific examples of medical producers in New Mexico that the cannabis industry is unique in its apparent problem of illegal water use,” remarked Garcia. “As one of the most water-scarce states in the nation, New Mexico needs extra safeguards for our precious water.”
The New Mexico Acequia Association will be engaged in the upcoming 2022 legislative session. This year, the legislature will convene for a 30-day session, which is focused on passing budget legislation as well as key priorities of the Governor.
NMAA is working on a list of budget priorities as follows:
• $400,000 increase in recurring funding for the Acequia and Community Ditch Fund (ACDF) the purpose of which is to ensure equitable engagement in the water right adjudication process
• $4.5 million to the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) for a 3 year project to conduct a statewide acequia infrastructure assessment including analysis of climate resilient designs for acequia irrigation systems.
• $2.5 million to the ISC for shovel-ready projects and $5 million to the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund (ACDIF) to plan, design, and construct acequia projects over a 3 year timeframe.
• Create an Acequia Bureau at the ISC and add 2.0 FTE for implementation of the ACDIF.
• Create a Policy Analyst Position, 1.0 FTE to the New Mexico Acequia Commission.
Additionally, NMAA will be monitoring all legislation with a focus on water, agriculture, conservation, and infrastructure. We update our 2022 Acequia Legislative Tracker daily during the 30 day session.
Statement from the NM Acequia Association:
“Land grants and acequias have sustained our communities for centuries. We remain devoted to the well-being of our families by sustaining our culture and protecting land and water for future generations. We are encouraged that House Leadership is listening to our needs and concerns and that there is a commitment to work with us now and in the future. We are prepared to advocate for investments in our communities and policies consistent with our core values. We have much work ahead and look forward to having a stronger voice in the updated committee structure.” – Paula Garcia, Executive Director
Full text of the press release from Speaker Brian Egolf:
House Democrats and Community Leaders Give Voice to Land Grants and Acequias
Santa Fe, NM. – After meeting with land grant and acequia community leaders today, House Speaker Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) announced important changes to House standing committees to elevate the voices and concerns of these communities. The new Rural Development, Land Grants, and Cultural Affairs Committee will be established in the coming session, and will be chaired by Representative Susan Herrera (D-Embudo).
Two other standing committees will also be newly titled: the Agriculture, Acequias, and Water Resources Committee and the Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee. Together, these committees will respond effectively to the needs of land grant and acequia communities within the Legislature.
Majority Leader Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque), Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos (D-Las Cruces), and Majority Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson (D-Church Rock) joined with colleagues in the House today to meet with land grant and acequia community leaders and receive input on policies to strengthen and protect these institutions into the future.
Statement of Speaker Brian Egolf:
“Land grants, acequias, and their contributions to our state have been critically important to me since the first day I was elected to the Legislature. I am grateful for the advice and input that we received today from land grant and acequia leaders. I am glad that we have charted a path forward which will result in a new committee structure that will both elevate land grant and acequia issues and bring positive change for every land grant heir and acequia parciante.”
New Mexico Land Grant-Merced Consejo:
“The New Mexico Land Grant-Merced Consejo and land grant leaders throughout the state are pleased that the Majority Leadership in the House of Representatives has committed to working with and consulting our communities on issues relating to land and water, which we expect will result in better overall policies for our State. That land grants and acequias are included in standing committees of the legislature is an important first step to ensure that the needs of our communities are addressed.”
Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association:
“Land grants and acequias have sustained our communities for centuries. We remain devoted to the well-being of our families by sustaining our culture and protecting land and water for future generations. We are encouraged that House Leadership is listening to our needs and concerns and that there is a commitment to work with us now and in the future. We are prepared to advocate for investments in our communities and policies consistent with our core values. We have much work ahead and look forward to having a stronger voice in the updated committee structure.”
Ralph Vigil, Chair of the New Mexico Acequia Commission:
“Today we had a good meeting with House Leadership regarding the future of the land grants, acequias, and our traditional communities. This is hopefully the beginning of building long term relationships with legislative leaders to address the long standing issues for our traditional communities and the citizens of New Mexico. We look forward to working closely with our legislative allies to move our communities forward.”
Steve Polaco, President of Merced de Los Pueblos de Tierra Amarilla:
“I am pleased that Representative Susan Herrera has been appointed to Chair the new Rural Development, Land Grants, and Cultural Affairs Committee. She has been working with our land grant since she was elected. Everything we have asked for, she has always sent us in the right direction and I think she will lead us in a way that will help us accomplish everything that we want to achieve. She has been very responsive in the past and I have confidence that she will continue to do that.”
House Majority Leader Javier Martínez:
“These treasured multigenerational entities are foundational to the identity and livelihoods of many New Mexicans. The land grant and acequia communities have to know they can count on elected leaders to have their backs and ensure they have a strong voice within state government.”
Corazón y Querencia: Acequias Respond to the Water and Climate Crisis
Adopted at the 2021 Congreso de las Acequias, December 4, 2021
Our theme for 2021, Corazón y Querencia, is rooted in love, which is the most potent force for survival and resilience for our families and communities in the years to come. Drought, climate change, and the global pandemic have reminded us of our interconnectedness both locally and globally. We believe in the power of building stronger communities through cooperation, sharing, and mutual understanding.
Acequias have been caretakers of water for centuries in New Mexico. For nearly four decades, acequias have mobilized to protect water from commodification through protests of water transfers and by strengthening acequia governance. Our communities are confronting an urgent existential crisis that must be addressed on multiple levels:
- the water crisis has been underway for decades prompted in part by climate change and drought but also by water policy decisions. For more than two generations, acequias have sounded the alarm about an impending water crisis resulting from overappropriation of water, unsustainable and inequitable management of our water resources based on water markets, water transfers out of agriculture to other uses, and irreversible depletion of finite groundwater.
- the climate crisis has increased the urgency to be exemplary caretakers of our watersheds, rivers, acequias, and farmland, to reaffirm customs and traditions of water sharing, i.e. the repartimiento, as well as to re-localize our food systems with native and landrace seeds, healthy soils, resilient and dynamic herds of livestock, and regenerative agricultural practices.
- the economic crisis, driven by unprecedented wealth inequality, manifests in our communities as gentrification, development patterns that cannot be sustained in an arid environment, underinvestment in rural community development and infrastructure, and food and agriculture policy that undermines small-scale farmers. The most immediate impact for acequias is the commodification of water driving the movement of water out of agriculture to extractive industries, water speculation, land development speculation, as well as luxury resorts and hunting lodges for the extremely wealthy.
Guided by our core values, acequia parciantes, families, and neighbors will strive to work together to not only survive multiple levels of crisis but to strengthen our communities. We resolve to build and sustain relationships based on respeto (respect) in which we treat each other with dignity. As acequias, water sharing customs and traditions, known as the repartimiento, are central to our culture and our identity. Likewise, mutualismo, characterized by relationships of mutual aid, democratic decisions, and collective management of resources, is a core value deeply rooted in acequia history and culture. The core value of solidarity compels us to work with multiple movements for social, economic, and environmental justice.
Acequias and the Way Forward: Actions for 2022
Water Sharing Agreements: The repartimiento tradition, as we define it for our present time, is the practice of sharing water within acequias and between acequias. As long-term megadrought and climate change intensify, communities have to prepare for less snowpack, less runoff, and less predictable precipitation. In 2022, the NMAA invites acequias to engage in a local dialogue to affirm values and customs of water sharing and to update and reinvent customary practices during this era of climate change when adaptations are necessary.
Water as a Community Resource vs. Commodification: Acequias have been on the front line of challenging the commodification of water for over a century in New Mexico. In 2022, NMAA will continue to support acequias in filing protests of water transfers, to build capacity to exert decisions over proposed water transfers out of acequias, and to organize a base in communities to defend water as a community resource.
Infrastructure and Disaster Preparedness: Generations of acequia parciantes have built and maintained acequia infrastructure. NMAA remains committed to supporting local acequias securing resources for improvements to infrastructure and to advocating for climate-resilience in planning and design of irrigation works. Acequias must remain vigilant to disasters such as fires and floods and will need support to prepare for disasters and to navigate emergency management and disaster recovery.
Care for our Watersheds and Aquifers: Our watersheds, rivers, and aquifers are interconnected. Efforts to improve the health of our watersheds must be increased by an order of magnitude to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. Acequia leaders can be valuable partners in planning watershed restoration projects with soil and water conservation districts and other partners. Likewise, acequias have a role in protecting aquifers from groundwater depletion. It is vital that stronger conjunctive management be implemented in New Mexico to ensure that aquifers can be sustained for future generations. The acequia landscape, our waterways and farmland, which contribute to aquifer recharge, must be protected through various regulatory and legal tools.
Clean Water for Drinking, Growing Food, Wildlife, and Ceremonies: Climate-change induced water scarcity will likely exacerbate water quality problems in our streams and rivers. Pollution from industries, municipalities, weapons laboratories, and ski areas continues to be a concern because of detriment to water supplies, including surface waters used for irrigation. NMAA will continue to partner with advocates and community leaders in defending water from contamination and will work toward a regulatory framework that is effective in achieving clean water for our communities and future generations.
Food and Seed Sovereignty: Growing food and raising livestock are central to acequia continuity for centuries past and future. Re-localizing our food systems includes all the necessary work of protecting land and water as well as saving, protecting, and propagating native and landrace seeds. Our communities need a more robust support system for acequia-scale farming and ranching that includes paid training and apprenticeship opportunities, assistance with purchasing and using equipment, food system infrastructure for aggregation, storage, and distribution, and community support in providing a vibrant local market. We can build upon programs that incentivize making fresh, locally grown food affordable and available to the most vulnerable in our communities.
Land: In New Mexico, a tiny fraction of land is arable and these irrigated lands hold the promise of food sovereignty. Irrigated lands used for farmland and pasture are vulnerable to economic forces driving subdivision and development. All lands, including rangelands, are vulnerable to soil erosion, which will be exacerbated by climate change. Major investment of resources from the state and federal level for conservation programs is needed to restore the health of our landscape and to build healthy soils that support food systems and sequester carbon. It is imperative to people who wish to farm with people willing to lease or lend their land to be used for growing food. Acequias will continue to work with land grants to gain more recognition and protection for traditional land uses.
Youth Education and Leadership. Younger generations are inheriting a land vastly different from that known by our parents and grandparents. We are in a time of reckoning when we will be assessing our efforts to protect our land and water, gleaning our lessons learned, and supporting youth in taking on leadership roles in our movement. In 2022, NMAA will support existing youth projects, encourage networking between youth leaders, and incorporate youth leaders into NMAA projects, programs, and governance. Additionally, NMAA will collaborate with partners to develop curriculum inclusive of acequias and land grants for use by schools and organizations.
Organizing and Popular Education: For over three decades, the NMAA has been engaged as a grassroots organization to protect water and strengthen acequia agriculture. NMAA includes elders with deep roots in social justice and the civil rights movement. The dual climate and economic crises that we confront require us to learn from our past work to organize in our communities and to strengthen our efforts to build a grassroots base so that we can act in our collective interests. Our methods will be to embrace popular education methods and to involve youth in key roles in community organizing.
APPROVED BY THE CONGRESO DE LAS ACEQUIAS ON the 4th of DECEMBER, 2021.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Acequias Decry Proposed Congressional Map
(Santa Fe, NM). On Thursday morning, community leaders from northern New Mexico decried the proposed congressional maps as political disenfranchisement. Several northern New Mexico leaders gave testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“This was our one opportunity in ten years to testify to a Senate committee on redistricting. Our voice matters,” said Yolanda Jaramillo, an acequia commissioner from Dixon.
“We are opposed to SB 1 because it erodes the political voice of northern New Mexico,” said Ralph Vigil, Chairman of the New Mexico Acequia Commission. “Our communities of interest will be diminished with SB 1 by adding a large swath of southeastern New Mexico to Congressional District 3.”
“We have a long legacy of civic engagement in northern New Mexico where we have been able to advocate for our communities,” said Garcia, “The changes to district 3 will make it more difficult for traditional Hispanic communities of northern New Mexico to have political representation of their choice.”
“We participated extensively in the Citizens Redistricting Committee. Those maps were more measured and moderate. The legislature should have considered those maps that were developed with public input,” said Harold Trujillo, a commissioner from Mora County. “Specifically, map concepts H and E had some similarities to SB 1 but the changes were not as extensive. Concept E incorporated acequia input.”
In the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, SB 1 proponents stated that the new map would make all three congressional districts more competitive. “Just drawing maps around percentages of Hispanic population does not tell the story of our communities and does not honor us as communities of interest,” added Garcia. “Voting statistics do not define us as a people.”
At the meeting, community members from both northern New Mexico an southeastern New Mexico both spoke in opposition to the new map. “This feels like a shotgun wedding between northern New Mexico and southeastern New Mexico being pushed by some powerful actors who are not listening to us,” remarked Yolanda Jaramillo.
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. To view any of these presentations, visit the NMAA website at www.lasacequias.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.