The Congreso de las Acequias is the annual state-wide membership meeting of the NM Acequia Association, comprised of regional delegates from communities across the state. It is the ONLY statewide gathering of acequia leaders where we share knowledge and create strategies for protecting our acequias, the water that flows through them, and the healthy food that is grown with them.
We need your Support!
We have raised $3,200 out of $10,000!
Thank you to current Sponsors!
American Friends Service Committee
Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
Tewa Women United
Guadalupe Credit Union
Santa Cruz Irrigation District
Gregory Swift, Acequia Commissioner
Con Alma Health Foundation
Waterwise Gardening, LLC
Del Norte Credit Union
And you can Sponsor the Congreso too!!!
Maíz — $1000
· REGISTRATION waived for EIGHT (8) individuals
· DISPLAY BOOTH in Exhibit Area
· COLOR HALF (1/2) Page Advertisement in Program
· ACKNOWLEDGEMENT in our Print Newsletter, Electronic Newsletter, and on our Website
Chile — $500
· REGISTRATION waived for Four (4) individuals
· DISPLAY BOOTH in Exhibit Area
· COLOR QUARTER (1/4) Page Advertisement in Program
· ACKNOWLEDGEMENT in our Print Newsletter, Electronic Newsletter, and on our Website
Hava — $250
· REGISTRATION waived for TWO (2) individuals
· DISPLAY BOOTH in Exhibit Area
· COLOR Business Card Advertisement in Program
· ACKNOWLEDGMENT in our Print Newsletter, Electronic Newsletter, and on our Website
Alverjon — $100
· REGISTRATION waived for One (1) individual
· NAME Listed in Program
· ACKNOWLEDGEMENT in our Print Newsletter , Electronic Newsletter, and on our Website
Please call or email Lori Spillman, 505-995-9644 or firstname.lastname@example.org
“Why are acequias important to your family, culture, or community?”
*Submit poems, videos, paintings, sketches, mixed media, models, and MORE!
Art participants are limited to one entry.
Acequia Photo Contest
Acequieros Working the Land
Digitally Altered Imagery
Food and Seed Traditions
*Photo participants are limited to one entry per category.
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 *Winners will be recognized at the 2018 Congreso de las Acequias!
Art must be submitted by October 31, 2018 Submissions must be sent either by snail mail or electronically, in high resolution jpeg format. Please mail to NM Acequia Association 805 Early Street Bldg. B, Suite 203 Santa Fe, NM 87505 or email to email@example.com along with the following information:
Name of Artist
Art/photo description or title(s)
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.
SAN LUIS, CO (August 28, 2018). In 2002, in a historic ruling in the Lobato v. Taylor land rights case, the Colorado Supreme Court settled a decades-long legal struggle by the heirs of the 1844 Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. The 80,000-acre parcel is known locally as La Sierra (the Mountain Tract). It is vital to the Culebra River acequia villages in Costilla County which rely on these access rights to sustain a robust and sustainable local agricultural economy. The ruling restored to the heirs and successors of the land grant rights to gather firewood and construction materials and to graze livestock. In 2005, more than 350 families received keys for access to the land grant and the exercise of these rights.
On Sept. 5, 2018, the San Luis Land Rights Council (LRC) and its supporters will have to return to the courts to defend these rights yet again. Shirley M. Romero Otero, the President of the LRC, expressed the view that the ability of the heirs to use La Sierra remains a vital part of the economic stability and cultural survival of a unique farming community that is the living heart of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. The scheduled September 5 hearing is before the Colorado Court of Appeals in Denver.
The latest legal round was triggered by the new private owner of La Sierra (a.k.a. Cielo Vista Ranch), William Bruce Harrison, the scion of a wealthy Texas family with billions in oil wealth. Harrison is the fourth owner of the grant since the 2002 ruling. Prior owners included the disgraced head of the now defunct Enron Energy Services, Lou Pai. In the mid 1990s, then Colorado Governor Roy Romer established the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant Commission to try and resolve the dispute through a buy-out that would have converted the land into a state park and wildlife management area. The deal collapsed when Zachary Taylor, Jr. rejected an offer for $21 million in 1997. Harrison acquired ownership in February 2018 for a reported $105 million. The LRC has always opposed state ownership and emphasizes litigation to restore historic land use rights.
Established in 1978, the LRC was inspired by a legacy of local resistance led by the late Apolinar Rael during the 1960s land grant movement. In 1981, the LRC filed a class-action lawsuit against Jack T. Taylor, the North Carolina timber baron who acquired the grant in 1960. Taylor eventually lost because in 1960 he had promptly sued to keep the locals out but violated due process and equal protection standards when filing a quiet title action. Taylor and the lower courts failed to inform the majority of the land grant heirs, denying them their day in court to challenge Taylor’s quiet title action. The LRC sought to re-establish long-held community use rights to La Sierra, which the people were legally entitled to as confirmed under Mexican and U.S. law. The grant was patented by an act of Congress on June 21, 1860. After more than 37 years of court battles, the Culebra acequia village communities regained access rights when the Colorado Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in Lobato v. Taylor [71 P.3d 938 (2002)] on June 24, 2002.
The pursuit of land speculation by wealthy outsiders has led to the sale and re-sale of the land grant over the years. In this environment, it has proved difficult for the heirs to develop and implement a co-management plan to protect these rights and sustain a healthy ecosystem that makes exercise of these rights possible. Ms. Romero observes: “There have been four different owners over the past sixteen years since our rights were restored. How can we develop a plan when the private speculative parties keep changing? We now have an owner who wants to strip us of our rights. It is hard to negotiate a management plan with a hostile party. The fact that the land grant is constantly subject to speculation has made it difficult for the community to adopt and implement a co-management plan.”
Ms. Romero further noted: “Instead of trying to undermine established law and precedent, Mr. Harrison should work with us to take care of the mountain and restore the forests from damage caused by excessive logging operations by the Taylor family. We’ve taken care of that mountain for more than 150 years and that is why the wealthy speculators are drawn here. Our knowledge of the ecology of La Sierra is the only thing that has sustained this watershed. Mr. Harrison should work with us to protect the source of our heritage and livelihoods instead of attacking legally established rights.” Ms. Romero describes a recent meeting with the thirty-year old Harrison: “He claims that he is a conservationist but told us during a recent meeting [with the LRC] that he purchased the mountain because he ‘needs a place to play.’”
Dr. Devon G. Peña, a local farmer and President of The Acequia Institute and former officer with the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, observes: “For the local acequia farmers who are land grant heirs, some of the most important rights tied to La Sierra are the oldest water rights in the state of Colorado. That mountain is our watershed and protecting the forest is vital to the survival of the oldest family farms in the state, especially in a time of climate change. It is astounding that we have a newcomer speculator who ignores legal precedent and the rights of the local people to continue sustainable use. The community has been a good protector of the land grant despite abuses by an ever-shifting cast of rich men seeking a prestigious playground. We advocate for a co-management plan that focuses on creating jobs for local people to work restoring the ecosystem of La Sierra that was so badly damaged by decades of excessive logging by private land speculators with no ties to the community.”
For more information contact: Shirley M. Romero, President, Land Rights Council. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 970-640-8014
The New Mexico Acequia Association is pleased to announce another successful statewide acequia conference on June 21th 2018 at Los Luceros Historic Ranch in Alcalde. This year, we focused on the struggle of drought and highlighting innovative ways that acequia leaders are managing water, enhancing soil health, and more effectively communicating with our neighbors to overcome dry times. The morning began with a procession to the orchard where the Hermanos Penitentes lead with a prayer for San Ysidro, setting the tone for a day in deep meditation for rain, water and one another.
There was a dynamic and very heartfelt conversation that carried on throughout the day. Acequia farmers shared their experience in sharing water but also what is not working within their communities that makes farming in New Mexico one of the most difficult. In unity, the larger acequia community leans on one another, lending out knowledge, seeds, and wisdom to help one another continue to farm and preserve our cultural heritage in times of uncertainty.
We want to personally thank and celebrate all of you for making the time and effort to be there and for bringing the knowledge back to your communities. Special thanks to Norma Naranjo who prepared a delicious meal for lunch, Donne and Edward Gonzales who facilitated an educational drip irrigation demonstration, and all of our presenters who shared knowledge about farming methods that are feasible with little water.
Please look for a full summary of the conference in our electronic newsletter in July!
WASHINGTON – June 28th, 2018, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) announced that they have secured a provision in the Senate’s 2018 Farm Bill to make acequias eligible for grants and technical assistance from conservation and environmental programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to increase agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources.
Acequias provide water for many small and traditional farmers in New Mexico. There are hundreds of acequia associations throughout the state that will be eligible under Senators Udall and Heinrich’s provision. Udall and Heinrich have long worked to help New Mexico’s traditional communities access federal programs and funding for water and resource conservation projects. In 2017, the senators introduced the Providing Land Grants and Acequias Conservation and Environmental Services (PLACES) Act of 2017, legislation that forms the basis of Udall and Heinrich’s farm bill provision. The 2018 Farm Bill improves upon the PLACES Act by granting acequias direct access to NRCS programs by expressly including them as eligible entities for NRCS programs. This cuts red tape and allows for parity with other producers.
“Acequias and the majordomos and parciantes that operate them represent an integral part of New Mexico’s centuries’ old heritage that continues to this day, providing good stewardship for our land and helping maintain our state’s water infrastructure since before statehood,” Udall said. “Acequias hold great historical and cultural significance in New Mexico, and acequia users produce healthy food for our families and communities, protect our water quality, and conserve our lands. Our water, agricultural lands, and rural areas will benefit now that acequia associations can apply directly for NRCS grants and technical assistance. For too long, the federal government did not recognize acequias as eligible entities and producers could not easily access these federal programs. Our new provision in the Farm Bill remedies that.”
“Acequias are the lifeblood of northern New Mexico’s rural communities. New Mexico’s acequia associations and land grants should be able to access important federal water and land conservation programs and resources just like any other irrigation districts,” Heinrich said. “By securing this provision in the Farm Bill, we can improve the process to allow New Mexico communities to access the resources they need to make long-term plans on a landscape scale and conserve our vital natural resources for future generations.”
The bill makes acequias eligible for grants and technical assistance from the NCRS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program, and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program helps agricultural producers adopt practices that ensure sustainable production on farms, ranches, and working forest lands that protect soil, water, plan, wildlife, and other natural resources. Funds from EQIP can be used to improve irrigation delivery systems – like water control structures, pipelines, and concrete ditches – that benefit individual or multiple land owners.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) helps producers build on their initial conservation efforts while strengthening their operations through increasing crop yields, improving grazing conditions, developing wildlife habitat, and other measures. New Mexico has the second highest number of acres enrolled in CSP.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program helps conserve agricultural lands through easements that limit non-agricultural uses and helps protect wetlands through easements that restore and enhance wetlands.
Acequia associations are political subdivisions of the State of New Mexico, but unlike other subdivisions, they can’t levy taxes on users. Therefore, the cost of upkeep and repairs is borne by individual members of the community. Direct access to NRCS grants and technical assistance will give acequias access to needed resources to improve their farm and ranch operations, carry on their cultural traditions, institute sustainable practices, and protect our natural resources.
Ralph Vigil, Chair of the New Mexico Acequia Commission stated, “Our Acequias have been the life and blood of New Mexico’s communities for over 500 years and have persevered in times of drought and water shortages over the centuries. As we continue to experience changes in our climate and ecosystem, this legislation will provide the necessary tools in building long term sustainability for our Acequia communities for the next 500 years.”
“We greatly appreciate the efforts of Senators Udall and Heinrich to improve the eligibility of acequias for conservation programs in the Farm Bill,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. “Acequias are centuries-old irrigation systems that support the livelihood of farmers and ranchers who contribute to New Mexico’s agricultural economy and cultural heritage. Investment in conservation practices and improvements in acequias will help to expand the availability of locally grown food and support the livelihood of farmers and ranchers.”
### Contacts: Ned Adriance (Udall) 202.228.6870 / Whitney Potter (Heinrich) 202.228.1578
Interviews with Acequia Commissioner Patrick Blumm and Mayordomo Carl Gray Witkop
Interviewed and written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff
What is the history of your acequia community, as you know it (or as you’ve been told)?
The riverside village of Pilar is located 16 miles south of Taos at the intersection of State Highway 68 and 570 in Taos County. Pat Blumm, Acequia Commissioner jokes that, “the population of the village is about 120 people or maybe more like 150 if you count all of our dogs”. Pilar is the first populated community on the banks of the Rio Grande and was settled in 1775 by the Spanish as the Cieneguilla Land Grant. Pat excitedly confirms that, “the heirs of original settler families Vigil, Archuleta, Suazo, Sanchez and Gurule are still active members of our community and acequia today”. With a respectful interjection, Carl, Mayordomo of the Acequia adds, “However, prior to Spanish occupation the indigenous Ute and Apache people farmed and irrigated the land they called the womb from local springs on the north side of the Picuris Mountains. These 5 springs create the Aguitas Caliente Creek and today feed the five miles of the Pilar Acequia Association.
A historic event that occurred in our community was the Battle of Cieneguilla on March 30th 1854 an act of resistance of the Jicarilla Apaches and Ute Allies against the American 1st Cavalry Regiment from Fort Burgwin in their attempt of Western Expansionism in the Four Corners Region”. The result was an Apache/Ute Victory with a retreat by the dragoon regiments to Ranchos de Taos after 20 were killed and 30 wounded by flintlock rifles and arrows.
With a grin, Pat chimed in, “You see, Pilar is rich in a history of resistance. In the early 1900’s a legal dispute broke out between the acequia and the Copper Hill Mining Company as they illegally diverted more than half of the water of Aguatita Caliente creek that historically irrigated community of Pilar. The community refused to allow the company to divert a majority of their water resulting in an injunction that the mine filed trying to prevent people from trespassing on the springs to divert the water and commanding the acequia to court. Mysteriously, the attorney for the mine withdrew from the litigation and the company had to back pay the association for damages to their acequia. This was one of the most heroic victories of our community, as you could image that our predecessors who challenged the mine did not speak any English but defended our water in court and resisted industry so that we can continue to farm and irrigate today!”
What traditions and practices does your acequia community maintain? (Food and agriculture, limpia, etc.)
“Our acequia for many years honored the traditional Spring cleaning of the acequia but as people got older and the traditional families grew and left the community, people began to lose hope in the acequia. It wasn’t until only 14 years ago when Leroy Naranjo was nominated for Mayordomo that he began to take initiative to re-organize and re-establish our association for the better”. Carl emphasized, “because of Leroy we have members participating, irrigating, and respecting our officers and the acequia system again. Although our traditional annual cleaning has changed we have made a strong agricultural come back. Our parciantes plant maiz concho, squash, grapes and also maintain fruit orchards like peaches, apples, and cherries. If you didn’t know, our very own Leroy Naranjo has been nominated for 7 years in a row for best green chile in Taos County!”
Carl Witkop encouraged us not to forget that their local parish honors Nuestra Señora de Dolores every December with a procession and novena. Our community as a whole celebrates the outdoors and is a tourist destination for rafting, fishing, hiking and biking.”
What is your irrigation season? (Time frame)
Carl testifies that, “We typically irrigate the months of May through September with 6-7 days of irrigating a week and refill our holding tank every night. The association is currently trying to re-establish our water tank to have more capacity allowing us to irrigate all summer which the acequias in Taos do not have that ability”.
What are your commissioners and mayordomos doing this time of year?
Mayordomo Gray is opening and closing valves every morning and night, walks the ditch twice a week to remove obstructions, weeds, and to divert the water into the North and South ditches. “I go check around to different parciantes if they are getting water, if someone forgets to turn water back to the ditch, I mediate disputes and coordinate work parties so we can walk the ditch freely.”
Pat explains that, “the commission has been focusing on putting in pipe in the slow and troublesome spots to keep the velocity of the water going. Have recently installed a new headgate at our lower pond and even dredged a part of the lower pond. In addition to this, the Commission is working tirelessly alongside the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, NM Acequia Association and the Interstate Stream Commission to apply for monies, conduct infrastructure repairs, updating bylaws and ensure compliance with state law”.
What makes your acequia special?
Spoken with a smile, Pat concludes that “the Mountain Springs are very special to our community and most importantly this acequia brings us together! We are headquarters of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the most southernmost habitable community in Taos County. We are a paradise community surrounded 360˚ degrees by BLM land with a vision to continue supplying our members with water and keep expanding our agricultural abilities not just our recreational attractions!”
It is difficult to write a piece on ‘the art of acequia irrigation’ at a time when so many parciantes are already feeling the effects of water shortage. Many acequias are dry or drying up and irrigators are struggling to get sufficient water to their fields. These times of water shortage remind of times when the ancestors of acequia culture also withstood drought. Times of drought likely motivated our water sharing customs in addition to the development of methods, crops, and ceremonies that helped weather water scarcity and became cornerstone to acequia traditions.
Research into acequia culture across the region has allowed me the privilege of interacting with many acequiero/as that shared information with me which is profound and relevant in adapting to water shortage. In my last article on acequia irrigation in the Summer 2017 edition of ‘Noticias,’ I wrote about the traditional terracing systems in the acequia landscape and re-creating irrigation structures that create water conservation in soils through refined irrigation techniques. Application of these techniques can conserve irrigation water as soil moisture that can have lasting benefits through the growing season and beyond.
But once acequia waters run out, other methods need to come into play to optimize the harvest given the potential deadly effect of water scarcity, heat, and wind to crop production. A primary consideration for weathering drought is to shift the cropping system toward crop types that are hardier during dry years. A memory of “secano” or “al temporal” styles of dryland or rainfed agriculture reminds of us the potential for crops to survive, and even thrive, during dry years. Crops such as habas (fava beans), alberjón (peas), trigo (wheat), cebada (barley), garbanzo beans, lentils, and a diverse array of beans like bolitas have been successful in dryland conditions. Many of these crops are also frost tolerant and can make use of early springtime precipitation, even snow, and will not freeze while giving us a head start on the season before water stress of the summer fully sets in.
For acequia crop production in general, I remember the wisdom in the saying, “Es mas importante escardar y arrimar la tierra que regar.” (It is more important to cultivate your soil and mound your crops with soil than to irrigate.) This saying points to two of the most important things we can do to adapt to drought: care for our soils and care for our crops.
Caring for our soils means limiting erosion, salinity, and building up the organic matter content. Augmenting soils with compost and manure adds organic matter, which then acts as a sponge to absorb moisture when it is available from irrigation or precipitation. Not only does adding organic matter help support the crops and soil microbiology, it is also the most promising tool for farmers and land managers to mitigate climate change by putting carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil.
The process of cultivating the soil and forming mounds around the stems and stalks of crops not only controls weeds that compete for soil nutrients and moisture, but also oxygenates the root zone. An elder once told me that corn in particular likes oxygen more than it likes water. When I received this information, I was taught to vigorously cultivate the soil and pile it around the plants with a hoe, and to not be afraid to cut the roots of the crops in the process. This was surprising to me, but I later experienced a new vitality in the crops that lasted for several days. If rains did not come, another round of soil cultivation allowed for continued survival until rains do come. Perhaps this is due to the wisdom found in another saying, “el mejor humido para las plantas es el sudor del frente.” (The best moisture for plants is the sweat of the brow.)
Another important, and maybe the most important, factor we have to remember that comes with acequia culture is the importance of faith in our activities. An elder woman once shared with me that the reason we are suffering drought is because we aren’t gathering at the church to take the Saints on processions along the acequias and laterals during dry spells. There is much reason to believe that gathering in ceremony can create positive effects in the environment through our collective intention. Relationships between neighbors can also be strengthened and maintained through this kind of gathering; relationships that can also strengthen our sense of community, security, and mutualism in ways that were common to acequia culture in the near past. If we re-learn to equitably share scarce water and work together in community, we can not only have a better result at harvest time, but also maintain the essence of acequia culture that allowed us to survive in community over millennia.
*Miguel Santistevan has been dedicated to agriculture/acequia conservation and education for 23 years. He has a Master’s in Agriculture Ecology and design certifications in Permaculture and ZERI and does consulting. His greatest accomplishment is husband and father for his family in Taos, NM. He can be contacted at email@example.com
On April 3, 2018 acequia leaders from across the state gathered at Los Luceros Ranch to strategize about water management during times of drought. The main topics of the gathering were water sharing, active water resource management, and water quality. The dialogue began with Chris Romero, NRCS Hydrological Technician and Snow Surveyor who reported on the science of our current snow pack condition for the state of New Mexico. In April, the state was at an overall 15% snowpack with a projection that the runoff will be over at the end of May. Unfortunately, we are not getting either snow or rain! Chris also reported that we have a 7% snow water equivalent when in normal years we have at least 34%. How far off is this from our normal in New Mexico? In a thirty year average, 2018 is in the bottom tier for the worst year in precipitation and snowpack.
Afterward, esteemed acequia leaders from Taos, Embudo and Anton Chico facilitated a panel discussion that focused on water sharing practices between acequias. The panelists explained that historically acequias have rationed water equitably based on verbal understandings or written agreements. These water sharing practices continue today and are especially relevant during this year’s drought. Water sharing agreements keep the management of acequia water under local jurisdiction.
The next panel consisted of commissioners who have endured long standing disputes about water within the context of adjudication or administration of basin specific rules and regulations implemented by the State Engineer. Commissioners within the Rio Gallinas, NPT (Nambe, Pojoaque, Tesuque) and Rio Chama expressed concerns with the installation of meters, being assigned water masters, and having to report to the State Engineer acreage “to be irrigated” during the irrigation season. Commissioners expressed their continued resistance to the systematic unraveling of our acequia systems and affirmed local autonomy, decision making, and leadership development for the future of managing of our watersheds.
Finally, the topic of water quality was discussed to raise awareness of the potential devastation of acequia-served farmland due to discharge and effluent being dumped into rivers by municipalities and cities. The conversation extended beyond protecting farmland and addressing the need to protect fish and wildlife. Participants were encouraged to get involved and keep the State’s Water Quality Control Commission accountable and to do their own water testing.
The outcome of the summit encouraged acequias to begin organizing more intentionally around creating water sharing plans that adapt to a changing climate, changes to western water law and affirming cultural customs in our communities. At a minimum, acequia leaders must critically engage in the administration of water, be vigilant in ensuring that water metering agreements are fair and water meters are accurate, and get more involved with county governments especially on developing land use codes that protect acequias. Commissioners and Mayordomos are encouraged during the drought to take inventory of farm infrastructures and beginning making improvements by applying for funding and creating an infrastructure capital improvement plan.
The NM Acequia Association appreciates and affirms the uniqueness of every acequia especially as agriculture is under great pressures. We extend our respect to and appreciation for acequia farmers and ranchers who are exercising their water rights and defending land-based ways of life. A more in depth discussion about acequias and drought will take place at the 6th Annual Commission and Mayordomo Conference on Thursday, June 21st 2018 at Los Luceros Ranch in Alcalde, NM. Please join acequia leaders to learn more about water management, conservation, and planting methods as we move into an era of unpredictability with the climate and agriculture.
My heart sank as I drove over the bridge last week. Here on both sides of Highway 75, the Embudo River pockmarked the stream bed interrupting mud and cobble and willow. It pooled right around the presa for Acequia de la Plaza but went no further. Today my heart broke. It is completely dry on both sides of the bridge.
Most of us who read the New Mexico Acequia Association newsletter know that our acequias, while resilient, are extremely vulnerable. We not only know, we are experiencing it firsthand. Land division, residential development of agricultural land, water fragmentation due to urbanization, climate change, loss of traditional knowledge, aging population of parciantes, etc. all contribute to the potential deterioration of our communities’ most precious resource and our rights to it. Similarly, our native pollinators (bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and beetles) are experiencing grave decline. Land loss and fragmentation of habitat, climate change (which affects timing of blooms, pollinator lifecycles, and etc.), pesticide poisoning, and disease are all causes to their perils. It is no coincidence that the challenges to our acequias and our native pollinators overlap as they are interdependent features of our landscape. Yet within this mutual tragedy of each, there is a solution for both. I propose that by planting pollinator refuges, we can preserve and support pollinators, water rights, and the land itself.
Pollinator refuges are spaces that are intentionally planted to invite pollinators to forage and create nesting sites. When I emailed NMAA Staff Attorney Enrique Romero about whether pollinator refuges could be considered legally a ‘beneficial use’ of acequia waters, he commented, “In my opinion, it is beneficial use provided that irrigation is occurring in a manner that is not wasteful and there is substantial effort on the part of the water right owner to irrigate and ‘cultivate’ the garden. Another important aspect of this question is whether the ‘gardens’ are actually planted or part of the native vegetation that would grow without irrigation. Case law on the subject of beneficial use suggests that whether a use is beneficial depends on whether the community in which the use is taking place considers the use beneficial, i.e. whether it is ‘socially accepted’ as a beneficial use.” My hope is that by reading this article, members of acequias across New Mexico and Southern Colorado will begin to consider pollinator refuges as socially acceptable use of the water.
Pollinators are a keystone species, because many other species rely on pollinators for their survival. As indicator species, their health signifies the health of the surrounding ecosystem. Even though riparian areas represent only 2% of the overall area in the southwestern desert, it is not hard to imagine pollinators being a crucial element to the delicacy of these ecosystems. For example, studies have demonstrated that diverse plant communities along the riparian areas support insects which become food for fish. Bosque habitats have been documented to support 42% of mammals, 38% birds, 33% reptiles, and 13% of the amphibians of the arid West. And more than 90% of birds rely on insects during at least one stage of their life. Our acequias expand these riparian areas as well as provide habitat for various species, including native pollinators.
Given that so many are unable to farm their fields, a pollinator refuge may be a simple solution for using the water in a low impact, low maintenance way while maintaining water rights. Three years ago, I planted a pollinator garden behind the Embudo Valley Library with a grant from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the help of several volunteers. I selected wildflower and grass seeds that were native to the high desert and drought tolerant. I also planted hedges and perennials as well as built pollinator hotels and drilled holes into logs. My intention was to make the garden as low maintenance as possible while also planning for upcoming water shortages on the ditch. Since the first season, I have hardly weeded as the garden has suppressed most of the unwanted plants, including bindweed. The wildflower meadow can also serve as a cover crop that maintains the soil biome and keeps the top soil intact all growing season. Furthermore, the garden has benefited the community as a seedbank for those who wish to invite pollinators to their land. Each year in the garden, I revel in the return of lacewings, ladybugs, wasps, bumble bees, swallowtails, and more as well as the stain glass, season long array of blooms.
Native pollinators are equally if not more important to pollinating crops and native plants than the honey bees, which were introduced to North America and did not evolve with our native ecosystems. Considered to be potentially more “efficient” and “effective”, native pollinators, as studies indicate, are well suited to our native plants as well as many of our food crops. However, the same efforts to support the health of native pollinators will also bolster honey bees since each peruse many of the same flowers. Since the intention for a pollinator refuge is to have a Spring until Fall succession of blooms, a parciante may be able to rent their field to a beekeeper to earn some extra income and be able to receive help with irrigation. We can call the parciante a sort of passive micro-rancher.
As farmers and ranchers, we are the barometers of climate change. Scientists can eloquently quantify the effects, but we can both quantify and qualify them, because we experience these calamities intimately. Therefore, we are the ones who are proactive in maintaining our communities’ dignity and livelihood. By providing habitat in the form of contiguous pollinator refuges, we can repopulate our watersheds with pollinator habitat while promoting pollination and maintaining the access to our water. This year may not be the year to plant more than what we can water, but consider scattering some seeds for our pollinators and for our acequias in the Fall with hopes of next Spring.
Email me with comments or suggestions at Rosenberg.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bio: Adrienne Rosenberg lives in Embudo, New Mexico. She owns Woven Web Farm, which grows gourmet mushrooms, and is an audio documentarian. Her work has focused on local knowledge and stories of resilience through the land.
Gophers, prairie dogs, and other mammal pests can indeed damage fruit trees, garden vegetables, and agricultural crops. In addition to damaging plants, gophers may burrow into levees and ditches damaging irrigation systems, harvesting equipment, utility cables, and can cause enhanced soil loss by erosion.
According to the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Alfalfa provides a very desirable habitat for several mammal pests that include mice, gophers, ground squirrels, and rabbits. Proper identification of the species involved is critical, because control measures differ with each one. Assistance in correctly identifying the animals causing the damage is available through the local Extension service.
Field Mice (Mictotus spp), also called meadow voles, dig short, shallow burrows and make underground nests, creating trails about two inches wide that lead from their burrows to surrounding areas of the field where they feed. Control measures consist of cutting the surrounding vegetation in ditches and adjacent fields, trapping (which can be impractical when populations are high), the use of ammonium-based repellents (check with certifier), and habitat creation for raptors and mammal predators such as coyotes, foxes, wildcats, weasels, and shrews.
Gophers (Thomomys spp.) are burrowing rodents that feed mostly on underground plant parts, with alfalfa being one of their preferred foods. Besides weakening or killing the plants, they also damage irrigation ditches and borders. The mounds of soil they push up from their burrows also bury other plants and cause obstacles for the harvesting equipment. Non-toxic controls consist of trapping, flooding the burrows, surrounding a field with plants that repel gophers, such as gopher spurge (Euphorbia lathyrus) and castor bean (Ricinus communis). Depositing predator urine, pine oil, or any other foul smelling substances in the burrows has been reported to provide temporary control. The use of barn owl perches to attract these predators has been successful in controlling gophers in California. On average, a barn owl can eat 155 gophers per year (Power, 2003). Propane devices that ignite injected gas, causing the burrows to explode, are reported effective in reducing populations temporarily. Check with your certifier before using this method. Additional treatments are necessary, depending on the length of the season.
Control measures include trapping, baits and fumigants. Some of the baits and fumigants are restricted and not available to homeowners. Professional pest control companies are beneficial in this case. Exclusion by “fencing” root systems of landscape plants as protection from gophers is recommended, but this should be done with caution. The hardware cloth recommended for this purpose can girdle tree and shrub roots, resulting in plant death if installed too close to the plant. The appropriate distance to install hardware cloth from the plant will depend on specific plant root systems. Lining the base of raised planter beds with hardware cloth can help protect vegetable and flower gardens.
Some plants may be advertised as gopher repellent plants, but these are just plants that the gophers will avoid, going around or under them to get to desired plants. At least these are plants that gophers will usually not damage; however, some of these plants have their own negative characteristics, such as causing dermatitis in humans.