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Legislature Passes Acequia Priority Bills

Acequia leaders attending the legislative committee hearing for the SB 12 and HB 379. Both passed becasue of local efforts -Photo taken by Toribio Garcia, NMAA Staff






Acequias succeeded in passing four critical pieces of legislation that affirm acequia governance, improve transparency and due process at the Office of the State Engineer, and establish a stable revenue stream for acequia infrastructure. Acequia leaders from around the state attended hearings and gave testimony about the importance of these important policy changes. Several other partners also showed their support for the legislation, thereby helping to gain the support of legislators from across the state. The following four bills each passed both the House and Senate and are on the Governor’s desk.

Please call Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and ask that she sign the acequia and water bills! Call 505-476-2200.

  • SB 438/HB 517 (Cisneros, Campos, Romero, Gonzales) Acequia and Community Ditch Irrigation Fund – This legislation would create a fund of $2.5 million per year for the ISC Acequia Program. For years, the ISC has received an annual appropriation for the acequia program, which has been typically $1.9 million but it has been lower in some years. The purpose of this year’s legislation is to ensure that there is recurring revenue from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund for acequia projects with an increase from $1.9 to $2.5 million. This will stabilize the funding for future years.
  • SB 12 (Cisneros-Salazar) Water Notifications Online –This legislation will require that the Office of the State Engineer post notices of water applications on the agency website in addition to the current requirement of publishing in the newspaper. This will contribute to the protection of due process rights of those whose water rights might be affected by a water right decision by the State Engineer. This applies to new appropriations and water transfers.
  • HB 17 (Chandler-Wirth) Water Leases and Water Uses – This legislation, in its original form, would have clarified that the State Engineer cannot approve a permit for a water lease until all requirements for public hearings have been met. This bill is in response to what NMAA has determined is an unlawful practice of approving leases without due process protections for water right owners potentially impaired. The bill was narrowed down substantially with language that clarifies that any water leases into or out of acequia require acequia approval, provided the acequia has the authorizing language in their bylaws.
  • HB 379 (Chandler) Acequia Liens – This legislation would clarify that an acequia can obtain a money judgement from a Magistrate Court that can serve as a lien on property that has delinquencies. It simplifies the process of obtaining a lien so that it would no longer be necessary to go through District Court. It also has protections for the parciante by requiring notice and that the acequia release the lien when the delinquencies are paid.

The 2019 session will be remembered for sweeping legislation on education, tax policy, renewable energy, criminal justice reform, and public safety. Among all the legislation introduced, water, agriculture, and natural resource issues were included among the nearly 1,300 pieces of legislation introduced. Most of the bills were versions of legislation introduced from past years while there were also a few new initiatives that gained traction. The following is a summary of bills that passed:

  • SB 5 Interstate Stream Commission Membership. This would change the composition of the ISC by specifying which sectors of water stakeholders and experts will have seats on the commission. The bill includes one seat out for an acequia representative. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 37 No LEDA Funds for Water Rights Purchases. This legislation would prohibit the use of funds from the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) from being used to purchase water rights. NMAA supported this bill because LEDA funds should be to strengthen local economies, not to take from an existing agricultural economy to lure an outside industry to the community. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 651 Water Data Act. This legislation creates a water data council with agencies and higher education institutions to standardize the management of water data in the state. The bill directs the council to develop consistent water data standards and best practices for data collection. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 204 Healthy Soils Act – This legislation would create a new program at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt practices that support healthy soils. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 581 Hemp Manufacturing Act. This legislation would expand commercial use of hemp and create a structure to regulate the production, testing, and manufacturing of hemp. The legislation would enable the growth of hemp as a potentially lucrative industry in New Mexico. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 266 Forest Restoration Fund. This legislation will support watershed health and forest restoration with funds to support on the ground projects. NMAA supported the concept of the bill but was unable to prevent the use the Irrigation Works Construction Fund. However, a compromise led to language in the budget bill that solvency issues of the Irrigation Works Construction Fund would be addressed in the next five years. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 315 Agricultural Workforce Development Act. Appropriates $250,000 to NMSU to administer an internship program for new and beginning farmers to get paid to work with existing farmers and ranchers. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
  • HM 81 Rural Heritage Act Process – This memorial is intended to convene stakeholders who were involved in HB 332 Rural Heritage act. This legislation would have addressed the issues of rising property tax values in areas with historic agricultural lands by creating another category of taxation (unimproved lands). Lands in this category would be eligible for a special method that values the land at 25% of residential value. The bill faced some technical issues and a memorial HM 81 was introduced to bring stakeholder together to continue work on the concept.


Please Support NMAA and the Next Generation of Acequia Farmers this GivingTuesday!

In a thirty year average, 2018 is in the bottom tier for the worst year of precipitation and snowpack in New Mexico. Acequia leaders recalled the strategies of their ancestors and revived old water sharing agreements drawing upon tradition farming methods to maintain agricultural operations during times of uncertainty. It is important now more than ever to have a network of acequias statewide to share strategies, experiences and lessons learned!

This year the NM Acequia Association responded to the drought by successfully organizing acequia workshops and gatherings that helped farmers strategize on creating water sharing agreements, farming models that adapt to climate change, and affirm cultural customs in their respective communities. Farmers learned from one another how to utilize new technologies to efficiently irrigate and focus on enhancing soils to absorb more water when it is available.

Despite the challenges we collectively face as acequias, there are increasing numbers seeking guidance and support on governance, infrastructure funding, and intergenerational participation in our acequias. We must celebrate the endurance of the acequia tradition and looks toward our next generation as their insight and engagement will project the acequias into a sustainable future!

Los Sembradores crew working in Chamisal, NM -Photo taken by Donne Gonzales

The NM Acequia Association is has stepped up our efforts to keep youth and young adults connected and involved with their acequias. Our community-based Los Sembradores Farmer Training Program creates opportunities for aspiring farmers to gain hands-on experience and knowledge, engage in leadership development, and cultivate querencia or a love of the land.

 “Over the past year as a participant in the Sembradores farmer training program, I have been offered the space and support to learn from community members and elders in my life-long journey as a local farmer, student, and caretaker of our precious seeds and waters.”-–Emily Arasim

 “This year, having the opportunity to be part of Los Sembradores Training Program, I’ve realized how farming can be a lifelong learning journey. …taking care of the land, water, and seeds that have been passed down through my family is where my heart is” –Essence Quintana

NMAA needs your support to continue to build on this work. Please become a member, donate or renew your membership!! We are counting on you to continue to defend the precious waters of our communities, to support our acequias, and to empower our youth!

Donate now! https://lasacequias.org/product/donate/


Sponsor the 19th Annual Congreso de las Acequias

Sponsor the 19th Annual Congreso de las Acequias

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North, Albuquerque, NM

9am – 3:30pm (Registration begins at 8am)

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 lori@lasacequias.org



2018 Acequia Photo/Art Contest

Lorenzo Candelaria leaping over the ditch -Photo taken by Brooks McQuade
















Acequia Art Contest

Adults: 19 and up

Youth: 18 years and under

“What does acequia culture mean to you?

“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

Photo Categories:

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 olivia@lasacequias.org along with the following information:


Name of Artist Town
Acequia Name County
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.

Historic Lobato v. Taylor Land Grant Ruling Heading Back to Court

San Luis Valley right outside of Alamosa Colorado.

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: shirleymromero@yahoo.com. Phone: 970-640-8014







6th Annual Statewide Commissioner/Mayordomo Conference

En Dias de Menos Statewide Commissioner/Mayordomo Conference begin with a procession and prayer to San Ysidro -Photo taken by Paula Garcia

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.

Break Out Groups Strategiez on Drought -Photo taken by NMAA Staff

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!


Que vivan las acequias!


Farm Bill Provision Qualifies Acequias for USDA Conservation & Environmental Programs

Regando Sostenga Farm in Española -Photo taken by Donne Gonzales

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.”

Hay Field in Los Lunas, NM -Photo taken by Daniel Sonis

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

Acequia Community Spotlight: Pilar Acequia Association

Carl Gray Witkop and Leroy Naranjo, current and former Mayordomos of Pilar Acequia Association. -Photo taken by Pat Blumm

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.”

Carlos Padilla’s crew for Pilar Acequia Association Photo by GG Witkop

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!”

Pilar Acequia Association Pond Photo by GG Witkop

The Art of Acequia Irrigation In Times of Drought

LaEscarda: Hoeing weeds is probably the most important activity to support crop growth in general but especially during drought -Photo taken by Miguel Santistevan
















Written By, Miguel Santistevan

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.

Legumes: Legumes such as lentils (center), beans (left), and habas (right), can be planted early and withstand frost and water stress to varying degrees -Photo taken by Miguel Santistevan

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.)

Arrimando: A farmer can support individual plants by piling soil around the stalk and even mulching to conserve soil moisture. -Photo taken by Miguel Santistevan

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 solfelizfarm@gmail.com