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Covid-19: An Update from NMAA

Dear Acequia Leaders,

On behalf of the New Mexico Acequia Association, we are sending well wishes and hoping that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our normal routines but it has not changed the fundamental need in our communities to keep the waters flowing in our acequias. In that regard, we have received many inquiries about how to serve responsibly as acequia elected officials to protect your communities from the spread of the virus. Here are some recommendations based on the public health order from the Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel. The following language is part of the order:

Mass Gatherings. Pursuant to the order issued on March 23, 2020, “mass gatherings” are prohibited. The order defines a “mass gathering” as any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other but does not include the presence of five or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside.

Essential Businesses. The public health order also requires that all businesses, except those defined as “essential businesses,” reduce their in-person workforce by 100%. Essential businesses may remain in operation provided that they maintain social distancing, wash hands often, and keep surfaces clean. Our team has interpreted that acequias can be considered essential businesses because they provide water for agriculture and because they are also infrastructure operations. The order defines essential businesses to include the following: 1) Farms, ranches, and other food cultivation, processing, or packaging operations and 2) Infrastructure operations including public works construction and water.

In order for acequias to continue to operate, we have interpreted the order to mean that acequias and community ditches are considered essential businesses. We are also recommending that acequias avoid mass gatherings and maintain social distancing. We are providing the following guidance:

Acequia Cleanings. We have spoken with several mayordomos about how to conduct Spring acequia cleanings, i.e. sacando las acequias, and we have developed the following options for you to consider so that you are in compliance with the public health order:

  1. You may consider canceling or postponing the acequia cleaning if that is possible. Some acequias have opted to do this in cases where cleaning is not essential to get water flowing through the ditch.
  2. You may consider taking these precautions if you decide to proceed with your annual acequia cleaning:
    1. Work in crews of five (5) peones or fewer. Break up your work crew into smaller groups and space them out along the acequia so that at no time do you have a group larger than five (5) people.
    2. Within your small work crews, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet or maintain a distance of more than 6 feet and completely avoid person-to-person contact.
    3. Require that each parciante be responsible for the section of ditch that runs through their own property. This is a traditional practice used in several acequias where each family is responsible for their own “en frentes.”
    4. Some acequias are restricting the individuals that may be part of a cleaning crew to exclude anyone who traveled outside the state who should be in isolation or individuals over a certain age.

Acequia Meetings. We recommend that any regular annual membership meetings be postponed until a later date. Any gathering of more than five (5) people would be in violation of the public health order. However, if your acequia has an urgent matter to address, such as basic water delivery or emergency flooding, a meeting of your three-member commission and mayordomo can take place while also adhering to the Open Meetings Act. Other governmental entities are using conference calls for this purpose.

Acequia Elected Officials. Provided that elected officials avoid mass gatherings and maintain social distancing, they may continue their duties. Commissioners generally work from home so their continued work in governing and managing acequia operations may continue. Mayordomos are needed to operate acequia infrastructure so they may also continue work.

We know that the safety and health of each family and community is your primary concern. Our guidance is based on an interpretation of the public health order from March 23, 2020, also known as the “stay at home” order. We urge everyone to be safe, to comply with the public health order, and to be responsible when acting within the exceptions carved out for essential businesses (including how we interpret that order to apply to acequias).

Thank you for all your hard work in keeping our beautiful acequias flowing!


With heartfelt gratitude and concern for your well-being,

The NMAA Team



Interstate Stream Commission Members Resign

Three members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) abruptly resigned in October. The ISC is a Governor-appointed body that oversees the agency charged with protecting, conserving, and developing the state’s waters along with ensuring compliance with interstate water compacts. One of the members who resigned, Jim Dunlap, expressed concern that the State Engineer was not regarding the ISC as a separate and district agency from the Office of the State Engineer (OSE). The two agencies are intertwined water management agencies and have roles that are sometimes conflicting. The OSE approves permits for drilling, appropriations, and water transfers which sometimes puts that agency in conflict with the role of the ISC to protect waters of the state. Dunlap cited concerns over the recent turnover in the staff at the Interstate Stream Commission and related concerns over the need to distinguish between the roles of the ISC and OSE.

Udall, Heinrich Introduce Legislation to Help Acequias and Land Grants Better Access Federal Conservation Programs

Gilbert Borrego stands proudly in front of the new dam for Acequia Alto del Norte in Mora, NM -Photo taken by Paula Garcia

U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced a bill to help acequias and land grants in New Mexico access additional federal resources for water and resource conservation projects. The bill, Providing Land Grants and Acequias Conservation and Environmental Services (PLACES) Act of 2017, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, will allow acequias and land grants access to federal programs that provide funding and technical assistance to farmers to increase agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water and other natural resources.

Santolina and the ABCWUA

On September 15, 2017, the State Auditor sent a letter to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) questioning its handling of the giant Santolina development.   The project would house upwards of 90,000 people and would require nearly 20 million gallons of water per day, at least 20 schools, and two I-40 interchanges.   The total number of acre feet per year required for the development is 14,000 acre feet of water.  Despite constant and frequent calls from concerned water advocates, the Bernalillo County Commission has allowed the proposal to continue through the permitting process without a concrete plan on where the water for the development will come from.  While not directly addressing the lack of a water plan, the State Auditor is concerned about potential violations of the anti-donation clause of the New Mexico Constitution and the Water and Wastewater Expansion Ordinance in the ABCWUA’s handling of Santolina’s proposal.  The ABCWUA is required to address the State Auditor’s concerns in its next audit.

Rio Gallinas Acequias – City of Las Vegas

Gabriel Estrada presenting at the 18th Annual Congreso on behalf of the acequias on the Rio Gallinas -Photo taken by Seth Roffman

The Special Master presiding over the Rio Gallinas adjudication has issued a sixty-eight page draft report recommending an equitable remedy following the abolishment of the pueblo rights doctrine, a doctrine of law that the City of Las Vegas asserted for many decades as the basis for its claim that it is senior to all other appropriators, even the acequias whose priority dates are between 1848 and 1872.  In his report, the Special Master recommends that 1200 acre feet per year (AFY) of the City’s 2600 AFY (previously owned by PNM with a priority date of 1881) be adjudicated a priority date of 1835, the year the land grant was made.  The City’s 1835 water rights (1200 AFY) leapfrog over all of the acequia rights and have first priority in the whole system.  The acequias have 2nd priority and are senior to the City’s 1881 water rights, and other water right owners including the Gallinas Canal Company and the Storrie Project.  To “compensate” the acequias for leapfrogging the City’s 1200 AFY to 1st priority, the Special Master would have the City pay $1.7 million.  The payment would be made to individual parciantes, not to the acequias.  This comes out to about $2,000 per acre.  A final report will be filed with the district court and is subject to objections by the parties.

Town of Taos Acequia Ordinance

Presa for North and South Acequias del Rio Don Fernando de Taos -Photo taken by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

With the help of the NMAA, TVAA, and local acequias, the Town of Taos continues to fine-tune its ordinance passed in August that protects acequias from potentially damaging encroachment on any part of the acequia network.  The current ordinance, known as the Hahn Amendment (after Councilman Fritz Hahn, an acequia advocate who proposed the amendment) enhanced the local land use development code to require acequia approval for any development on land that contains any part of the acequia network and easement, including the acequia madre, laterals, point of diversion, and desagues.  The current version is found at of the Town Code.  Changes NMAA has advocated for include a clearer process for what happens in the event that an acequia does not respond to a developer’s request for approval; a default setback requirement that mirrors the easement in an affected acequia’s bylaws, and in the case that an acequia does not define an easement in their bylaws, the broad statutory easement granted to acequias; and removal of language concerning abandonment.

2017 Youth Acequia Art Contest

Sembrando Semillas Atrisco Site -Photo taken by Travis Mckenzi  

Youth Acequia Art Contest
For ages 4 – 18 years
“What does acequia culture mean to you?
“Why are acequias important to your family, culture, or community?”
Get Creative! Submit photos, poems, videos, paintings, sketches, mixed media, models, and MORE!
You could win the following prizes:
1st Place: $75.00 & NMAA T-Shirt | 2nd Place: $50.00 & NMAA T-Shirt | 3rd Place: $25.00 & NMAA T-shirt
*Winners will be recognized at the 2017 Congreso de las Acequias!
Acequias & Irrigation
This category will give artists an opportunity to depict the beauty, ingenuity and operation of acequia and irrigation techniques in your family or community. Use this category to display the beautiful water flowing through a headgate or field.
Cultural Traditions
This category can allow artists to highlight the planting of seeds, the harvest, spiritual or community gatherings around food and agriculture. Seasonal activities that celebrate food, water, and land.
Food Preservation
Get inspired by your taste buds and food staples. Use art to highlight special crops, food and preservation techniques used in your community! Matanzas, canning, making chicos, ristras or grinding atole! The options are endless!
Animals, Gardens, & Family
Honor your garden, livestock, and family working hard in their field. Use this category to depict beautiful landscapes or people working the land.
Art must be submitted by October 13, 2017
Submissions must be sent either by 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
Acequia Name
Art description or title
*Participants are limited to one entry per category.
Terms and conditions: Upon photo submission, you agree to the use of your photo(s) in NMAA materials including but not limited to publications, calendar, website pages, and outreach materials. Photo credit will be given where appropriate.

2017 Acequia Photo Contest

Ethan Vigil enjoying apples grown from Vigil Orchards- Photo taken by Marty Vigil, Acequia San Jose de la Cienega  


Acequia Photo Contest
Enter your photograph and you could win cash prizes!
1st Place $150.00 | 2nd Place $100.00 | 3rd Place $50.00
Your photo could be featured in NMAA Publications
Winners will be recognized at the 2017 Congreso de las Acequias
Photo Categories:
Acequias or Landscape
Photos in this category include photos of your limpia, unique infrastructure, first opening of the acequia in spring, picturesque winter photos, etc. the acequia landscape that show off your farm or ranch, including but not limited to scenic photos of your crops and/or animals, or photos of family working in the field.
This category also includes, the acequia landscape that show off your farm or ranch, including but not limited to scenic photos of your crops and/or animals, or photos of family working in the field.
Digitally Altered Imagery      
This is an opportunity to showcase your artistic ability in manipulating imagery through apps and programs like photoshop. This category allows you to create creative shots, colors, and style of your favorite photos or drawings related to your acequias, culture, and the other categories.
Photos in this category include photos of parciantes irrigating fields, and other photos related to irrigating.
Food and Seed Traditions
Photos in this category should cover acequia food traditions. Examples include making chicos, food preservation, harvesting, close-up photos of your produce, seed saving, and traditional family activities, etc.
OCTOBER 13th, 2017
Submissions must be sent electronically, in high resolution jpeg format. Please email photos to olivia@lasacequias.org along with the following information:

  • Name of photographer
  • Acequia Name
  • Region (if applicable)
  • Town
  • County
  • Photo Description
Participants are limited to one photo per category.
Terms and conditions: Upon photo submission, you agree to the use of your photo(s) in NMAA materials including but not limited to publications, calendar, website pages, and outreach materials. Photo credit will be given where appropriate.


2017 Acequia Needs Assessment Survey

Crisp and Golden Fall in the Santa Barbara Watershed -Photo taken by Daniel Sonis

Dear Acequia Leader,
Thank you so much for your contributions to your local acequia. The New Mexico Acequia Association is conducting a statewide acequia needs assessment and we need your participation.
The New Mexico Acequia Association is a non-profit statewide organization of Acequias and Regional Association of Acequias. Our mission is to protect historic acequia water rights and strengthen agricultural traditions.   

We are requesting your voluntary participation in filling out that attached Acequia Survey. Acequias are defined as local governments and the information requested is considered public information which would be shared with the state of New Mexico. Your participation supports acequias across the state.
Please note that every year we change and update many of the questions.
Please respond by December 11th at the latest.
Methods of response:
Call the NMAA office: You can dictate your responses to staff and be done!
Paper survey: Complete the enclosed survey and mail, fax or scan it back to us.
If you have any questions or if there is any way we can assist your acequia please feel free to contact Toribo at 505-995-9644 or Toribio@lasacequias.org

Community Spotlight: Acequias off the Gila River in South West NM













High water event at the headgate of Fort West Ditch- Photo taken by Linda Stailey

Interview with Linda Stailey written by Serafina Lombardi, NMAA Staff

The Gila acequias are lucky to have Linda Stailey as their unofficial spokeswomen. These Acequias were completely off the radar of NMAA until the late summer of 2016 – but NMAA couldn’t be happier having made their acquaintance. NMAA made a visita to the Gila and then they came up to our Congreso in Taos. While our acequias across the state are diverse, it is striking the passion and dedication that we have as land-based people for the water and community, as we are bonded by our deep inclination to defend and protect this way of life.

What is the history of your acequia, as you know it (or as you’ve been told)?

The original charter for the Fort West Ditch was issued in 1875. There were about 12-15 irrigators who proposed the charter, signed it and filed with the treasurer of the territory – in Santa Fe. Fort West Ditch, Gila Farm Ditch, and the Upper Gila Ditch are the only acequias still in operation in the valley, but at one time as many as 10 ditches in operation. The men who signed the Fort West charter had lands on some of the other diches.

The area was settled by Mormons early on, and they brought irrigation practices from Utah that had been successful there in the mid 1850s. The original irrigators were Maldonados (still on the acequia) and Guerreros, the other 50% was primarily anglo. The acequias still have minutes going back to the 1920s. It was in the last 12 years that we organized a regional, the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission, around the AZ settlement act which we see having long lasting impacts on acequias.

What kinds of crops does your acequia community grow?

 Primarily alfalfa, permanent pasture, a few small irrigators have home gardens, one irrigator in the valley is very involved in the Silver City farmers market. What is grown is mostly for local consumption. Three wire bales is about as big as we can manage about 60-80 lbs a piece. We buy new equipment to keep older equipment going . . . and every piece of metal has a story.













Repaired Point of Diversion for Fort West Ditch- Photo taken by Linda Stailey

What traditions and practices does your acequia community maintain? (Food and agriculture, limpia, etc.)

Before the Regional, we were not really communicating with other ditches, but we have learned to coordinate repairs to reduce transport costs of equipment.

Our Ditch is about 13-15 miles long. We used to have an annual cleaning – in our original charter there was a section outlining the kinds of equipment recognized and how labor would be valued, a Fresno, 2 boys and four horses could work off entire assessment – a shovel and one man, could not work off as much. . .  now we have a fellow in the valley with a track hoe, he cleans the ditch and sends us a bill. It’s easier and faster. We always have problems over right-of-way – tractor guys is not a landscaper – but we let folks know they have to move the mud if they don’t like it. It is difficult that so many pieces of property have been sold and the water rights sold to someone else –and people just don’t understand the importance of easements. A lawyer once told us to respond to those who want to move the ditch with: “you’ll come closer to asking God to change the length of day than to move a ditch”.

What is your irrigation season? (Time frame)

The water will run year round if we have a need for it and if there is water in the river. There are times when the river goes dry and when there is not enough for the 3 ditches – then we create a schedule to share. Fort West catches a lot of the Gila Farm Ditch wastewater, this helps a lot . . . We meet the end of January / early February and have– water in by the first of April. Sometimes we irrigate into October – first frost is in November. In the high desert we usually get 6 inches of rain per year, this year we just got 6 inches in August . . . 

What are your commissioners and mayordomos doing this time of year?
Not much this time of year – most of our work is in the spring. We don’t anticipate other meetings unless we have a major high water event and we need to get together and discuss repairs. Right now folks are sitting back and enjoying the green hills, and full water tanks. Big high water events are usually in winter months that can damage diversions.

Gila farm ditch is working with engineers to design a permanent diversion structure. At any given time we can have a 100 year flood, we can have 100 year flood every 5 years. But we can only take water during high water events. The San Francisco River can also be flooding at the same time below Clifton, then Commissioners come together. This is when commissioners call a special meeting to discuss repairs – we usually wait until the worst of the winter weather is over. We have repaired a diversion and had it washed out the next month.

What makes your acequia special?

I can tell you what I have told critics of the settlement – historically and culturally. This valley has fed the entire SW corner of NM, including Catron, Grants, Luna and Hidalgo Counties. If we did not have the water here this community, this country would dry up and blow away. We are fortunate to have the ditches maintained as well as they are to have the water when they need it. My husband’s family used to deliver food to Conservation Corp camps, they had a dairy and a truck farm – that is how they survived. Our kids had milk cows age 7 through high school.  Our daughter bought her first car and paid college tuition with her milk money. When we find someplace better to go we’ll move, but money can’t buy this – this is home.

This history, the culture, it’s priceless. Our youngest son just moved back . . . families are moving back to the valley. When the water came back the number of irrigators doubled. We are nowhere near dead. Other people would have you think this valley has had it, but no way – we’re here. But if we didn’t have the water it would not be possible. I have a view of the Mogollon mountain range from the far west end to just about the head waters of the Gila river. That mountain range is what feeds our river, river feeds ditches, and our ditches feed the valley. It’s important that the water stays in this valley.