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Recipe for a Good Acequia Meeting

 

By Serafina Lombardi, NMAA Staff

The acequia meeting is a time to visit with friends, a stage to quarrel with neighbors. Will anyone show? Will everyone show?! Whether you look forward to meetings, or can’t wait for it to be over with, we can agree on one thing: Acequia meetings are a cornerstone of Troja in family trastero- Photo taken by Deborah Rivera

our democratic institutions and important decisions are made here. So let’s get it right.

Regardless of being an expert at Roberts Rules or a novice to community meetings there are some steps you can take to achieve your goals of holding transparent, productive meetings that comply with state statute and why does state statute matter? Because acequias are political subdivisions of the state, local governments (I know you knew that already, but it is my job to repeat this whenever I can).

Recipe for a good meeting:

Preparation Before Cooking

Like calibrating your oven to ensure things cook evenly and at the right temperature, adopt the Open Meetings Act Resolution. This will support the acequia in being prepared with the right ingredients. See our webpage or contact the office for the template and guidance.

1 Good Agenda

Like a good sourdough this takes some preparation. The Commission should create an agenda including any topics that need to be voted on, this is your guide to what you want to accomplish, get input on controversial issues, approve changes to bylaws, get buy-in for a new infrastructure project etc. Any items added at the meeting (by a vote of members eligible to vote) can be discussed but NOT voted on.

10 Days Public Notice
Letting the dough rise.  The agenda must be posted (in accordance with bylaws and the Open Meetings Act). This means, at a minimum, posting in a public place – often at the local post office 10 days in advance of the meeting.  The commission may opt, or your bylaws may direct you to snail mail email or call parciantes to give them notice (if the acequia has a website you MUST also post there). You can always go above and beyond what the bylaws call for, like adding shredded coconut or rosemary when it’s not called for (yum).

1 heaping cup of Quorum

This means a majority of parciantes according to your bylaws – this could mean only counting those members current with their dues (this can be like sorting beans – you don’t have to count the non-conforming ones). Also, only 1 person is counted per household (or co-tenancy). Quorum could be tallied using proportional votes based on acreage, or one vote per parciante – again, see your bylaws and/or call NMAA if you have questions. OJO: the public – anyone can attend the meeting and have comments – but do not count towards quorum, only members can vote. If you cannot obtain a quorum you can still discuss the agenda without voting on items. You could also re-post the meeting and do more outreach, or you may need to revise your bylaws to determine an attainable quorum. You may find this to be a very special ingredient that acts differently according to altitude/attitude.

1 Generous Tablespoon Decorum
Let’s all be on our best behavior and listen to each other – at the end of the day this is what most of us want, to be heard. The acequia has the right to conduct business and no one should obstruct or disrupt that. Many people are not accustomed to formal meetings and need to be open to learning and kindly being coached on the norms and practices of the acequia. All parciantes can model this. This is the sugar that makes the medicine go down.

Options for making it exceptional
– Consider sprinkling some celebration in your meeting, food, music, social time . . .
– Do you have special traditions that could be revived? Could a meeting be paired with a celebration of el Primer Agua or something else that engages youth and families?

– Can you make time to ask bigger picture questions?

– Is there a guest speaker who would add useful information or inspiration to the meeting?

– Can you invite local youth to share about their relationship with the acequia?

– Any room for forgiveness? Any grudges we can let go of? Hugs that can be shared rather than withheld?

Regardless of how past meetings have gone – or what you envision for future meetings of the acequia, NMAA is here to offer technical support and advice to achieving meetings that bring life to the community and support the acequia in moving forward – because before and after the meeting there is a whole lotta work to do, in our fields, families and along the bordos.

Good luck and God bless! We hope it turns out delicious.

 

 

 

NMSU Dean Flores Visits Pueblo & Northern New Mexico Communities

Rolando Flores, left, Dean of New Mexico State University's College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and Gerald Chacon. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

By Jane Moorman
 
Meeting the people of New Mexico and learning about their agricultural legacy has been a goal of New Mexico State University’s dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Dean Rolando A. Flores began his second year at the university with a week and a half long tour of Northern New Mexico, including establishing a satellite office at the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde.

“The culture of northern New Mexico is very interesting,” Flores said. “The legacy of farming extends four hundred years for the descendants of the Spanish settlers and many more centuries for the Native Americans.”

Flores met with farmers, ranchers and Native American tribal leaders to learn about the agricultural challenges, and to hear what they think the NMSU College of ACES can do to help them.

“It was extremely valuable to see that we need to have a strong presence in the region,” he said. “We need to make sure the New Mexicans in that part of the state know that we are listening, and we want to work with them to assist them to solve their problems.”

A reoccurring concern was the lack of young people wanting to continue the tradition of farming.

“This alone is not a unique situation in agriculture,” Flores said of the industry where the average age of operators is 62. “But when you add that a majority of the land in that region is federally owned, and that which is privately owned are small parcels resulting from distribution from generation to generation, it is hard for farmers and ranchers to be sustainable and to attract younger people to that way of life.”

While visiting an organic vegetable farm in Santa Cruz, Flores saw how one farmer is successful while cultivating a piece of land that has been in his family for 400 years.

He visited with leaders of the New Mexico Acequia Association to learn about their issues associated with delivering water to the farmers in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Learning about the acequia systems was very interesting,” he said. “These outstanding systems are a model for the world. There is tremendous value in the knowledge gained over the centuries. We are looking at the possibility of College of ACES having an undergraduate program in water and how that could be implemented with the work of the acequia.”

Flores meet with the leaders of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the pueblos of Cochiti, Santo Domingo, Santa Ana, Acoma and Santa Clara, as well as the Institute of American Indian Arts President Robert Martin.

“I learned about the various agricultural programs and the opportunities for us to work closer with the Native American communities,” Flores said.

Flores plans to maintain the satellite office at the Alcalde research farm.

“The office will be available for associate deans when they are in the area as well as myself during the legislative session,” he said. “It is important that the College of ACES leadership reaffirms our commitment to serving all New Mexicans.”

Who Is Liable for Flood Damage?

By Serafina Lomabrdi, NMAA Staff

It is 7pm on a Saturday night, you get a call from a frantic and upset homeowner along the ditch “My home is on the verge of being flooded by the acequia – I’ll sue your pants off if there is any property damage!”

What comes next?

Ideally the Mayordomo/a checks out the situation, and does what they can to divert the flow of water to the proper place, or stop the flow of water and access the situation. Headgates get opened or closed, repairs may be made or scheduled, possibly a parciante is warned to not let the water go onto a neighbor’s property . . . The homeowner is coached on how to manage the situation.

If there has been damage to someone’s property what is the acequia to do?

Despite all the care we give to the acequia a plethora of mishaps can cause unintended damage and drama. We can attempt to play peacemaker and apologize to the person who is affected, but at the end of the day all parties must understand that under NM law the acequia will not be held liable. Any homeowner who could be affected by acequia flooding should take precautions (this could mean building a berm etc.) and avoid building in an area that would be vulnerable to flooding.

All of us who move the water must exercise caution and wisdom when irrigating but if a parciante is willfully or intentionally flooding a neighbor’s property, this is a separate matter.

Back to the acequia’s liability. If someone threatens a tort claim against the acequia here is what you should know: A tort means a breach of a duty owed by one person or entity (the acequia) to another.  The legal way of addressing the claim is usually collecting damages, i.e. the money claimed by a person as compensation for the loss or damage resulting from the breach of duty.
Acequias and their officers, employees, and volunteers are generally immune from most tort liability (though there are a many circumstances and facts of the situation to be considered).  Even if damages or injury can be proven, and even if the acequia was negligent, the Tort Claims Immunity Act prevents the acequia from being held liable.

What should the Acequia do when we are being sued?

Anyone can sue, but can they win? If the acequia is being sued, consult with a lawyer immediately and raise the tort claims immunity defense.

When are acequias Liable?: Negligent motor vehicle use

There is one important exception to acequias being shielded from tort liability: a tort caused by the negligent use of a motor vehicle while acting within the scope of their duties.  In addition to this exception, acequias and their officers or agents may also be responsible for a wide variety of non-tort claims that may give rise to damages, penalties, and other sanctions imposed on them for failure to comply with the law.  An acequia that is being sued and is unsure whether the claim is the type of claim covered by the Tort Claims Immunity Act, should seek legal counsel.

Acequias that anticipate frequent or substantial use of a motor vehicle should contact the Risk Management Division of the State’s General Services Department and inquire about obtaining liability insurance.  Acequias may also want to ask about other types of coverage generally.

If a landowner raises concerns of being flooded, it is important to inform them of their need to protect their own property, while still doing everything we can to ensure the acequia is functioning smoothly.

 

 

 

 

Acequias Major Topic for Legislative Committee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Paula Garcia, Executive Director of NMAA

During a recent meeting of the Water and Natural Resources Legislative Interim Committee, the NMAA gave a presentation on Acequia Infrastructure Funding and Water Rights Issues along with Ralph Vigil of the New Mexico Acequia Commission. Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director, gave an overview of acequias and agricultural statistics demonstrating the economic value of acequia agriculture to the rural economy of New Mexico. Her presentation also included an overview of acequia infrastructure funding and some broad policy recommendations. In his presentation, Vigil mentioned that the Commission is working to build its capacity to serve its advisory role to the Legislature.

“Acequia agriculture makes a valuable contribution to their respective rural economies. Therefore, investment in acequia infrastructure is good for New Mexico’s economy,” said Garcia. She went on to provide county by county data on the market value of livestock and crops in acequia-rich counties. Agriculture as a whole contributes $2.5 million to the state’s economy with acequias contributing about $200 million of that total. For example, Rio Arriba County produced about $19 million per year in market value and Mora County had about $12 million per year. For those counties with acequia agriculture, the contribution of $8 million to $70 million per county is a significant driver in local and regional rural economies.

Committee members were interested in learning how acequia projects are funded. At the request of the Chairman, Senator Joseph Cervantes, NMAA prepared a detailed presentation about the funding sources available for acequia infrastructure. Other partners present to provide support during the presentation included Debbie Hughes from the NM Association of Conservation Districts, Xavier Montoya from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Kim Abeyta from the Interstate Stream Commission.

Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director, explained the ISC 90-10 Program, which is funded by the Irrigation Works Construction Fund (IWCF). The IWCF receives about $7 million in recurring revenue from the permanent fund each year. It was created in statute for the purpose of funding the design and construction of irrigation projects. Since around 2008, the expenditures out of the fund have exceeded revenue mainly because the fund was tapped to fund the operations of the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission. The result is that the fund is projected to be depleted in FY18 or FY19.

 “We’ve anticipated the depletion of the Irrigation Works Construction Fund for years. Now that we are there, the Legislature will be faced with the decision of how to fund the OSE and ISC as well as how to maintain the existing level of funding for the ISC Acequia Program,” Garcia said as she pointed out that the upcoming legislation session may involve difficult budget decisions. She expressed her hope that a solution could be found that would fund the OSE/ISC while also retaining the ISC acequia funding for the 90-10 Program. The solution may involve use of the General Fund to cover agency operations rather than the IWCF. Representative Paul Bandy presented more detailed information about the history and statutory context of the fund and explained that he has been raising concern about this in past years.

Legislators asked several questions about ongoing acequia issues. Senator Carlos Cisneros expressed that there may be a need to improve notice procedures. In her presentation, Garcia noted that the Governor had vetoed SB 86 (Cisneros) to require that applications for water appropriations or water transfers be posted online. Garcia went on to explain that the existing online notice provided by the OSE is informal and a lack of posting by the agency does not have a legal remedy. She explained that entities that rely on notice to protect their water rights are in favor of improved notice procedures while applicants tend to prefer the status quo.

Senator Pat Woods mentioned that he had received complaints about the time taken to approve acequia engineering designs. Debbie Hughes, Executive Director of the NM Association of Conservation Districts (NMACD), explained that several acequias have experienced delays and increased costs due to archeological clearances required by the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPO). Hughes explained that her organization created a partnership to bring federal Farm Bill dollars to New Mexico for acequia projects. Partners include local SWCDs, the ISC, and the NMAA whose program has resulted in over $3 million for acequia projects. Hughes stated, “We have worked hard to make federal funding available for acequia projects but we are experiencing delays because of the SHPO reviews.” She went on to say that this is a relatively recent issue with archeological clearances in the past being more expedient.

Other questions or comments concerned adjudication and other related issues. Some legislators, including Representative Randall Crowder, wanted more information about whether water rights settlements included funding for acequia infrastructure. Representative Carl Trujillo commented that he was concerned that, while some settlements have funding for acequia-related infrastructure, the Aamodt settlement did not. He went on to say that he was concerned that there has not been enough education to the acequias in the Nambe-Pojoaque-Tesuque Basin about acequia-related provisions in the settlement such as conditions on Section 4 protection on beneficial use of water and the reporting requirements of mayordomos.

Representative Tomas Salazar, who was chairing the meeting, acknowledged the local acequia officials from the Rio de las Gallinas Acequia Association, including William Gonzales and Gabe Estrada. He invited Gonzales to give some brief remarks about ongoing water issues in the Rio Gallinas basin which includes several acequias and the City of Las Vegas. Gonzales gave a brief history of decades long litigation over what is known as the Pueblo Water Rights Doctrine, an obscure theory that cities have expanding water rights. The Supreme Court recognized the doctrine in the 1950s only to have it overturned in the 2000s. However, their ruling remanded the issue of the city’s water right back to district court where it dovetailed with the ongoing re-adjudication of water rights in the Upper Pecos Basin.

Gonzales noted that years of frustration and litigation could have been saved if the City and the acequias could equitably share water from the river. He pointed out that acequias have the senior water rights but that the City of Las Vegas depends on surface water for their municipal supply. His opinion was that the state should encourage a sharing agreement that recognizes acequia seniority but also recognizes the obvious need to serve the city. He said he was hopeful that a new administration at the City of Las Vegas would result in more productive negotiations but that he was uncertain whether that would happen.

Healthy Watersheds=Healthy Communities! The Rio Fernando Revitalization Project

                                                                                                                                                                            

Rio Fernando de Taos -Photo taken by Olivia Romo

By Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

In a time when Taos is undergoing huge transitions including the administration of the Abeyta Water Rights settlement, rapid population and development growth, and a hungry tourist economy you sometimes begin to wonder where the strong initiatives are to protect agricultural land and water in the once acclaimed bread basket of the Southwest. Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of positive movement in the valley regarding the protection of water, land, and cultural heritage of Taoseños.  Like many rural communities in New Mexico, Taos is facing changing demographics , drought, economic downturns and a growing population with all natural resources at risk of being depleted. The time is now, for local leaders to come together in rehabilitating our communities’ strengths (land, water, and culture) creating a sustainable future for our valleys. 

The Rio Fernando Revitalization Project is an innovative partnership with multiple organizations that are trying to strategically address the environmental and ecological impacts of the Rio Fernando de Taos. The revitalization group is made up of the Town of Taos, Amigos Bravos, Taos Land Trust, Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, Taos Valley Acequia Association, and the Acequias of the Rio Fernando de Taos. The ultimate goal is to revitalize the river by addressing water quality, quantity, aquifer recharge, and natural habitat. Currently, the health of this particular stream is in jeopardy as contaminants including unacceptable levels of e.coli  have been detected in the water from the seepage of raw sewage, acequias have dried up from development and exhausted infrastructure, and the forest is clogged with invasive species and overgrowth slowing down the delivery of water to farms.

Rio Fernando Revitalization Group (Left to Right: TVAA  Board Members John Gonzales and Gabriel Olguin, Judy Torrez, Executive Director of TVAA, and Town of Taos Councilmen Fritz Hahn) visiting the atarque of the Rio Fernando Acequias" -Photo taken by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

According to Town Councilman Fritz Hahn, “Revitalizing our acequias will lay the groundwork for future kitchen gardens (land) which will spring up (farmer's market/culture) & our surface water delivery system will be refurbished; urban waters will drain to the parched lands and the upper aquifer will be recharged; Ag land & its tax status will be protected. Long term sustainability enhanced”. When Fritz was asked about the Town of Taos vision for the collaboration he replied proudly, “The water will bring us back together and offer gifts to our future generations in the face of climate change and adjudications, the  sustainability of our aquifer, buffalo pasture, tree canopy, park glands and more importantly education to newcomers about the importance of the acequia system. We hope our grandchildren will appreciate the hard work we’ve done to  retain our trees, water, acequias, and agricultural lands that we hope will not be too adversely affected”.  

In a political climate where legislative funding for acequias in the state of New Mexico is scarce and scrutinized, it is more important now than ever for acequias to enter collaborations  with county governments, local soil and water conservations districts, and other non-profits whose focus is land and water to mobilize resources and staff to bring acequias and agricultural land back to their natural order.

When speaking with Kristina Ortez  de Jones, Executive Director of Taos Land Trust, she also expressed the importance of the collaboration stemming from a drive to “protect our water and cultural resources in Taos for the continuation of healthy habitats not just for farmers but birds, elk and the aquifer”. The Taos Land Trust is focused on conserving and restoring wetlands that are hydrologically connected to the Rio Fernando de Taos. Additionally, the newly purchased property that the organization now sits on is 6 acres of irrigable land that haven’t been irrigated due to the fact that the Vigil y Romo acequia has gone dry because of  eroding infrastructure and obstructions preventing water flow. A part of the initiative is to resurrect this acequia which will feed farms that were historically served by this ditch and irrigate the property of the Taos Land Trust who will engage in demonstration and educational workshops around irrigation, farming, and conservation techniques. Taos Land Trust would like to see trails and the historic Fred Baca Park flourish with the help of the Rio Fernando pushing clean water into the wet lands that have existed for centuries nurturing an ecology for wildlife, farmers, and visitors of Taos.

A special contribution to the group has been the involvement of Amigos Bravos who has been monitoring the quality of the water on the Rio Fernando. After discoveries of e-coli in the water, acequia farmers are concerned about their crops, livestock, and soil nutrients. Critical partners like this are mobilizing the group to look at funding watershed cleanup in the hope of remedying the situation, cleaning the water from contaminants. With help from the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District the Vigil y Romo ditch and the acequias off the Rio Fernando are going to design and prioritize infrastructure projects to help increase flow and prevent seepage especially during those tough summer months.

"Vicente Fernandez, Mayordomo of Acequia Madre de Cañon de Sur" -Photo taken by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

Last, but not least one of the most critical partners has been the Taos Valley Acequia Association and the Acequias of the Rio Fernando de Taos who represent the farmers and water users. Judy Torrez, Executive Director of the TVAA said “the voice of the acequias is important for environmentalists to hear so they can learn about the traditional practices of farming and water rights. Acequia irrigation practices recharge the aquifer, provide agriculture, and more importantly are the people who are actively putting the water to beneficial use which if not utilized can be lost from our valley completely”. When on a tour of the Acequia Madre del Sur de Cañon, Vicente Martinez, Mayordomo of the association, showed partners problem areas  including access, where the forest needs to be thinned, acequias widened, the dam and other infrastructure replaced. “You can see where the dam is filled with sediment and compuerta aging so once the infrastructure replaced we can deliver water to acequias further downstream like the Vigil y Romo”. If the river is cleaned and the forest thinned more water will be brought down to the acequias and the river itself creating a healthy habitat for all those depending on the Rio. Vicente reflected on the importance of the collaborative, “The great thing about it is that you see all these groups coming together, as one, this is not about individual gain but the health of the stream and community, the watershed and a whole. If we don’t have a clean water shed the acequias will cease to exist. This is the first time in my lifetime to see the city becoming aware and taking responsibility for acequias in their jurisdiction, this is a giant step for our people!”

Although these types of partnerships and funding opportunities take years to cultivate it is a strong model for water projects that can build local leadership capacity, utilize funding resources and engage in strategic restoration projects that can transform rural communities in New Mexico. The NMAA is excited to see the positive strike of many shovels hitting the earth in Taos for the betterment of the community and future generation of acequieros, farmers and advocates.