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Acequias Defend Use of Spanish Language

David Benavides Attorney with NM Legal Aid presented to Acequias of the San Francisco River in Catron NM

The New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) has joined a local acequia in a case currently before the New Mexico Court of Appeals. On January 9, 2018, the Court of Appeals approved the filing of an amicus brief (friend of the court) filed by the NMAA and other parties in the case Parkview Community Ditch v. Peper.  “In our brief, we are urging the court to allow acequias and land grants to continue the historic and cultural practice of conducting meetings in Spanish,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the NMAA.

Parkview Community Ditch is in Tierra Amarilla, a village in rural Northern New Mexico, known for its enduring fight to protect its natural resources for the community, including those within the historic Tierra Amarilla Land Grant.  A district court ruling affirmed the cultural practice of conducting meetings in Spanish, but that decision was appealed. Now, the NMAA has joined Parkview in its fight at the Court of Appeals to defend their right to hold meetings in Spanish. The brief recounts New Mexico’s complex history of protections in the New Mexico Constitution for Spanish-speaking inhabitants.

In a statement, Joseph Piña, Commissioner of the Parkview Community Ditch said, “Our acequia appreciates NMAA’s help and support on finally resolving this issue.  All this lawsuit has done is cause unnecessary stress and placed an additional financial burden on our members.  In the end, it’s a lose-lose, even if we win.  We spent all this money and time when we could’ve been spending it on the acequia and irrigating.  We’re just looking forward to putting this behind us.  We just want to focus on what we’re good at and what we’ve learned to do since we were young – we’re farmers.”

The NMAA’s legal team that prepared the amicus brief includes longstanding partner New Mexico Legal Aid, represented by David Benavides, Esq. “After centuries of acequia meetings being conducted in the language of the local community, we were alarmed that someone would sue an acequia on these grounds,” said Benavides. “If any entity should reflect the community, the culture, and its people, it should be the local acequia.”

Law students from the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Natural Resources and Environmental Law Clinic at the UNM Law School were part of the legal team that represented the amici. “As clinical law students, we were grateful for the opportunity to represent New Mexico acequias and land grants in an important brief that seeks to preserve the Spanish language and culture of New Mexico,” said Bryan Gonzalez, the lead clinical law student. Bryan and eight other clinical students worked on the brief over two semesters. The clinic provides a broad range of legal services on natural resource and environmental issues to low-income and underrepresented communities throughout New Mexico.

Larry J. Montaño and Charlie S. Baser, of Holland & Hart LLP’s Santa Fe office, joined New Mexico Legal Aid and the UNM clinical law students in representing the amici pro bono. “We feel privileged to have been able to help on this important matter” said Mr. Montaño and Ms. Baser. “New Mexico is a unique and special place, due in large part to its living, deep-rooted cultural traditions. This appeal seeks to protect, perpetuate, and celebrate one of its richest traditions.”  Parkview Community Ditch is represented by Sanchez Law Group (Daniel J. Sanchez, Esq.).

Joining the  New Mexico Acequia Association in the brief include the New Mexico Land Grant Council, Acequia Larga de Las Cruces, Merced del Pueblo de Chilili, Merced del Pueblo de San Joaquin del Rio Chama, and Acequia Madre del Llano.


Inter-basin Water Transfers: San Augustin Plains

No Water Here Means No Hunting, No Ranching, Stop the Drilling! -Activism of the San Augustin Basin Coalition

Written by Carol Pittman

I had never thought much about inter-basin transfers until a private corporation, the Augustin Plains Ranch LLC, applied to pump 54,000 acre feet of water per year from the Augustin Plains basin.  Our property borders the Augustin Plains Ranch.  The idea of removing that much water each year and transporting it to the Albuquerque urban area was surprising and alarming.  We were amazed that anyone thought that much water could be pumped from our semi-arid basin.

Our economy in northern Catron County is based on ranching and hunting.  Animals, like human beings, need water to survive:  agua es vida – water is life.  What do we as a community need to do to understand the implications of the plan to take away so much water?  To that end we asked several questions we felt must be answered before any serious consideration of such a large interbasin transfer could be taken seriously by the Office of the State Engineer.

The first question we asked is, “How much water is actually available in the Augustin Plains aquifer?”  No one is sure.

To answer that question, the hydrology of the basin must be understood.  Other important questions, similarly, can be answered only by understanding the hydrology of the basin.  Key among those is knowledge of the basin’s ability to recharge adequately.  Will there be water indefinitely because there is adequate recharge each year?  We are in the process of gathering all available information, which is somewhat scarce at this time.

A second question is, “How much water is actually needed now and in the future in the basin of origin?  Will an overly generous provision of water elsewhere engender waste and inefficient use of water?”

Predicting future water needs is tricky, of course, but the ability of our area to thrive will depend upon adequate water supplies, as might the health of the recipient area.  Is the enhancement of a recipient area worth depriving a more rural area of its natural endowment of water?

Quite often managers in the “go to” place can find other means, such as conservation, to provide water adequate for its needs.  Water managers have been surprised and gratified by conservation measures that have been successful beyond their expectations, and Albuquerque continues to find adequate water with methods that do not cause harm to other communities.

Third we need to ask, “To what degree are water rights in the Augustin Plains basin threatened by the proposed transfer, and is it worth it?  How much impairment is fair or even tolerable?  To date there is no adequate definition of impairment, and each case is decided by the State Engineer on essentially subjective grounds.  We feel that a legal definition of impairment is essential and hope to get legislation to that effect before the Legislature.

Perhaps the most essential question of all is — How do we use water from a finite source so that it best satisfies the needs and the rights of all concerned?  Certainly inter-basin transfers must recognize the needs of both rural and urban areas.  Politicians tend to emphasize the needs of wants of more populated and more economically productive areas.  Now legislation has been introduced in our legislature which more strongly emphasizes the rights of rural communities.   But it has not been successful, and so far emphasis has remained on urban needs.    As reported by the Utton Center, “In New Mexico, a recent failed attempt to pass legislation regulating inter-basin transfers highlighted both the perceived lack of regulation of large transfers and the institutional unwillingness to add hurdles, especially cost, for water transfer applications.  In the absence of such legislation, New Mexico’s legal landscape contains limited roadblocks to inter-basin transfers.”[i]   This must change.

The underlying question in all of this is “What is it we want for our communities, both urban and rural, both now and in the future?”  Remember, water taken from one area is almost always irretrievable in that area.  If water can be taken from our rural area in northern Catron County it can set a precedent for transporting water from all rural communities.  Is it not essential to protect the rights and needs of small groups as well as those of large groups?  Overriding the rights of the few for the benefit of a larger group (in our case for the profits of a corporation) will not benefit New Mexico communities of any size.

[i] From the Utton Center Report on Inter-basin Water Transfers, Water Matters, p. 19-2, 2015.  http://uttoncenter.unm.edu/pdfs/water-matters-2015/2015-water-matters.pdf

300 March In Celebration Of Acequias

Paula Garcia leading the Rally to the Roundhouse – Photo taken by Eddie Moore, Albuquerque Journal

On Thursday, January 25th 2018 three-hundred farmers, ranchers and advocates marched to the state capitol to celebrate the economic and cultural contributions of acequias. After a beautiful march with shovels and songs led my Dr. David García and Jerimiah Martinez 30 acequia leaders who represent their respective acequia regions were recognized on the rostrum. The Rally was opened by our Sembrando Semillas youth and followed by a moving speech given by Don Bustos. NMAA was honored to have Peter Vigil, District Manager of the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District present about the ongoing revitalization and infrastructure projects being piloted in his district followed by testimonies from Acequia del Monte del Rio Chiquito and the Rio Fernando Revitalization group who have created unique collaborations to get these projects completed. The rotunda was filled with partners, collaborators and other environmental organizations who gathered in solidarity for acequias!

Don Bustos presents at Acequia Day 2018 -Photo taken by Eddie Moore, Albuquerque Journal

Muchisima gracia to all the farmers and acequia leaders who traveled near and far to participate with us on this special day, we hope you can join us next year!

NMAA wants to give a special thanks to Teresa’s Tamales who fed everyone a delicious lunch after the rally! We also want to recognize our partners and sponsors Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, Taos Valley Acequia Association, TEWA Women United, NMACD, New Mexico Acequia Commission, Rio Fernando Revitalization Group, South West Center for Research, Sol Soliz Farm.

NMAA also wants to thank in a special way Evalina Montoya who donated her art for our 2018 Acequia Day Buttons.

Acequias continue to demonstrate resilience in the face of these changing times, as communities hold tight to the values, beauty, and way of life that acequias provide!


Que Vivan las Acequais!


NMAA Receives Award: NM Food & Farms Day

Los Sembradores Working the Rows in Chamisal, NM -Photo taken by Donne Gonzales
The NM Acequia Association is honored to receive
 the Organization of the Year Award!
NMAA accepts the Organization of the Year award on behalf of our collaboration with close partners. The American Friends Service Committee has been a long-time, cherished partner in our work for a just food system, creating a model that connects legislative funding, farmers and schools. NMAA is honored to be a part of the collaborative with AFSC, La Cosecha del Norte Coop and our own Sembradores Farmer Training Program, getting locally grown food to our local school children.
New Mexico Food & Farms Day and New Mexico School Nutrition Day at the Legislature were created to bring individuals and groups together around food, farming, and health issues, programs and initiatives – from private and public sectors and policymakers. The Day provides an opportunity to share in and show the relationships between the health of our communities and food, farm and health related programs; ways we are working together to increase affordable and healthful food access; to support farmers whose food is produced in New Mexico that contributes to the health and economy of individuals, families, and our communities; encouraging entrepreneurship and leadership; to highlight the benefits of cooperation and coordination; and, the policy intersections. The Day highlights the efforts among those who have chosen to participate to work together towards the health and economic well-being of individuals, families and communities in New Mexico.
 Join us! Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Agenda at a Glance:
Location: NM State Capitol, corner of Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe
9:00am – 9:45am Awards Ceremony in the Rotunda:
NM Food & Farms Day and NM School Nutrition Day Presentations
3rd Annual Local Food and Farm to School Awards
10:00am Education and Advocacy Options will be provided
12:30 – 2pm NM Food & Farms Day & NM Farm to School Network Lunch!
Location: Rio Chama Restaurant next to the Capitol,
414 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe. Reservations required.
2:30 – 5:30pm NM and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Round Table Presentations and Discussions
For information and ways to participate please call:
Pam Roy, Farm to Table

505-660-8403 and pam@farmtotablenm.org 

Acequias Rally at the Roundhouse

Acequia Leaders Marching to the Roundhouse 2017 -Photo taken by Seth Roffman

Acequia farmers and leaders will come together on Thursday, January 25th at the State Capitol for Acequia Day 2018. Acequias will be recognized by the State Legislature for their cultural and economic contributions to New Mexico. “On Acequia Day, we celebrate acequias as the lifeblood of our communities. Acequias are dynamic, living systems with engaged members,” said Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director. “Acequia leadership is requesting that policymakers work with acequias to develop opportunities for profitable agriculture that will allow farms and communities to thrive,” added Harold Trujillo, NMAA Board President.

Don Bustos, NMAA Board Member and recipient of the James Beard Award for his work in support of farmers’ rights and education, will present about the role of acequias in local economic development. NMAA is also excited to have American Friends Service Committee shine the spotlight on farm to school initiatives and successful ongoing farmer training programs.

Peter Vigil, District Manager of the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District will share success stories on pathways for acequia infrastructure and watershed restoration in his district. Local acequias within the Taos basin will present on behalf of partnerships, successful projects and organizing initiatives. There will be music, food, and poets in celebration of our precious water and ways of life!

Acequia parciantes, youth, and supporters are invited for the march at 10:00am and to the Senate and House floor sessions at 10:30am where a memorial will be presented.  Acequia leaders will be recognized by the State Legislature for centuries of water management in New Mexico.

Join acequia commissioners and mayordomos from various local acequias as they march to protect water rights, address drought and water scarcity, and promote funding acequia infrastructure. We ask everyone to bring along their families with shovels to the march!

“Acequias have fed our communities for the past 400 years. Today, we face challenges related to drought, development, and social and economic changes,” said Garcia. “Acequias continue to demonstrate resilience in the face of these changing times, as communities hold tight to the values, beauty, and way of life that acequias provide.”


9:00am- 9:45am                 Orientation, Snacks – Garrett’s Desert Inn

10:00am                               March to the Roundhouse

10:30am                               House and Senate Floor Sessions – Gallery

12:00am                               Acequia Day Celebration at the Rotunda

1:30pm                                 Closing

Parkview Community Ditch

Acequia Landscape in Los Brasoz, NM -Photo taken by Quita Ortiz

The NMAA has formally joined the Parkview Community Ditch in its efforts to uphold a district court decision that found that the acequia did nothing wrong in conducting its annual meeting and election in Spanish.  The NMAA, along with the New Mexico Land Grant Council, two acequias and two land grants, will file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the later part of December urging the New Mexico Court of Appeals to uphold the lower court’s ruling.  The Court’s decision will likely have widespread implications for acequias and land grants that conduct their meetings in Spanish.

Acequia New Year’s Resolution: Become a Member of the NM Acequia Association!

Acequia Madre de San Jose de la Cienega still flowing in the winter -Photo taken by Marty Vigil

As 2017 comes to a close, acequias can reflect on a fulfilling and challenging year! We enjoyed Summer rains and a bountiful harvest, only to be followed by an unseasonably dry Fall. With the ups and downs of the seasons, we continue our diligence in planning for the future while we hope for a good snowpack and Spring runoff. The NMAA continued the vital work of protecting acequia water rights and revitalizing our land-based economy. As we look to the coming year, we are asking for your support to continue our mission of protecting acequias through education, organizing, and advocacy.

Join the NMAA and together we can protect our acequias!

NMAA is a unique organization that honors our ancient legacy of water governance while also working to adapt for the future. For nearly 30 years, NMAA has been responding to challenges through communication, training, and education for acequias. Together we have built a movement around the principle that Water is Life, El Agua es Vida, and that we are defenders of the precious waters that nurture our communities.

NMAA is a membership based organization that depends on your support to continue our vital work! For the NMAA, 2017 was a time of centering on key priorities of protecting acequia water rights and creating a new generation of acequia farmers.

  • The NMAA assisted 333 acequias with assistance on governance and held over 20 workshops, acequia meetings, and events with 1,116 participants.
  • We also launched Los Sembradores Farmer Training Program and completed our first class of apprenticeships!

Our impact resulted in stronger local governance with better agricultural use and protection of acequia water rights.  During 2018, we will build on this success and continue to be a force for change in New Mexico by defending water, training community leaders, and building a new generation of acequia farmers!

Please join the NMAA or renew your membership on our website, www.lasacequias.org, or by calling our office at 505-995-9644. Thank you for all you do to keep our acequias vibrant and beautiful!!

Que Vivan las Acequias!


Nuestra Querencia -Luz, Tierra, Agua, Vida!

Comanches in Talpa, NM dancing for Dia de Manuel -Photo taken by Miguel Gandert


Written by, Enrique Lamadrid

Professor Lamadrid (Ph.D. University of Southern California) is a Professor of Spanish and former director of Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies. His teaching and research interests include Southwest Hispanic and Latin American folklore and folk music, Chicano literature, and literary recovery projects. His research on the Indo-Hispanic traditions of New Mexico charts the influence of indigenous cultures on the Spanish language and imagination. His literary writings explore the borderlands between cultures, their natural environments, and between popular traditions and literary expression.


Allí viene amaneciendo,                      There comes the dawn,

yo sigo trabajando                             I keep on working

para mantener                                    to take care of

lo que yo quiero tanto.                        what I love so much.


-“Canto a la acequia” – David García y amigos

When we are born, our mother literally gives us the light. “Da luz,” we say in the language of our Iberian forebears. As soon as our eyes are accustomed to the brilliance, we memorize the features of her face. As we rise to walk upon the earth, we transpose her profile to those first intimate horizons: a house, cottonwoods by a river, an acequia, a field, a road, a distant line of hills beyond. Because we are human we see faces in the rocks. Clouds are animate visitors to this realm. Trees lift up their arms to greet them as they pass. The river at their feet is a messenger who sings of life and distant oceans. Drink from this stream and you are destined to return to its waters.

Querencia is the place of returning, the center space of desire, the wellspring of belonging and yearning to belong, a destination overflowing with life but suitable to die in, that vicinity where you first beheld the light. The place of birth or re-birth. Querencia is remembrance of harmony, a longing so profound even trees and stones share in its emotion: “Los palos, las piedras lloran / por verme salir cautiva.” In the old ballads of exile and captivity, a compassionate landscape is moved to tears by human suffering. “Este valle de lágrimas, this valley of tears” is the place of our pain and redemption, of the prayers we offer to the mother of pain.

In an arid land, home is always by the water. In the most primordial sense, Nuevo Mexico is P’osoge, the Río Bravo, Río del Norte, the great river that cuts its verdant course through the desert. Since all human beings need to be by the water, the banks of this river are by definition a contested space. The Españoles arrived with all the fury and suppressed desire of the Spanish peasant to possess the land and its waters. The price of arrogance was paid in blood in 1680 when the Río Grande Pueblos arose and reclaimed their heritage. When settlers returned in 1693, they were already calling themselves Españoles Mexicanos. In an alliance of necessity with the Pueblos, they all defended their valleys from the new lords of the land, los Comanches, los Apaches, los Yutas. Captives were taken by all sides in the conflict and an economy of slavery emerged. Human beings in trade were worth more than livestock, more than the produce of the land. In the space of a few mestizo generations, the newcomers who sought title to the land were instead possessed by the land. As they became Nuevomexicanos, indigenous to this place, the boundaries of the Campo Santo, the Sacred Ground, spread past the narrow church yard and the bones of the dead towards valleys, plains, and mountains beyond. Tierra sagrada.

Matachines y Malinche dancing for Dia de San Ysidro in the South Valley of Albuquerque -Photo taken by Miguel Gandert

In the center of this sacred landscape are the native and mestizo peoples who have survived the rigors of the northern desert and the cost of each other’s desire. They are dancing. From Taos to El Paso del Norte they step in unison to the insistent but gentle music of drums and rattles, guitars and violins. Two intertwined traditions of Indo-Hispano danza emerged. The Matachines reconcile the spiritual conflicts of colonization. The Comanches honor the fierce struggles of our history and remember its victims and survivors, los Comanchitos. Both are rituals from which our communities draw their strength and desire to defend their heritage. Acequia culture is built in this bedrock.


Se defiende lo que se ama,                 You defend what you love

se ama lo que se entiende,                  you love what you understand,

se aprecia lo que se enseña.                to appreciate what you are taught.                 

Amar es aprender a defender.             To love is to learn to defend


–   Estevan Arellano

El agua no se vende,

                                                el agua se defiende.

¡que vivan las acequias!


 Note: In this continuing series of cultural sketches, Olivia Romo, NMAA and Enrique Lamadrid invite readers to submit poetry and cultural documentation of the rituals of water.


Pre-Adjudication Strategies

Community Members gathered to learn about the Abeyta Water Settlement at the Taos County Agricultural Center on Saturday (March 4).

Written by Enrique Romero, NMAA Staff Attorney

Water rights adjudications can take many forms.  An adjudication court (state or federal) can determine groundwater rights only, or both surface and groundwater, either at the same time or at a different time during an adjudication.  Adjudications may involve a single stream system and its tributaries, or just a tributary of a larger stream.  A large river, like the Rio Grande or the Rio Chama, may be broken into segments, and each segment may be adjudicated separately.  Like any lawsuit, adjudications can result in settlements between parties.  Despite the differences, water rights adjudications in New Mexico have several things in common.  The purpose of this article is to describe some of the common characteristics associated with water rights adjudications and ways parciantes and acequias can best prepare for adjudication.

A water rights adjudication is a civil lawsuit that involves the State of New Mexico, via the Office of the State Engineer (OSE), and water right claimants.  A claimant is anyone that may claim to be the owner of a water right in the adjudication.  The State brings the lawsuit, and is therefore the plaintiff, and the claimants are the defendants, and therefore defend against inaccurate claims made by the State pertaining to the use of water.  The bottom-line on this point is that lawsuits are time-intensive and require resources.  Anytime someone defends a legal right in court, there is a lot at stake.  While courts in most cases allow a party to proceed pro se – without an attorney – a water right claimant and an acequia will likely need to retain an attorney at some point during an adjudication.  Because water rights are a type of property right – and in the arid southwest a property right of high economic, cultural and historical value – water right owners should assume that those rights will be challenged during adjudication.  Do not wait for an adjudication to begin to understand the implications of losing your water rights.  The better informed you are about the process and the full extent of your rights, the better prepared you will be to present your own defense initially and if you have to retain a lawyer, you’ll be ready to evaluate his or her advice.

Because a water rights adjudication is a type of lawsuit, proper notice and service is required for a decision of the court to be binding on the water right claimant.  The Office of the State Engineer is required to review legal records, including its own records (change of ownership forms), records of acequias, and county clerk records to determine who potential water right claimants are and should therefore be included as defendants in the adjudication. Parciantes do themselves a disservice by not being included as early as possible in adjudication.  For example, water right owners of record will have a certain amount of time to respond to offers from the State or to orders from the court.  It is better to have enough time to thoughtfully respond to the State or the court than argue later that you had no notice of a particular deadline.  Keep ownership information current with your acequia.  If you subdivide irrigable land and deed the land to your children, for example, inform the acequia immediately and encourage your children to record their deeds with the county clerk and file change of water right ownership forms with the OSE.

Las Nueve del Rio Grande Acequia Association organize a community campaign to declare water rights -Photo taken by NMAA staff

Another source of information the OSE will use when compiling information for adjudications are declarations.  Individual parciantes, and sometimes acequias, file water right declarations with the district office of the State Engineer that indicate the extent of the pre-1907 water right claimed in the declaration.  Statute provides that the contents of the declaration are “prima facie evidence of the truth of [the declaration’s] contents.”  This provision sets up a presumption that the information declared is the extent of the water right and the State has the burden of overcoming that presumption by presenting contrary evidence.  So, the declaration serves two purposes.  First, in conjunction with a change of ownership form, the individual parciante named in the declaration may be notified when an adjudication is underway.  Second, the parciante, not the State, has established the basis of the water right that any party challenging the water right must come to terms with.

Every adjudication initiated by the State begins with a hydrographic survey in which the OSE maps out current water use and, in the case of surface water, assigns a tract number to the irrigated parcel.  The hydrographic survey serves as the basis for an offer from the State for a water right.  If the OSE’s staff that prepared the survey determined that no irrigation was taking place at the time of a site visit of a parcel, the owner of that parcel can expect to receive a no right offer or an incomplete offer that may only recognize the amount of land actually irrigated at the time of the visit.  Occasionally, the OSE completely leaves out tracts that are irrigated or have a history of irrigation.  In those cases, it is possible that no offer will be made and it may be up to the claimant to file an omitted claim (“omitted” because it was not part of the hydrographic survey) during the adjudication.  The best way for a parciante to have water rights recognized in a hydrographic survey is to irrigate.  It is unlikely that a water right owner will receive advance notice that OSE staff is compiling information on each parcel served by an acequia.  Therefore, parciantes should be vigilant in irrigating every few years so that they are not put in the position of having to contest a no right offer.  After all, the New Mexico constitution provides that beneficial use is the basis, the measure, and the limit of the right to use water.

Cebolleta Acequia Assocation discusses the Keer-McGee Adjudication -Photo taken by Maria Gallegos

Finally, the importance of pre-adjudication organizing cannot be overstressed.  Regional associations of acequias – before, during, and after adjudication – have proven to be a source of unity and strength in contesting claims of non-use or negotiating the best possible outcome for acequias within a stream system.  Public money is available through the Acequia and Community Ditch Fund to help acequias during adjudications pay for legal and technical defense costs.  While individual acequias have a key role in preparing parciantes for adjudications – especially by keeping membership lists current, having regular meetings and elections, and updating bylaws – regionals associations can take a more expansive view and support and reinforce their member acequias’ efforts.