Presenting at a Global Acequia Conference

Today I was invited to speak on a panel about our local acequia issues.  This panel brought the Global perspective of yesterday’s presentations to local issues.  I shared the panel with some colleagues and friends in the acequia culture, in particular was Estevan Arellano, Arnie Valdez, and Paula Garcia.

The presentations were great, though it is somewhat difficult to address the topics that came to my mind.  First I had to reflect on the fact that the Abeyta Water Settlement has been signed and its effect on the future of acequias could be a steady pressure of dismantling given the emerging water market, the identification of water rights, and the development of a more formalized process in water administration.  My main criticism of water administration is that water rights are designated as UNITS of VOLUME when on the acequias we designate water rights as UNITS of TIME.  This disconnect has created a situation where we have much more water rights on paper than there is liquid water.  But it seems that all the administrators in the business would rather bury their head in the sand than address this fundamental flaw that will ultimately run all our wells dry if left unchecked.

Other points I brought up in my presentation are the challenges my acequia is facing in times of climate change and development pressure.  My acequia is bisected by the Town of Taos boundary and the Town has attempted several times to annex our area.  We have already had problems with the Town approving developments that have negatively impacted our acequia system with developers moving the ditch and creating siltation problems and incorrectly installing inappropriate culverts.  Then there is the problem with newcomers not understanding what the acequia is, thinking they can just take the water, and not understanding the importance of letting it flow through under the authority and schedule of the Mayordomo.  These political problems are challenging but could be surmountable…

The problems I am concerned about however are more challenging.  First of all we have been running out of water for several years in June.  Is it ‘mega-drought’ like the predictions of climate change hold?  Or are there countless impoundments and groundwater drawdowns upstream?  Or has the functioning of the river itself been negatively impacted by the highway, the application of salt in the winter, channelization, and poorly designed bridges?  All of the above?  Then there is the issue of water quality.  Amigos Bravos has identified problems with e.coli, nitrates, aluminum, lack of oxygen, and salt content in our river.  What does this mean for agriculture or people being able to enjoy the water?  And with development, we clean stretches and stretches of acequias to get the water to parcels of land that seem to become fewer and further between, especially when it comes to abandoned fields that get infested with prairie dogs.

Despite all that, I feel a revitalization of agriculture and involvement on my acequia.  We are gearing up to irrigate several new fields in dry-land style pastures and have more participation in our meetings and acequia cleanings by parciantes (land-owning irrigators) than ever.  So I will keep my hopes up and my shovel sharp and see what we can accomplish in the future…  I think the acequias will be able to demonstrate their value and be conserved in the larger sense, I just hope its not to late for some of the acequias in our midst…

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About Miguel

Miguel Santistevan is a researcher, educator, and advocate for traditional agriculture crops and systems.
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