Quita Ortiz

The New Mexico Acequia Association celebrated its 20th anniversary at the annual Congreso de las Acequias on November 13th at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds. The NMAA was founded in 1990 to build a united voice for New Mexico’s acequias. The Congreso is the statewide governing body of the NMAA, charged with passing resolutions that advise the organization’s strategic direction. This year’s event accommodated over 200 participants, made up of parciantes, comisionados, mayordomos, and acequia supporters including several elected officials – Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, Speaker Ben Lujan, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Carlos Cisneros and Commissioner of Public Lands Ray Powell. Senator Bingaman was also represented by Pablo Sedillo.

The Congreso was opened with the Bendición de las Aguas, in which NMAA delegates brought water from their respective regions for the blessing, followed by a panel discussion highlighting stories of acequia defense and renewal from different areas of the state. The panel spotlighted acequia leaders discussing their success at defending acequia water rights in the adjudication process, obtaining funding for acequia infrastructure improvements, and a story of the revitalization of small-scale agriculture by a family in Chamisal. Eight Resolutions were passed, including the Declaration of Core Values (see sidebar).

The luncheon included entertainment by the Moving People Dance Theatre Española, whose youth performers entertained the crowd with a dance production about acequia activities, set to a backdrop of vibrant props and live music. The Acequia Awards ceremony followed the dancers. Palemon Martinez of Valdez was honored with the first ever Acequia Lifetime Achievement Award for his many years of dedication to acequia issues in northern New Mexico. Also honored was Estevan Griego of Dixon, who was won the Mayordomo of the Year. The Acequia Farmer/Rancher of the Year went to Jose Manuel Archuleta. Mark Schuetz of Taos received the Acequia Advocate of the Year, and the San Raphael del Guique Acequia, which is just north of Ohkay Owingeh, received the Community Acequia of the Year Award.

After the luncheon, the NMAA held concurrent workshops with topics that included Nuestra Herencia: Carrying on Acequia Traditions, and Recordkeeping/Financial Management for Acequias by a panel of acequia commissioners. In addition, representatives from USDA agencies conducted two workshops. One was presented by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which included an overview of their programs for acequia and individual landowners. The other workshop was presented by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), covering information about programs for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

The New Mexico Acequia Association is once again pleased with the outcome of the Congreso. Every year, we’re drawing in more and more folks who are dedicated to our cause. We value the support. The NMAA hopes to continue building the movement throughout the state, protecting our land and water resources for future generations of acequia farmers and ranchers.

Quita Ortiz is a community planner with the Land and Water Program of the NM Acequia Association. For more info about the NMAA, call 505.995.9644, e-mail info@lasacequias.org or visit www.lasacequias.org.