Quita Ortiz

Every fall, the New Mexico Acequia Association, holds its annual meeting, the Congreso de las Acequias. In 2011 it took place in November at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. Approximately 150 dedicated acequieros from throughout the state gathered to share stories about history, community and ongoing struggles. In past years the Congreso focused on the movement’s work to defend and protect water and to strengthen local agriculture. In 2010 the Congreso celebrated 20 years of uniting acequia communities and defending acequia water rights. These issues remain relevant to NMAA and will continue to be a core part of the organization’s efforts; but in 2011 the annual meeting focused on new initiatives, methods and directions.

As is custom, the Congreso officially began with the Bendicíon de las Aguas, a water blessing ceremony involving acequia delegates from around New Mexico who bring water from their region for the blessing. Paula Garcia, executive director, then presented the annual report, which recapped the organization’s work over the past year. She also introduced a preview of the Art of Mayordomía, a short film based on NMAA’s Mayordomo Project, a collaborative effort aimed at addressing the decrease in the number of people willing to fill the mayordomo (irrigation ditch boss) position. The film showed some of the practical local knowledge utilized to foster an internship process in which experienced mayordomos train and are shadowed by new mayordomos. After the film, Juliet Garcia-Gonzales, who heads the Sembrando Semillas Project of Chamisal, presented a slideshow that captured her group’s activities of the past several years, including horno building, making chicos and other traditional agricultural activities carried out among youth in her community.

Executive Director Garcia also provided participants with an overview of the Escuelita de las Acequias, NMAAs new project for strengthening acequia community knowledge and applying it to current challenges facing acequias. The NMAA is shifting to a new methodology in which we engage our communities in much more deliberate ways. One of the primary goals of the Escuelita de las Acequias is to raise consciousness among acequia communities, particularly with the affirmation of local customs and values.

Another direction that the NMAA is taking involves a more active role in the agricultural revitalization of acequia communities. The intent is to strengthen our land-based way of life by encouraging landowners to build upon their existing traditional agricultural methods by fusing them with newer technology. Acequias have governed themselves for centuries and have been able to adapt to various challenges. A specific ongoing challenge is the need for improved infrastructure.

A panel presentation entitled, “Acequia Grown: USDA Programs for Acequia Farmers and Ranchers” featured panelists Marisela Trujillo of El Rincón Farm in Chimayó; Martín Durán, Luna Canyon Cattle Company in Chacon; Cliff Sanchez of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS); and State Senator Carlos Ciscneros. Sanchez opened the presentation with a brief introduction of the support that NRCS provides to individual landowners. Trujillo and Durán provided an overview of their experience in working with NRCS. Trujillo had improvements made on her family farm, including the lining of an old holding pond for improved water efficiency, and the construction of a hoop-house; both of which were NRCS-EQIP cost-share projects. Durán used both EQIP and capital outlay funds to make repairs to his family ranch, including the installation of new headgates, a new livestock water tank, and other infrastructure features that have improved water delivery and efficiency. These sorts of resources are not intended to wholly improve or replace the existing characteristics of our traditional farms and ranches; we want folks to implement this new technology as a way to complement their traditional methods that are already in place and have served communities well for generations. Senator Cisneros gave an overview of state funding for acequias in the coming year. It’s vital that acequias and individual landowners are aware of how they can tap into the various resources available to them.

Following the panel, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan addressed the audience and discussed his ongoing support of acequias. His address was followed by a luncheon, which provided participants with an opportunity to network and catch up with each other. Enrique Lamadrid, Chair of the Spanish Department at UNM; and Estévan Arellano, a well-respected and accomplished journalist, farmer, historian and poet, were honored for their contributions to acequia literature. Both received a Recognition of Literary Contribution plaque for the children’s book they co-authored, La Acequia de Juan del Oso and the many other literary contributions they’ve made to the acequia movement. The luncheon was wrapped up by announcing the winners of the NMAA’s Acequia Photo Contest, the submitted photos of which are featured in a 2012 calendar.

The afternoon agenda consisted of NMAA business where resolutions were presented and voted on. Delegates to the New Mexico Acequia Association represent the various regional acequia associations within the state. The NMAA is organized into two different types of regions: Type 1 regions have established regional acequia associations and thus have automatic representation on the Congreso de las Acequias. The number of delegates depends on the number of acequias in the regional association. Type 2 regions do not have organized regional acequia associations, but are recognized by the NMAA for purpose of representation and are afforded one delegate. Delegates submit and vote on resolutions that steer NMAA’s legislative priorities and strategic direction.

Executive Director Garcia began the afternoon business by presenting the “Statement of Acequia Policy Concerns Relating to the Office of the New State Engineer.” The resolution highlighted policy issues intended to build a mutually beneficial relationship between the OSE and local acequia leaders. The delegates passed a total of nine resolutions. In addition to the statement to the OSE, some of the other resolutions that were passed include the support of a coordinated a streamlined process for funding and constructing acequia projects; protection of native New Mexico chile; various Farm Bill priorities that include advocating for programs that benefit acequias; supporting the historic rights of use and access to lands under the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management; and support of the inclusion of acequias in the state’s 2012 Centennial Celebrations. For a complete list and to view a copy of the resolutions passed, please visit www.lasacequias.org/resolutions.

The New Mexico Acequia Association had a great time this year at the Congreso and would like to thank all who attended, including the dignitaries who participated in support of NMAA, including Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, Senator Carlos Cisneros, former Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya and Guadalupe County Commissioner Vince Cordova. It’s the ongoing dedication of our members and supporters that make the NMAA and its Congreso the successful acequia movement that it is. We look forward to implementing our new initiatives in the coming year, and are eager to continue building upon our past efforts.

Quita Ortiz is with the Land and Water Program of the New Mexico Acequia Association. quita@lasacequias.org, 505.699.5520, www.lasacequias.org