Global Acequia Symposium

by Nejem Raheem, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Economics, Emerson College

Last month in Las Cruces, NM, scholars from around the world gathered to discuss issues pertinent to small-scale traditional irrigation systems and to present at a conference entitled “Acequias and the Future of Resilience in Global Perspective.” Organized chiefly by NMSU faculty member Dr. Sam Fernald, in association with the NM Acequia Association (NMAA) and UNM, the conference drew attendees from Spain, France, Mexico, Morocco and NM, as well as US-based scholars working around the world.

Parciantes and acequia activists attending included Paula Garcia, director of the NMAA, and Estévan Arellano, a researcher/historian from Embudo, NM, who ran a workshop to discuss the future of collaboration between irrigators and acequia researchers.

The conference resulted in several new proposals that will make research more directly applicable to on-the-ground issues faced by irrigators. Many irrigators present were pleased and sometimes dismayed to see that small systems around the world face the same challenges we see here in New Mexico: water shortages, compliance problems and maintenance issues. 

For more information, visit and/or contact the NM Acequia Association (



Santa Fe Preparing for Third Consecutive Year of Drought

The Santa Fe area is going from the two driest years on record into a third year of drought, but city water resource managers say the city will be ready. “The city has planning ordinances and operations plans for dealing with drought, and over the past two years we have been implementing these strategies,” said Brian K. Snyder, director of the Public Utilities Department and Water Utility Division. “Water conservation and drought awareness are cornerstones of the city’s comprehensive approach, drought or no drought.”

The city has invested in a diverse mixture of surface and groundwater supply sources: the Buckman and city well fields, the Canyon Road Water Treatment Plant on the Upper Santa Fe River and the Buckman Direct Diversion on the Río Grande. These are supplemented by reclaimed wastewater reuse. In case federal Bureau of Reclamation San Juan-Chama Project water is curtailed, the city also has several years’ worth of San Juan-Chama Project water stored in reservoirs. By resting the aquifer over the last four years, the groundwater supply has increased and the city can use this resource in a sustainable manner.

Should the drought conditions significantly worsen over the coming year, the city has strategies for short-term relief from temporary drought-related water supply shortages, including mandatory water restrictions for certain types of water use.

Water demand, water management and other “human” factors can exacerbate the impact that drought has on a region, city officials said. Santa Feans can prepare and better survive current droughts through a range of actions, including installing water efficient appliances and low-use water landscaping and adopting water conservation habits, like not letting the water run and only washing full loads of dishes or clothes.

The city recommends Santa Feans

  • Sweep patios, driveways and sidewalks; never hose off paved surfaces.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry and dishes.
  • Take quick showers and use low-flow showerheads.
  • Turn off the faucet for teeth brushing.
  • Don’t let the water run to “heat it up.”
  • Look for leaks inside and out and fix them.
  • Use an irrigation calculator to create a water-saving irrigation schedule. The calculator at is designed for the Santa Fe climate.


More information about water conservation in Santa Fe, including the Water Conservation and Drought Management Plan, residential and commercial rebate programs, and outdoor/indoor water use requirements, is available at The US Drought Monitor is a weekly report on current drought conditions available at



NM’s Plains of San Augustín Designated “Most Endangered Place”

The Plains of San Augustín has been designated a “Most Endangered Place” by the NM Heritage Preservation Alliance, a statewide, private, nonprofit organization. The listing was designed to bring attention to historic, cultural and natural resources (such as the state’s water supply) that are endangered in some way and to encourage concerned individuals and organizations to develop methods for protecting those resources.

The Plains of San Augustín, a grassland west of Socorro and Magdalena, is the remnant of a Pleistocene lake that disappeared at the end of the last ice age. It supports ranches large and small, as well as abundant wildlife. It is still possible to find original homestead houses and fences, as well as artifacts from Paleo Indian culture. The new West is also represented by the presence of the Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory.

In 2007, a New York based corporation asked permission of the Office of the State Engineer to pump 54,000 acre feet of water each year from the underground aquifer through a pipeline to the Río Grande near Socorro (a distance of about 60 miles) and then to points north.

The water underlying the Plains is largely fossil water that cannot be replaced. The basin supplies underground flows of unknown magnitude southeasterly to the Río Grande and southwesterly to the Gila River system. According to Frank Titus, who,with Dan Blodgett, wrote Hydrogeology of the San Augustin Plains, New Mexico, the basin is in a steady state, with 100,000 acre feet of water per year both entering and leaving the basin.

The ultimate consequences of the proposed pumping are not clear. In addition to disrupting already existing underground flows to the Río Grande and to the Gila River systems, the drying up of nearby wells would occur early on. Eventually such extreme pumping would lead to ground subsidence.

The residents of the Plains and surrounding mountainous areas registered more than 1,000 formal protests. The protestants, represented principally by Bruce Frederick of the NM Environmental Law Center, have won the first two rounds in court. The Office of the State Engineer dismissed the application in March, 2012 on the grounds that it lacked adequate specificity. The applicant appealed the decision to the 7th District Court, but in November, 2012 Judge Matthew Reynolds again denied the application. That decision has been appealed to the NM Court of Appeals.

For more information on the San Augustín Plains water issue, contact Carol Pittman of the San Augustín Water Coalition at 575.772.5866, or . For more information on the NM Heritage Preservation Alliance, visit


Río Grande del Norte National Monument

The Río Grande del Norte in New Mexico is the largest site among five new national monuments that President Obama designated last month to protect historic or ecologically significant sites. Obama exercised his executive authority at a time of partisan gridlock over wilderness issues. New Mexico’s congressional delegation has tried for six years to get Congress to preserve the area.

The monument comprises nearly 240,000 acres west of the Río Grande Gorge that houses canyons, volcanic cones, springs and grasslands, as well as a great diversity of wildlife and historical remnants – from petroglyphs to parts of Camino Real. The area is mostly owned and managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. That includes the area designated last year as the Río Grande Gorge Recreation area – including the Wild Rivers Recreation Area from the Colorado border south to the confluence of the Red River and the Orilla Verde Recreation Area from the Taos Junction Bridge south to the village of Pilar. It extends west across broad plains, including the slopes of San Antonio Mountain just south of the Colorado state line.

Designating the area as a national monument preserves not just a place, but a way of life. Ten thousand acres of pockets of private and state trust lands within the designated area will not be affected, and traditional wildland uses such as firewood and pinon harvesting, as well as grazing will continue.

Communities in the area, along with sportsmen, ranchers, business owners and conservationists, have been strongly supportive of the new designation. Backers estimate the designation could mean $15 million in new annual revenues and nearly 300 new jobs, mostly in the private tourism sector, for northern NM. Community leaders are continuing their efforts in support of preservation of another important area nearby: the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area.


Sapphire Energy Establishes Commercial Relationship

Sapphire Energy, which last year began producing “green crude” oil from algae in Columbus, NM, has agreed to have Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company become its first customer. The oil can currently be used as diesel fuel. The companies are seeking certification of the fuels from the EPA for on-road use, which may take six months.

Tesoro can refine about 675 barrels of oil daily. The company, the largest independent refiner on the West Coast, has seven refineries in the West, and operates Shell, Tesoro and USA Gasoline stations.

According to Sapphire’s website, its algae is produced from sunlight and carbon dioxide and grown in open ponds with non-potable, non-fresh water. The demonstration plant was funded, in part, by a $50-million US Department of Energy grant and a $54.4-million loan guarantee from the Department of Agriculture. Bill Gates is also a backer. Sapphire expects its plant to encompass 300 acres and produce as much as 100 barrels a day by the end of 2014.


PNM Doubling Solar Generating in Deming

Public Service Company of New Mexico has announced plans to nearly double the size of its 5-megawatt solar power generating station in southern NM. Sixty thousand photovoltaic panels will be added to the 78,000 existing panels near Deming by November.

The utility says that the power generated from the upgraded solar installation will service about 2,800 homes. PNM officials estimate that will reduce carbon emissions by more than 8,300 tons a year, the equivalent of removing 1,575 cars from the road.

To meet state renewable energy requirements, PNM also plans to expand its Los Lunas plant and build solar generating stations in Otero County near Tularosa and in Valencia County. Last year PNM built a 5-megawatt facility in Alamogordo, which can power about 1,600 homes.


Whole Foods to Require GMO Labeling

Last month Whole Foods Market became the first US retailer to require labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores, a move that some believe could radically alter the food industry. The labeling is to be in place within five years. Whole Foods’ president, A.C. Gallo, has said that the new labeling requirement is in response to consumer demand. Labels now used on some products at Whole Foods and a number of other food stores disclose when a product has been verified by the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization, as being free of genetically engineered ingredients.

Whole Foods, along with Trader Joe’s, has also pledged to not sell genetically modified fish. GMO ingredients have been increasingly embedded in the global food supply since the 1990s. Most of the corn and soybeans in the US has been genetically modified to make them resistant to a herbicide used to control weeds.

Citing reputable studies, critics have charged that genetically modified foods are negatively impacting the health of people and animals, and insist that consumers have a right to know about the ingredients in the food they eat. They also allege that there have been major attempts by industry, in collision with a revolving door at the Food and Drug Administration, to silence the opposition. A hard-fought ballot initiative was defeated in California last year after the biotech industry and corporations such as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola spent millions to fight it, telling voters that labeling would increase food prices and hurt farmers. A similar effort was quickly stopped in this year’s NM Legislature. That didn’t stop the Santa Fe City Council from calling for labeling.

Several years ago Walmart stopped selling milk from cows treated with growth hormones. Today, few milk cows in this country receive hormone injections. Twenty major food companies, as well as Walmart, met in Washington in January to discuss the GMO issue, and there seems to be a growing willingness to consider labeling.


Gardener Receives Grant for Agua Fria School Project

Global Youth Service Day • April 27


Michael Meade, a 25-year-old Santa Fe native has been awarded a Sodexo Foundation Youth Grant to lead a community service project designed to empower young people as problem-solvers to help improve the well-being and quality of life of their community and address the issue of childhood hunger.


The service activities will take place on April 27, Global Youth Service Day, an international event celebrating the contributions of children and youth. Young volunteers at Agua Fria Elementary School will install drip irrigation and rainwater catchment, construct a hoop house for aquaponics and spirulina cultivation, and prepare a garden for spring planting. By expanding the school’s food production capacity, the project aims to empower youth with knowledge, experience and resources for growing gardens and farms.

The Maryland-based Sodexo Foundation, which is devoted to childhood hunger issues, awarded one hundred grants of up to $500 to youth-led projects in communities throughout America. Grant winners educate and mobilize their peers around the issue to expand the pool of people actively searching for solutions.


If you would like to get involved with the Youth Service Day at Agua Fria Elementary School, contact Meade at 505.470.9245 or





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