January 2014

A Bird’s-Eye View of Northern New Mexico’s Acequias


Alejandro López


New Mexico is fortunate to have any number of cultural and physical phenomena such as sovereign Indian communities, historic Mexicano villages and adobe buildings. These unique legacies set our state apart from other regions of the country, lure tourists and make life interesting. They also challenge the state and its people to ponder new levels of their integration into, coexistence with, or possibly even resistance toward mainstream culture’s reigning paradigm of endless growth and “progress.”

The case of New Mexico’s intricate system of acequias, numbering approximately 800, is a classic example of such a cultural artifact that has met with contradictory More >

A Brief Acequia History


José A. Rivera


The acequias of southern Colorado and New Mexico are the oldest water-management institutions in the United States of European origin. These irrigated agrosystems date to the time of Spanish settlement in the northern borderlands of Nueva España during the late 16th century with the Juan de Oñate colony in 1598 and expanded after the De Vargas resettlement of 1692. Due to the arid region, it was essential to settle near water. The irrigation technology employed by the waves of pobladores was gravity flow of surface water from rivers diverted to headgates through a system of earthen canals.


Without the aid of More >

Book Profile – Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest

By José A. Rivera, University of New Mexico Press, 1998

La de la Acequia, Spanish translation of Acequia Culture

Universidad de Valencia, Spain, 2009


This book delineates an acequia culture based on a reciprocal relationship between irrigation and community. The acequia experience grows out of a conservation ethic and a tradition of sharing that should be recognized and preserved in an age of increasing demand for scarce water resources. Rivera lays out the legal and administrative status of these communal institutions, from their Old World roots to the contemporary period, and recommends a number of public policy actions to sustain the acequia communities into the future.


The More >

Anatomy of an Acequia


La Sierra: The upper watershed and source of the snowmelt that creates the flow for rivers and streams that are diverted into the acequias through a diversion structure known as a presa. The sierra, often under the management of the US Forest Service, is also the location of livestock grazing permits.


La Acequia: The acequia has both a physical and a social definition. The word acequia refers to the water canal that carries irrigation water from the stream to fields and refers to the irrigation infrastructure along the way. The word acequia also refers to the community of families who use the acequia for irrigation. More >

New Mexico Acequia Association – 25 Years and Counting


Paula Garcia


In 2014, the New Mexico Acequia Association is celebrating our 25th anniversary. It is humbling to mention such a milestone when acequias have endured in New Mexico for centuries. Through their long history, acequias have been keepers of tradition, the caretakers of water for growing food, and communities bound together for the common purpose of sharing water. For many generations, acequias have retained a great degree of autonomy in local water governance and have made possible the cultivation of locally grown food. This legacy of place-based knowledge of our watersheds, intertwined with food traditions, community and culture is very much alive More >

The Acequia Movement in New Mexico

1. Taos Valley Acequia Association: Established in the 1980s when leaders fought gentrification and land subdivisions in acequia villages such as Valdez. Organized for united defense of acequias in the Abeyta adjudication for 55 community acequias. Reached a negotiated settlement with Taos Pueblo and other parties in 2012. The Taos Valley is also one of the three sites for a NMSU acequia multidisciplinary research project funded by the National Science Foundation. Acequias are prevalent in other areas of Taos County along the Río Pueblo, Ojo Sarco, Chamisal and others.

2. Río Pojoaque Acequia and Water Well Association: Also one of the oldest regional acequia associations, More >

14th Annual Congreso de las Acequias


Strengthening Communities in Times of Water Scarcity



The Congreso de las Acequias, the governing body of the New Mexico Acequia Association, was created to strengthen the collective voice of acequias in New Mexico and for the acequias to have a vehicle from which to work toward a common vision. The Congreso is a federation of regions defined mainly by watersheds and a common stream system. Most of these regions have established associations of acequias that work for their interests at the local level, such as adjudication defense or water-sharing agreements. Other regional acequia associations have expanded their role to also include youth mentoring, leadership development and More >

Acequia Lifetime Achievement Awards


Facundo Valdez (2013) is best known for his pioneering work in community health as the founder of the Social Work Program at New Mexico Highlands University and as executive director of Sangre de Cristo Community Mental Health Services. His leadership has been appreciated locally and nationally in his service to the Con Alma Foundation and as a founding member of the National Council de la Raza. Valdez has served on the NMAA Concilio for over 15 years and as commissioner for Acequia de San Jose along the Pecos River. Although he is retiring from the Concilio, he has been appointed as the founding More >

Río Chama Water Sharing Agreement – Mutual Benefit by Cooperating



Rising to the challenges of historic drought and water scarcity, in 2013 the leaders of the Río Chama Acequia Association and the Asociación de Acequia Norteñas averted crisis and a priority call by coming together with the Office of the State Engineer to negotiate a water-sharing agreement. The agreement followed the tradition of repartimiento (or sharing), which guides communities in distributing water during a shortage. Thus, while the Río Chama acequias have senior water rights, the shortfalls did not leave the junior Acequias Norteñas without water. All experienced reduced flows and received less than a full allotment.

During a panel at the 2013 More >

Acequia Waters: Community Resource or Commodity?


Paula Garcia


A water transfer is the change of a water right from an existing use to a different use. For the past two generations, acequia leaders have been at the forefront of raising concerns about the impacts of water transfers on agricultural communities. In New Mexico, practically all water in the state is appropriated through a system of water rights administered by the State Engineer. Because water is fully appropriated, any new use comes at the expense of an existing use through the transfer of a water right through a process regulated by New Mexico water law.

As the population of More >

¿Pala ó pluma? ¡Los dos! (Shovel or Pen? Both!)


Patricia Trujillo


Like many kids who have homework, as I approached my Escuelita de las Acequias tarea (School of the Acequias chores), all I could think about is playing. I’d rather be outside with the sun shining on me, digging my fingers into the dirt and concocting new senses of joy for my spirit. For many of us who grew up on an acequia, the work associated with preparing the fields, planting and taking care of the rows meant that little ones got to play alongside their family. As the youngest in my family, while others were working, I familiarized myself with the More >

How Do You Put a Dollar Value on Acequia Culture?


Jon Goldstein, Estévan Arellano, Najem Raheem


How much is something worth? If you are looking at an ounce of gold, a pound of rice or a barrel of oil, the answer is easy. Markets exist to set prices between buyers and sellers. But what if you are trying to establish the value of clean air and water, the cohesiveness of your community or your health? What if you wanted to understand how much each of these things was worth in order to knit them together and establish the value of an entire ecosystem?


Economists call this establishing the value of “ecosystem services,” More >

Acequias as a Sustainable Model for Hydrology Ecology


Quita Ortiz


Cultural landscapes illustrate the links between people and the physical environment in which they live. Throughout the world humans have developed a relationship with their surrounding natural environment, and the acequia system is a great example of a multifaceted social and physical structure that integrates nature, people and place, together achieving a sustainable model that clearly demonstrates resilience.

In recent years we’ve established a greater understanding of this resilience, from a research perspective, about how and why acequias have remained resilient while challenged with changing economic structures, climate change, a flawed food system and other factors. For the past several years, More >

del are llano / From the Arid Land: Ancient Systems Still Viable in the 21st Century


Juan Estévan Arellano


The acequias of the 21st century are going to be very different from those of the past. As new technologies are introduced, a lot of the traditional knowledge that goes back centuries will slowly erode until it is known only to scholars of ancient systems.


This past summer, probably due to the drought (which will only be exacerbated by climate change), a lot of problems that nobody thought about suddenly showed up as a prelude to what is ahead in the near future. In the Embudo Valley, the repartimiento, the traditional way of sharing water in times of shortage, simply More >

The Mayordomo Project Aims to Train a New Generation


Sylvia Rodríguez


Mayordomos historically have been the keepers of tradition and knowledge about their stream source and their community. Through respect, diplomacy and a careful measure of authority, skilled mayordomos have kept acequias flowing and fields irrigated for generations.

The Mayordomo Project began in late 2008 as collaboration between the New Mexico Acequia Association and the UNM Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies. The purpose of the project is to affirm the important role of mayordomos in acequia irrigation, agricultural traditions and water-sharing customs. The project supports the continuation of this tradition by honoring existing mayordomos, documenting their practical local knowledge and developing ways to share More >

Escuelita de las Acequias: Mutual Support for Intergenerational Acequia Leadership


In creating the Escuelita de la Acequias, the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) envisioned acequieros and acequieras of all ages learning from one another and cooperating to manifest the vision of acequias flowing with clean water, people working together to grow food, and celebrations of culture and acequia tradition. Embracing the principle that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student, the Escuelita is a space for learning through dialogue and shared work. Each year, the NMAA works with some 30 adults and 10 youth leaders through a series of encuentros (gatherings). Each participant commits to a tarea or community project and shares experiences with More >

Somos Gente de la Tierra: The Sembrando Semillas Program


Pilar Trujillo


When we started the Sembrando Semillas Program (“Planting Seeds”) in 2006, the purpose was to create an inter-generational agriculture program to inspire the next generation of parciantes (acequia irrigators) and increase the cultivation of foods that are culturally and spiritually meaningful to our communities.


Many of the youth in the program have an innate knowledge of food traditions and acequia culture by way of being raised in agricultural communities. What we’ve come to experience is that the youth who participate in Sembrando Semillas are often unaware of how much wisdom they already have about food traditions, natural resources and the challenge of growing food More >

Food Hubs in New Mexico


Sayrah Namaste


Food hubs are not new in New Mexico; there have always been sustainable food systems,” says Patrick Jaramillo, of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “But way back, it was just called ‘the community.’ Traditional agricultural communities throughout New Mexico have produced the food they needed to sustain themselves for more generations than can be remembered,” Jaramillo says. “Now food hubs are being rebuilt by farmers and land-based advocacy groups like the AFSC and the New Mexico Acequia Association.”

AFSC has been helping develop food hubs in New Mexico through three farmer networks: Agri-Cultura Network in Albuquerque; La Cosecha del More >

Book Review – Acequia: Water Sharing, Sanctity, and Place


By Sylvia Rodríguez, School for Advanced Research Press, 2006


This book, winner of the 2007 Association of Latino and Latina Anthropologists Book Award, is a fascinating account of the interaction of water, faith and landscape in northern New Mexico, detailing the historic management of water and its impact on daily life in the Taos Valley.

Every society must have a system for capturing, storing and distributing water, a system encompassing both technology and a rationale for the division of this finite resource. Today, people around the world face severe and growing water scarcity, and everywhere this vital resource is ceasing to More >

La Cosecha del Norte: A Growing Co-op


Camilla Trujillo



Cosecha del Norte is a co-op comprised of 10 Española Valley area farmers seeking to make chemical-free, healthy local fruits and vegetables available to community members. The co-op sells to schools and businesses. Cosecha del Norte stands apart from the other two growing co-ops in New Mexico sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in that most of our members come from an historically long line of farmers and ranchers. As descendants of the first European colonists who came to north-central New Mexico, we have been guided, desde chiquitos (since we were children), to manage seeds and acequia water wisely.


When we More >