January 2014

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. For example, one would say, “I belong to the Acequia del Monte.”


Presa: The presa is a small impoundment, historically made or rock, brush and logs, to divert water from the river to the acequia madre, or the mother ditch. Modern presas are usually constructed of concrete.


Compuerta: Individual farm headgates divert water from the acequia to the fields that are owned by individual parciantes, or irrigators, who own water rights along the acequia.


Parciante: Individual irrigators who own water rights are called parciantes. Each parciante owns a derecho or a water right that is attached to his or her land.


Comisión: The three-member elected commission of each acequia is responsible for certain decisions concerning the maintenance and operation of the acequia.


Mayordomo: The mayordomo is the day-to-day caretaker of the acequia and the person who manages the irrigation system. Acequias differ in their local customs sharing water within the acequia and between neighboring acequias.


Derecho: Each parciante on the acequia has a derecho or water right attached to his or her land. The derecho may be measured both in terms of approximate acreage and also in terms of time or flow rate for purposes of water allocation by the mayordomo.


Sacar la acequia: Each spring, the mayordomo organizes a work crew of peones (or workers) to clean the acequia. Each parciante is required to participate in the spring cleaning by contributing peones in proportion to the amount of derechos owned by each parciante.


Regadío: Land that is irrigated along the acequia is often referred to as regadío. Irrigated lands of the acequias support pasture, orchards, crops and livestock. During the summer, many parciantes take their livestock to grazing allotments in the sierra while allowing hay and pasture to grow on their regadío.

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