Every year at this time, cleaning the Acequia Madre is paramount on our minds. As the mayordomo used to say, “It is the first priority.” To the old people, it was time to sacar (clean out) the waterways. I like to hear stories of the old parciantes (water-rights owners), like the time there was a fish in the acequia, escaped from the reservoirs; or when they would wait for St. John’s Feast day, when everyone would enjoy the water. Making dams to trap the water was fun. They weren’t deep enough to swim in; only to wade in ankle-deep. We would wet our scalp, then the parents would tell us to go ahead. The kids would spend hours getting glass and rocks out of the way so they could spend the day in the acequia. In those days there was a lot of water, but now there are limited flows. It has everything to do with the snowpack. We have a good snowpack in our mountains this year, especially with the late snows, and we are anxiously awaiting a good stream of water.
At the first signs of spring the mayordomo and the commissioners of the acequia will discuss, walk parts of the acequia, and talk to the parciantes about the condition of the waterway. If major repairs are needed they will determine if the annual assessment to the members should be increased to pay for repairs. Or they may determine that a work crew of members can make the repairs themselves. The officers make note of conditions on the acequia to pass on to the members when they are cleaning the ditch. Some sections where gophers have invaded and closed off the waterway with their own engineering talents may need to be dug out.
The tall grasses common around Santa Fe, such as orchard and western wheat grass, have deep root systems and very tall blade stalks. We like these types of grasses to be on the acequia banks because they hold the soil so well. The dried blades of grass on the edges of the waterway have to be trimmed back with a shovel, or if too thick, cut with a weed trimmer and removed so that the water can flow quickly and unimpeded.
All the information gathered about the conditions of the waterway is discussed at the annual meeting, which usually is held about 30 days before the annual acequia cleaning. The Acequia Madre, including its three laterals (Acequia Ranchitos, upper and lower Acequia Analco) is nearly seven miles long. It takes about four weeks to clean the portions west of Old Santa Fe Trail to the village of Agua Fría. The section from the head gate on the Santa Fe River near Cristo Rey Church, going to Old Santa Fe Trail, is the last portion cleaned. We enjoy having our neighbors, friends, Acequia Madre School students and their parents, city councilors, mayors, family members and sometimes people from other states that happen to be visiting come and help us clean. When we finish that last section, we provide lunch at a nearby restaurant or someone’s backyard. This type of gathering with food is always a most pleasant time to meet and talk to all types of people who all seem to have a common goal of keeping this ancient piece of Santa Fe history functioning and doing what it was built to do: deliver irrigation water to the orchards, gardens, fields and pastures all along the way to Agua Fría.
When the cleaning of the acequia is completed and everyone has been fed and maybe cleaned up a little, we go to the headgate and release Agua Prima into the waterway and we salute and cheer the water. Several individuals follow the water to make sure no blockages are created by the water picking up debris, especially from inside culverts and under bridges along the way.
So when all of the above is done, we will have completed the 407th cleaning of the Acequia Madre de Santa Fe!
Phillip Bové has been commissioner on the Acequia Madre de Santa Fe since 1983 and a member of the Santa Fe River Commission since 2009.