spring 2013

Noticias de las Acequias
New Mexico Acequia Association
May 2013
In This Issue...
Dia de San Isidro
Acequias Cope with Historic Drought
Dry Forests & Wildfires
Farm Bill Update
A Call to Soil Health
USDA Announces Final Call for 2012 Agriculture Census
Dia de San Isidro
Paula Garcia

The story, as told to me, about San Isidro Labrador is that he was a farmer in Spain and that he and his wife, Santa Maria de la Cabeza, were very devout Catholics.They worked very hard growing food on their farm and like other farmers, San Isidro was compelled to work every day and every minute that he had daylight.Despite his hard work, he found time for prayer when he was in the fields and also to attend daily mass.He was so driven to work that he was tempted to miss mass so that he could work tending his animals and his crops. God warned him that if he missed mass, he would be punished with difficult neighbors.So San Isidro and Santa Maria made time for mass even if it meant leaving their work behind while they were attending mass.In reward for their devotion, God sent angels to help San Isidro tend to his animals and crops while he and Santa Maria were attending mass.   

NMAA will be distributing prayer cards and ribbons for masses today and over the next few days celebrating the feast of San Isidro. Click on the image above to print your own card.

A common image familiar to many Catholics in northern New Mexico is of San Isidro with an arado (plow) with angels at his side helping him with his work.   


Similar versions of the story say that he was a tenant farmer. Fellow workers complained to the landowner that San Isidro spent too much time in prayer or in mass.However, he always managed to get his work done, which was credited to the help of angels sent by God.  Legend tells that when he did work, he could do the work of three men because he had an angel at each side helping him.   


San Isidro is venerated today in feast days and processions throughout Spain, Latin America, and Hispanic communities of the Southwest. In New Mexico, he is celebrated in many parishes on either May 10th or May 15th. He is the patron saint of farmers and laborers.  

Acequias Cope with Historic Drought
Paula Garcia

New Mexico is experiencing the worst drought in the nation according to the US Drought Monitor. Nearly the entire state (98%) was characterized as being in SEVERE to EXCEPTIONAL drought. Lack of snow and rain has resulted in an extremely dry spring with streams that are completely dry or severely below normal. Acequias, which depend on snow-melt and runoff, are deeply affected by the lack of irrigation water.


May 2013 NM Drought    

For many generations, acequias have endured times of water scarcity by sharing, sacrificing, and hoping. We have good reason to hope that acequias will continue customs of sharing water, known as the repartimiento. However, the severity and length of the drought is straining these customs and forcing acequias to adapt to a drier climate.  


Even with the best efforts to share scarce water, acequia leaders around the state express their frustration that there just is not enough water to meet the needs of parciantes. Drought has prompted many ranchers to reduce their herds and has resulted in many farmers to be very selective in planting their gardens. Some of the testimonials of acequia parciantes and other observations are shared below:

  • Acequias are cleaning and irrigating earlier in the season because the water is expected to run out in some areas by the middle of the growing season.
  • Some acequias have collectively decided not to irrigate and are leaving the little water available to flow in the acequia for watering their animals.
  • Several acequias started the irrigation season on a rotation schedule with shorter tiempos, whereas in better years, they generally did not need rotations until June or later.
  • Many parciantes are concerned that their crops will dry later in the summer for lack of water... in some areas, they are worried about losing orchards that took many years to grow and nurture.
  • Ranchers are selling their cattle, either some of their herds or their entirety, because of a lack of forage on grazing land and because it is too expensive to feed them hay.

At the same time, acequias are working hard to keep the water flowing including efforts to improve efficiencies in their acequia with improvements to headgates or leaky stretches of the ditch. Acequias in some areas are reviving old traditions of deciding collectively among acequias that share a stream to come up with a way to allocate water between them. Some parciantes are experimenting with ways to improve soil in their gardens to hold more moisture and prioritizing gardens over larger pastures. Others are trying small holding ponds that they fill during their turn on the rotation and then pump to gardens when needed, in many cases using drip irrigation. 

Elephant Butte Reservoir
Above satellite image shows the Elephant Butte Reservoir in 1931 (left) and 2013 (right) where it's only at 10% capacity. Source: US Geological Survey.

While the drought can be devastating for many who depend on water for their livelihood, many acequias and parciantes are coping, adapting, and working diligently to sustain their farms and ranches. With some faith and hard work, acequias and the agricultural traditions intertwined with them will endure another year.

Dry Forests & Wildfires
Quita Ortiz & Patrick Staib

Sediment-filled acequia in Abiquiu
Sediment-filled acequia in Abiquiu, resulting from the 2011 Las Conchas fire.  

New Mexico is experiencing drought conditions that have been deemed the worst in the nation and many of the state's forests have already began implementing fire restrictions.     


Last year's Whitewater-Baldy fire surpassed the previous year's Las Conchas fire to be the state's largest wildfire in recorded history, burning 297,845 acres of the Gila Wilderness. There seems to be no end in sight as expectations are high this year for more rampant wildfires to devastate our forests.  


The process of forest succession takes place following a wildfire and, in many cases, is considered to be a healthy occurrence as ash from the fire introduce important nutrients, mainly nitrogen, to the soil. This results in a natural ecological process, characterized by different stages of forest growth, that takes place over a long period of time. These overarching, natural processes are critical to the ecological system that we rely on for resources. However, when we experience prolonged drought coupled with poorly managed forests, it's likely to result in detrimental wildfires that are devastatingly severe. They not only impact the forest itself, but entire watersheds and lowlands, including acequia-irrigated landscapes, in part due to the severe monsoon flooding that occurs after the fires and the loss of a landbase from which to harvest timber and graze their livestock. 


Virgil Trujillo, longtime Abiquiu rancher, has felt the firsthand affects of the 2011 Las Conchas fire, which burned 156,293 acres. "Fire is a very normal event," he said, "but the intensity of how it happened should never have been the case," referring to flawed forest management practices. He's referring in part to the technocratic approach that the Forest Service takes. The level of destruction caused by the Las Conchas Fire was so severe that one of Virgil's acequias was gravely affected by the massive erosion caused by monsoon flooding after the fire. "The flooding was so intense and the damage has rendered one of my ditches ineffective," he said pointing to his acequia that's filled with ash and sediment (photo above).  


Virgil pointed out that that damage was really a result of poor forest and fire management, saying that the affliction to his acequia was ultimately a result of the back burns. "When the Conchas fire came in across the Valles Caldera," he said, "it was on top of the mountain and had actually had stopped burning, it was just smoldering. But then fire crews came in and they burned all the slopes to stop the fire that had already stopped burning, and that's what ruined my acequia." He knew that he could have applied for government funds to repair his acequia, but ultimately decided against it because there are deeper resource management issues at play and he didn't want to waste government resources on a band-aid approach. 


Other parts of the state are also feeling the harsh impacts of wildfires. The Little Bear wildfire burned 44,330 acres of the Lincoln National Forest last summer, consuming 225 houses around the base of the Sierra Blanca peak and had devastating impacts.


The Little Bear Fire had destroyed the watershed and downstream acequias in the region. And just like the case of the Conchas fire, monsoon rains following the fire wreaked havoc in the area by inducing flash floods and landslides. James Taylor, Mayordomo of the Lutz Acequia in Capitan, NM, requested support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to revitalize his acequia after the fire. The floods filled his acequia with silt and debris. He needed to contract a backhoe operator to literally dig out the acequia after it completely filled up. He is now dealing with the issue of reduced flow since the watershed is dry after the fire and during this drought.  


Jackie Powell, NMAA Concilio member, lives in the Hondo Valley near San Patricio. She's a member of the Choza Acequia. She has defended claims to her water rights from the City of Roswell, and the villages of Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs. The floods along the Río Ruidoso filled the entire stream-bed and destroyed diversion dams along her stretch of the river. She worked with surveyors and engineers to reroute the river along its original path, but still struggles with invasive weeds that have been introduced from the debris and dirt that came with the flood.  


Roger and Carol Lynn Beechie are struggling to irrigate their pasture now that their section of the Río Ruidoso is almost completely dry. They have upgraded their diversion and delivery systems, but now the lack of water makes those upgrades irrelevant for this growing season. They are considering selling off cattle due to the reduced water supply.


The drought compounded with wildfires like the Little Bear and Las Conchas fires illustrate how dire the situation is throughout the state. Golf courses and ski areas require ample water resources. Residential expansion requires even more water. Traditional irrigators are organizing and taking advantage of government assistance to manage their lands, but recurring disasters keep anyone from making notable progress. Ultimately acequias can learn from the affects of these fires, but it is up to parciantes and sympathic neighbors to learn from these lessons and act accordingly to protect our forests, watersheds, headwaters, and the traditional practices. 

Farm Bill Update
Paula Garcia

The Farm Bill is moving through Congress once again. After several delays and stop-gap measures, Farm Bill legislation is finally moving through committees. On the current timeline, we can expect the 2013 Farm Bill to be finalized by September 30th around the time the current bill will expire.


The latest word is that the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version and the House Agriculture Committee is currently working on its "mark up" in which committee members offer amendments to the bill drafted by the chair and ranking member of the committee. NMAA and allies working on the issues of access and equity in USDA programs submitted recommendations to our Congressional delegation. Some of the highlights of our recommendations include:

  • Outreach for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (SDFR) Program
  •  Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program
  •  Value Added Producer Program

NMAA also made recommendations to improve crop insurance, retain set asides and cost share provisions for SDFRs, and to add waivers for SDFRs for the FSA NAP program. Additionally, NMAA requested that language in the Farm Bill be amended to allow acequias to be directly eligible for EQIP funding. Currently, individual producers are eligible. If acequias as entities could be eligible, it would streamline the process to apply for acequia projects.


NMAA will continue to track amendments to the Farm Bill with the help of national organizations who work on issues of sustainable agriculture and equity for historically under-served farmers and ranchers. NMAA works with Rural Coalition in advancing our Farm Bill priorities and signed on to a letter with recommendations that comprised the Equity Package. Other work of the Rural Coalition, including updates on the Farm Bill, can be viewed on their website.


Another useful resource for tracking progress on the Farm Bill is the National Sustainable Agriculture coalition which has frequent updates  and a useful farm bill amendment tracker.  NMAA urges its members to contact Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham to thank her for sponsoring an amendment to fund the Outreach and Advocacy for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program by calling (505) 242-3511. Also, Senator Tom Udall, who carried a similar amendment in an earlier version of the Farm Bill can be reached at (505) 988-6511. We should thank them for their attention to the priority needs of the acequia community and encourage their ongoing support.

A Call to Soil Health
Serafina Lombardi

The work of a farmer is never done. They are always learning, sharing knowledge with one another, trying new crops and production methods and adapting to the shifts in climate and seasons. They are always interested in feeding families, lightening the workload, building security, surviving the drought.  


In late-March, over 50 individuals gathered on the beautiful Northern New Mexico El Rito Campus, the events of the day reminded us how there is always more to understand, implement and experiment with. Co-hosted by NMAA, the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute and Northern New Mexico College, we were graced by a series of intensive workshops by our NRCS state agronomist Rudy Garcia who is originally from a farming family in the community of Medanales. These workshops were followed up by excellent presentations from local farmers on 3 different methods of composting - in pallets, a heap, and vermiculture. Deb Farson then presented on the soil food web, and Maria Meyers presented on the benefits of compost tea with the good bacteria and fungi it offers. Finally we heard from Tomas Gonzales (NRCS) and Mr. Valdez of the East Rio Arriba Soil and Water Conservation District on programs that can help fund your soil health, followed by  a presentation by NMAA Farmer Rancher Outreach staff about we can support you in accessing those programs .  


Back to the message at hand: Mr. Garcia emphasized the importance of low-no till farming and cover crops as key tools in supporting the dynamic complex living soils we work with. He also emphasized that there is no one right way and charged all of the attendees to continue being experts in their communities on how to adopt these practices to their farming traditions. Here is a general intro from the NRCS fact sheet on Soil Health:


What's critical about soil health now?

1.World population is projected to increase from 7 billion in 2013 to more than 9 billion in 2050. To sustain this level of growth, food production will need to rise by 70 percent.

2. Between 1982-2007, 14 million acres of prime farmland in the U.S. were lost to development.

3. Improving soil health is key to long-term, sustainable agricultural production.


Soil health matters because:

1. Healthy soils are high-performing, productive soils.

2. Healthy soils reduce production costs-and improve profits.

3.Healthy soils protect natural resources on and off the farm.

4. Franklin Roosevelt's statement, "The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself," is as true today as it was 75 years ago.

5.Healthy soils can reduce nutrient loading and sediment runoff, increase efficiencies, and sustain wildlife habitat.


What are the benefits of healthy soil?

1. Healthy soil holds more water (by binding it to organic matter), and loses less water to runoff and evaporation.

2. Organic matter builds as tillage declines and plants and residue cover the soil. Organic matter holds 18-20 times its weight in water and recycles nutrients for plants to use.

3. One percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil would hold approximately 27,000 gallons of water per acre!

4. Most farmers can increase their soil organic matter in three to 10 years if they are motivated about adopting conservation practices to achieve this goal.


How to begin your path for Healthy Soils:

1. Keep it covered.

2. Do not disturb.

3. Use cover crops and rotation to feed your soil.

4. Develop a soil health management plan with the help of NRCS.

Follow four basic soil health principles

to improve soil health and sustainability:

1. Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil.

2. Manage soils more by disturbing them less.

3. Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil.

4. Keep the soil covered as much as possible.


What is a Soil Health Management Plan?

1. It's a roadmap to soil health.

2. It outlines a system of practices needed to enhance crop

production and soil function, and improve or sustain water

quality, air quality, energy efficiency and wildlife habitat.

Some of the recommended conservation practices include:

Conservation Crop Rotation, Cover Crops, No Till, Mulching,

Nutrient Management, and Pest Management.

3. It provides environmental, economic, health, and societal benefits.

4. It saves energy by using less fuel for tillage, and maximizes nutrient cycling.

5. It saves water and increases drought tolerance by increasing infiltration and water holding capacity as soil organic matter increases.

6. It reduces disease and pest problems.

7. It improves income sustainability for farms and ranches.

8. It improves plant health.


Source:  http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1082147.pdf 


For more ideas and information on how to build your soil health please contact the NMAA Farmer-Rancher Outreach staff and/or your closest NRCS office. It is incumbent upon us with low water access to build soil health to reduce our water needs and sustain the drought. Please share with us and your community what works for you so we can continue to build upon traditional acequia knowledge. 

USDA Announces Final Call for 2012 Agriculture Census
Source: USDA News

With the window to respond to the 2012 Census of Agriculture officially closing on May 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging farmers and ranchers not to miss this opportunity to be counted and help determine the future of farming in America. USDA has already received more than 2 million completed Census forms.


"Our nation needs your help to ensure that decisions about U.S. agriculture accurately represent you, your communities, and your industry," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "For every 158 people in America there is one farm. I urge you to take action today and respond to the Census - your country is counting on the information to help ensure a continued supply of food, fiber and fuel for generations to come."


The Census of Agriculture, conducted only once every five years, is the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation. It looks at farms, value of land, market value of agricultural production, farm practices, expenditures, and other factors that affect the way farmers and ranchers do business. The information is used by agribusinesses, town planners, local governments, and policy makers, as well as farmers, ranchers, growers and others to shape farm programs, boost rural services and grow the future of farming.


"Agriculture in America is an industry built on tradition, honor and pride," said Vilsack. "We have heard this from the farmers and ranchers who completed their Census of Agriculture form. It's not too late for those who have not yet responded to join the generations of producers who participated in the Agriculture Census since it was first conducted in 1840. Only you can continue to provide the facts straight from the farm."


The 2012 Census will provide a complete picture of agriculture that will be used to shape the future of agriculture, rural America, and the lives of those USDA serves for years to come. The deadline to respond to the Census of Agriculture is only a few weeks away on May 31. USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) may contact producers by phone or in person to collect Census information since time is running out.


Farmers and ranchers can also return their forms by mail or online by visiting a secure website, www.agcensus.usda.gov. Federal law requires a response from everyone who receives the Census form and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.


For more information about the Census, including helpful tips on completing your Census form, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828). The Census of Agriculture is your voice, your future, your responsibility. 


Join Our Mailing List
Like us on Facebook


NM Acequias:
Tradition & Adaptation 


Statewide Workshop on Acequia Governance    


Wednesday, June 26th 

9:00am to 4:30pm 
Santa Fe Community College


Featuring the following topics:

Mayordomo Perspectives on Drought
"The Art of Mayordomía" film premiere
Commissioner Training
Water Rights from Acequia Perspective
Acequia Easements 
SVRAA Special Mtg  


The South Valley Regional Association of Acequias Special Mtg   


Wednesday, May 15th 

183 Sunset Road SW 

Albuquerque, NM   


Click here for agenda.
Seed Saving Workshop   
NMSU will host two seed saving workshops


Tuesday, May 21st

Taos Co. Extension

202 Chamisa Rd


Thursday, May 23rd

Santa Fe Co. Extention

3229 Rodeo Rd.   


Click here for more info.
NM Acequia Commission Mtg    

The New Mexico Acequia Commission will holds monthly meetings: 


Friday, May 24th

Bataan Memorial Bldg

 Room 201 

Santa Fe, NM 


Click here for more info.

 New Mexico Acequia Association   

Concilio (Board of Directors)

Antonio Medina

Harold Trujillo

 Alfredo Montoya

Don Bustos

Santiago Maestas

Jackie Powell

Gilbert Sandoval

Facundo Valdez 

Stephen Trujillo

Medardo Sanchez

Yolanda Jaramillo




Paula Garcia, Executive Director


Julia Mullen, Associate Director 


Cheryl James, Program Director

Janice Varela, Acequia Governance Specialist


 Quita Ortiz, Communications & Project Specialist


Pilar Trujillo, Project Specialist


Lucille Trujillo, Membership Coordinator


Juliet Garcia-Gonzales, Community Project Coordinator


Carlos Bustos,

Acequia Governance Staff


Patrick Staib, Farmer/Rancher Outreach Coordinator  


Jason Jaramillo, Farmer/Rancher Outreach Staff


Serafina Lombardi, Farmer/Rancher Outreach Staff


Allayne Scott, Business Manager


Lori Spillman, Event Coordinator 


Elena Misumi, Bookkeeper




Become a Member!

Become a member of the New Mexico Acequia Association! Parciante and Supporter Memberships are $20/year and includes a quarterly newsletter subscription. Membership for an Acequia is $40/year including a newsletter subscription for all four officers.


The NMAA is a charitable, educational non-profit organization that relies on membership contributions and foundations for its general operating expenses. We rely on folks who join as members and to contribute membership dues and donations to support our work. It has never been more important to have a united front to protect our acequias and strengthen our food and agricultural traditions.


Technical Assistance 



The NMAA offers technical assistance on Acequia Governance and USDA programs for landowners. If any of these questions apply to you or your acequia, please submit a Request for Technical Assistance.

Thank You!!!  

The New Mexico Acequia Association greatly acknowledges the support and dedication of the many parciantes and supporters who are NMAA members and who have made donations.


Thanks to our foundation supporters including (in alphabetical order) Catholic Campaign for Human Development, The Christensen Fund, Marguerite Casey Foundation, New Mexico Community Foundation, McCune Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


We also greatly appreciate the financial support provided to us by state and federal sources: the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Advocacy and Outreach; and the State of New Mexico's Department of Finance Administration.