spring 2013

Noticias de las Acequias
New Mexico Acequia Association
June 2013
In This Issue...
Advantages of Good Mayordomo Leadership and Community Cohesion
South Valley San Isidro Celebration
Researchers Probe Acequias From Many Perspectives to Understand Future Challenges and Likely Outcomes
Farm Bill Stalled in House of Representatives
Repartimiento: "Three Quarters for Me, One Quarter for You"
USDA Announcements
Advantages of Good Mayordomo Leadership and Community Cohesion by NMAA Farmer/Rancher Outreach Team

The Los Pinos Acequia is located between the Village of Cuba and the San Pedro Parks Wilderness area of the Santa Fe National Forest. The acequia is diverted from the Rito de los Pinos, at the Los Pinos Trailhead on the Santa Fe National Forest. The Los Pinos Acequia supplies water to fourteen parciantes. It irrigates 397 acres and has an annual allotment of 600 acre/feet from April to October and 200 acre/feet from November to March.  

  Los Pinos Acequia

This is an account of how Los Pinos Acequia Association was able to address a dire situation in a short period of time and how their organizational capacity prepared them to respond quickly and appropriately. The Los Pinos Acequia Association serves as a good example of how a well-organized acequia can address the issues they face without compromising water rights or the irrigation season.  


The Los Pinos Acequia originally diverted water from high up in the Rito de los Pinos. It ran along the edge of the La Jara watershed basin 3 to 9 feet from a sheer slope that descends into the adjacent La Jara basin. The section of the acequia that ran along the cliffside had developed leaks and breaks over time. Mayordoma Georganna Gore, along with several other parciantes, observed that water ran at a depth of 18 inches until it arrived at the hole along the cliffside. The water would then drop into that hole at the bottom of the ditch. The hole was discovered by one of the parciantes at the beginning of December 2012.  


According to Georganna, "Someone, maybe a 'bear', opened the headgate at our diversion and filled the acequia after it had been closed for the year." Approximately 10 days later a catastrophic break was reported to her. Unknown to the association, the water had been leaking out of the side of the cliff and even draining down into the La Jara basin - 500 feet below - for some time. Soon after the discovery of the break, the weather turned and the water that had leaked into the cliff wall froze. "We were afraid that this section of the cliff would literally slide off the mountain," Georganna explained. "We knew something had to be done to repair the ditch before the start of irrigation season in March," she added.


It was at this point that the NMAA Farmer/Rancher Outreach team was invited to assist with the efforts to address a "catastrophic break" in their system. NMAA staff conducted a site visit to Los Pinos in January (see photo) to meet with about 15 members of the community. They drove in 4-wheel drive vehicles and ATVs to the foot of the high hill and then hiked in the two foot high snow and mud to the site of the breaks.  


The parciantes discussed options regarding how they'll get water to the fields this year. They also debated about a permanent fix. It was decided that, as a community, they would have to address the immediate emergency and then work vigorously with legislators to get Capital Outlay money and the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and their engineers for a long term solution. They headed back down the mountain with a possible emergency game plan to address the necessity of water delivery and keeping agriculture in production.  


Georganna and Marion Woolf, Chairwoman of the Los Pinos Ditch Association, were looking for any option to remedy their urgent situation. NMAA Farmer/Rancher Outreach staff met Marion at a meeting with the NRCS staff. She alarmingly exclaimed that "our acequia is about to fall off of the mountain." She was not joking. Marion was at the meeting to find out the ways in which NRCS could assist with this situation.  


Georganna explained that they, "had needed to do a lot of repairs to increase flow." Before we noticed this catastrophic break in the upper acequia, there was still a lot to address on the rest of the acequia."  


To deal with general ditch repairs and improvements, they collectively chose to apply to the NRCS EQIP Acequia Initiative, pilot program that was implemented this year. The catastrophic break was unlike most renovation or infrastructure projects that acequias typically undertake. Los Pinos parciantes were already accustomed to managing breaches along the ditch, but this situation was different and it became even more urgent after the freezing and expanding of the cliff-side section of acequia. Their main concern was to get water to most of the parciantes come irrigation season without causing a landslide into one parciante's property.


None of the usual funding sources for acequia projects applied to this situation since it was an immediate, emergency need. Los Pinos is fortunate to be able to rely on the dedication of their mayordoma, Georganna. The fact that the Los Pinos parciantes are actively involved in their acequia and that they participate in la limpia

every spring made it easy for them to organize around this issue. The situation required that Georganna navigate a complicated set of rules and opportunities in order to fund this emergency repair.  


Georganna's first step was to make sure that all of the acequia's documentation and by-laws were up to date, and registered with the NRCS and state engineer. She confirmed much of the data pertaining to the acequia and once equipped with up-to-date information she worked down a list of possible funding and support services to remedy the situation. She applied for conservation planning through NRCS and this resulted in technical assistance from NRCS staff members Casey Spradley, of the Cuba Field Office; and engineer, Hope Tran, from the NRCS State Office. The Association submitted a capital outlay request to the NM State Legislature and applied for a loan through the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC).  


The technical assistance from NRCS advised that they abandon the section of acequia that was leaking down the cliff and reroute the acequia from a lower point of diversion. That advice was helpful and Georganna moved to the next step to conduct a survey of an additional temporary diversion located at a lower point along the Rito de los Pinos to avoid using the damaged section and rejoin the original acequia above the first lateral. This remedy resulted in having to exclude one of the 14 parciantes since the only way to get water to him is through the old, broken portion of the acequia. The Association is working to address that issue and supply that parciante. The one excluded parciante graciously agrees that it is a better result than nobody getting water, or worse having the acequia slide down the hill.  


Rerouting the acequia from a lower point of diversion resulted in filling the original creek bed of the Rito de los Pinos for more of its length over a longer portion of the year. It had previously been in disuse from the older diversion. Georganna has noticed several ojitos springing up in the Los Pinos watershed that had not run for a long time. As Georganna stated, "we didn't realize how much of an impact returning the acequia to its original watershed would have. We are now seeing new riparian growth and moisture that hasn't been here for a long time."  


The NMAA Farmer Rancher Outreach team is grateful to have witnessed and participated in the approaches to remedying this situation. We are also impressed with the manner in which Los Pinos Acequia Association was able to respond to the situation and correct it for the overall benefit of the community and the land. It is our hope that this serves as an example to other acequias that it always pays to be prepared for any eventuality and having an active board, engaged parciantes, and updated operational procedures is an ideal way to be prepared.

South Valley San Isidro Celebration
Carlos Bustos
Dia de San Isidro

On Dia de San Isidro, May 15th, community members of Atrisco in Albuquerque's South Valley honored the patron saint of farmers, with a procession along the acequias and waterways that still feed the fields of the community. Also honored during the blessing was wife of San Isidro Labrador, Santa Maria de la Cabeza, who was also a saint with healing abilities.  


The procession started at Holy Family Church and included a walk to Atrisco Acequia to blessed the water. Local Curandera group Kalpulli Izkalli blessed the altar and honored the saints prior to the beginning of the walk. A local priest blessed participants, tools and even the farm tractor in honor of this growing season. The children joining the activity blessed the Acequia with flower petals upon arriving to it.  


For hundreds of years, the farmers and people of Atrisco and the southwest have been celebrating May 15, the day San Isidro Labrador died, honoring him by carrying his image along the Acequia as a blessing for new crops and that water be in abundance. This procession was revived years ago in the Atrisco Community to continue the tradition.

Researchers Probe Acequias From Many Perspectives to Understand Future Challenges and Likely Outcomes
Will Keener
Source: Divining Rod Newsletter, New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute

Understanding how northern New Mexico's acequia systems have lasted for four centuries is easier said than done. But doing so-a complex multidisciplinary problem-may lead to an understanding that will allow the systems to continue into an uncertain future. Researchers at the Global Perspectives acequia conference in March outlined some of the progress they are making in studies of the hydrological, social, cultural, and agricultural responses to drought and climate change in the acequia communities.


"When we started in 2002, people were telling us that there were 'a lot of benefits'to acequias, but there was no data," said Sam Fernald, professor of watershed management in the department of animal and range sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU) and Interim Director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NMWRRI.) "We said 'let's find out how groundwater and surface water are connected and get some really good information.'But in the case of the acequias, you can't characterize the hydrology without knowledge of the community and similarly, the community needs to know about the hydrology," he said.


Traditional acequias are important to New Mexico because the northernmost part of the state has no large federally operated water projects by the standards of other western U.S. states. "If you look at (satellite images) of northern New Mexico there are all these ribbons of green valleys," Fernald said.Those are the acequia systems and they are "particularly well suited for semi-arid climates with high inter-annual variability of precipitation," he said.


The hydrological data collected by Fernald and other colleagues show benefitsto the environment from acequias, he said in his conference-opening talk. A multi-year study, after carefully monitoring the Alcalde acequia at the NMSU Science Center, showed that only about seven percent of the water used is consumed by plants or goes out into the atmosphere. "The rest goes back to the river or the groundwater," he said.


"More than just the irrigation of crops and providing water for animals, it is a very important function of the acequia that it allows storage underground, where the water doesn't evaporate and it actually goes back to the river," Fernald said. This "gaining river" concept, where the water table is above river surface and provides water to the river, could become even more valuable with the continuation of the present drought or in the event of predicted climate change.


Measurements show that groundwater levels respond to canal seepage beginning in March and continue through the end of the irrigation season, Carlos Ochoa, research assistant professor of watershed management and hydrology at NMSU, told the attendees. Seepage from ditches and delayed groundwater flowing back into the river have the effect of keeping the river stage higher through summer and fall, he said.


In addition to understanding the hydrology, Jose Rivera, research scholar for the Center for Regional Studies and professor of planning at the University of New Mexico (UNM), said that one of the goals of the multi-year project now underway is to better describe how acequia systems adapt to changing conditions and persevere when threatened. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the work is expected to provide new insights into the relationships between traditional water management systems, communities, and landscapes, Rivera said.  


Findings based on focus group sessions conducted at three sites in 2012 show that the northern New Mexico acequias are resilient institutions that adapt to stresses in the environment, Rivera said. Key factors in this resilience are community cohesiveness, attachment to land and place, and the ecological knowledge embedded in the collective memory of the parciantes. The focus groups-from the Rio Hondo, Alcalde, and El Rito communities-also examined threats to the acequias as they perform the valuable tasks of linking valley irrigation with upland watersheds.


A final report on the project-now in its last year of funding-will include an analysis of the socio-ecological history and current conditions of the Rio Chama watershed. "This is an attempt to tie together quantitative data and translate it into the language on the ground, where the acequias are," he said.  


From a plant and wildlife standpoint, acequias and the watersheds that flow into them create environments that encourage a diversity of plant species and attract animals large and small, said Ken Boykin, research associate professor with the USGS's New Mexico Cooperative Research Unit and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology at NMSU. Boykin is working on simple metrics to identify what services these ecosystems provide and assign human values to the services. These metrics, in turn, can help explain likely outcomes in cases of climate change or urban encroachment, he said. "How do precipitation, temperature, and soil moisture content change vegetation, which changes habitat, which affects animal species, which changes our environmental capital?" Boykin asked. While some species can easily adapt to intermittent stream-flow conditions or ephemeral flows, others cannot. "Acequias can help us avoid some of those loses, but we need to better define what services acequias provide to wildlife," he said.  


Brian Hurd, associate professor of agricultural economics and business at NMSU, and graduate student Laura Mayagolita, examined the challenges facing acequia systems in New Mexico, and the community perceptions on what strategies might work to battle them. "Farmers deal with complex issues in making a living," Hurd told the group. Data from the survey-collected by Mayagolita in an interview format showed that community members believe that maintaining local knowledge, such as how water is shared within the systems, increasing public awareness about the value of the acequias, and providing training and education on crop selection, irrigation and water conservation were among the best defenses against the challenges they are facing.  


The job for Vince Tidwell, at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, is to take the information being gathered and organize it into a formal mathematical framework that will allow multiple systems to be addressed as they interact. His goal is "a model that allows problems to be discussed in an interactive environment and where all of the disciplines can be integrated," he said. "There is feedback across all of these disciplines and they affect each other." Tidwell said details that impact water levels are critical to the modeling process. "What influences decisions landowners make about water? Neighbor influences, downstream urbanization? We recognize very strongly that decisions landowners make are not just economic. There are very strong values also involved," he said.

Farm Bill Stalled in the House of Representatives
Patrick Staib
Even though the U.S. Senate passed a Farm Bill this year, the U.S. House of Representatives will have to revisit this important legislation. NMAA was present when USDA Secretary Vilsack visited La Montanita Co-op in Albuquerque this month. He expressed his disappointment in congress to fail to pass a Farm Bill. In fact, Secretary Vilsack refers to it as the "Farm, Food, and Jobs Bill" because it influences major policy with regard to nutrition programs, farmer assistance, and food systems. This third House version of the Farm Bill included 225 amendments, but fewer than half were included in the final draft. This past June, House Democrats defeated this version of the Farm Bill by a vote of 234 to 195. Many house democrats voted against this legislation because of drastic cuts to vital programs like SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that would have left millions of low-income families without nutritional support to feed their loved ones.

The Farm Bill is of vital importance to New Mexico's farmers and ranchers to get drought and natural disaster mitigation through financial assistance programs. A poor Farm Bill may be better than no Farm Bill, but many representatives could not support the gutting of necessary social equity programs. Currently unfunded programs are the Organic Environmental Quality Incentive Program (O-EQIP), the Livestock Forage Protection Program (LFPP) and the Farmers' Market Promotion Program (FMPP) to name a few.

Please send a message of appreciation to the NM congressional delegation that has worked hard to promote Farm Bill initiatives that are important to our community.

Repartimiento: "Three Quarters for Me, One Quarter for You" Juan Estevan Arellano 

As the summer grows longer and the supply of water trickles to an ebb, it's that time of the year when tempers flare; and what used to be good neighbors sometimes don't talk to each other.

In New Mexico's parched landscape, it's called "repartimiento," or the sharing of the waters among the different acequias. Only that this summer, some people don't seem to want to share the water. And there are several reasons for what is happening. One of them is the loss of community traditional knowledge and, in many cases, the infrastructure of acequias is so bad water can't flow through some of them.


In Embudo, almost every year when one of the commissioners calls for a repartimiento, usually every one of the commissioners get together by the first presa and there they assess the amount of water in the river and then decide how to share it. But not this year. First, they didn't meet, as before, in the river. Instead they held the meeting in a county building and members from half of the acequias didn't attend.


Why didn't the acequias show up? Do they still think there is a lot of water? When you compare this year to 2002, when the Rio Embudo was very low at 2.8 cfs on May 24th; today it only has 6.6 cfs. On April 16th of this year, the Rio Embudo was the lowest it's ever been in its 80 years of recorded history at 5.3 cfs. Its previous low figure on April 16th had been in 1951 at 6.4 cfs.


I mention these figures to give you an idea about how low the river really is this year. The median is 260 cfs and the record was 1,250 cfs in 1984. This is important because many of today's commissioners more than likely didn't live in the area at that time. And nowadays, even though it's illegal, people pump water from one acequia to another, which is a big "no,no," but they don't understand.


In the past the water was distributed both by time (days), as well as volume; whereas today it is only distributed by days, as many don't take into account how many acres one acequia has compared to the rest. Of the four upper acequias in the Embudo Valley, those on the north side of the river are smaller acequias. The Martinez-Arellano Acequia has about 35 acres, with most of it going to one grower. Meanwhile, the acequia that follows, the Duranes, irrigates approximately 40 acres.

Those on the south side of the river are the Sancochada, which irrigates about 40 acres, and the Acequia del Medio waters approximately 150 acres. Though the repartimiento, which is based on the Muslim Law of apportioning water, was very explicit that "equidad," or equality was the law of land. That meant that water was divided by days, but then also based on volume; which in the olden days meant by surcos. A surco is the amount of water that went into a buje, or the center of the cart-wheel of the old carretas, which was approximately 5.5 inches in diameter.


In Mexico and Spain this was solved by including partidores (see photo above) that automatically divided the water based on the size of acreage each acequia had. In Desmontes, for example, they still have such partidores, but not in Embudo where it was done based on surcos.


First, it was divided by time, based on days, then by volume, based on surcos. Therefore, the acequias with more acreage received more water in order to irrigate the amount of acreage they had: an acequia with 40 acres of course received less water than one with 150 acres, if there was to be equality.


Let's look at the four bottom acequias. Those on the north side, Apodaca and Bosque each have about 60 acres of land, while those on the south side, Llano and La Plaza have close to 400 acres. Yet when it comes time to divide the water, those on the north side get a lot more water since volume is no longer used to share the water.


Therefore, the whole idea of equality is thrown out the door. As a result, a peon with one of the small acequias might get to water for four hours, while a peon on the bigger acequias might get only about one-half hour, with the same volume of water. Today, the word repartmiento

has, in many instances, become a cliché, as everyone throws the word around without giving it much thought as to its true and intended meaning.  



There are other tools people used in times of drought, one of which is called "auxilio," or a call for help. In other words, if someone saw that the upper acequias had more water, the commissioners from the lower acequias would go and ask for a one-time help from the acequia with a good supply. They would go and ask the commissioners, "Amigo, our farms are drying up, we need some water, can you share some of your water?" And the answer was usually, "Amigo, we will allow a couple of surcos for your parciantes. But this will be a one time deal."


Then there is another concept, known as "sobrante," which usually applies to an acequia that didn't have a lot of water, due to an agreement of some kind. In our acequia, Junta y Cienaga, we used to have an agreement with the acequia de la Naza. This meant that when everyone in our acequia was done irrigating, then la Naza could turn on the desagüe, which went to the Rio Grande and put it to use in their land. But when our acequia needed the water, then we had first priority.


The repartimiento today is no longer followed based on the amount of acreage each acequia has, and much less based on the volume of water in the river. It's like if you have a big family and your neighbor has a small family, each one is given a loaf of bread and then you split it. If you only have three members, your family will get more, than a family with 12 family members, even though all are told you are getting equal. That sure doesn't seem equal, and it's the same with water.

USDA Announcements
FSA Microloan Program: The USDA Farm Service Agency (FS) Microloan program is designed to better serve the unique financial operating needs of beginning farmers and ranchers, small-scale, and family-based farm and ranch operations. This program offers more flexible access to credit at more accessible interest rates. Eligible applicants can apply for up to $35,000 for a 7-year term at 1.125% interest. The loans may be used for any operational expenses such as: start-up expenses, irrigation, fertility, marketing and distribution, delivery vehicles, farm or ranch improvements, and much more.


EQIP Deadline: Visit or call your local NRCS office now to beat the December 21st EQIP deadline. Programs are available for hightunnels (season extension), various irrigation systems and other practices that can enhance your agricultural operation. Don't hesitate to ask for technical assistance in developing a Soil Health Plan that can help your farm or ranch weather the drought.


CRP General Sign-up Period. The restart of sign-up for continuous CRP, including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Initiative, the Highly Erodible Land Initiative, the Grassland Restoration Initiative, the Pollinator Habitat Initiative and other related initiatives began on May 13 and will continue through Sept. 30, 2013. The Conservation Reserve Program USDA is a voluntary program available to agricultural producers to help them use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits. Producers enrolled in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve the quality of water, control soil erosion, and develop wildlife habitat. In return, FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years.



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Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan
The New Mexico Acequia Association will host an Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan (ICIP) workshop on:


Thursday, July 25

9:30am to 12:00pm 

State Capitol

Room 321   


NMAA staff will present the ICIP process specifically for acequias. Invited presenters include representatives from the ISC, NRCS and DFA.

For more info contact Janice Varela at 505.995.9644 or email organizer@lasacequias.org 
¡Sostenga! 5th Annual Garlic Festival    

Raffle tickets, Contest for Best Garlic Dish, Live Music, Garlic Harvesting Contest, Kids Activities, Art, Food  


Saturday, July 6

6:30am - 2:00pm 

¡Sostenga! Center
Northern NM College
Española, NM 


Enjoy great music, food and celebration of Northern New Mexico's agricultural heritage!  


Hosted by NMCC's ¡Sostenga! Center for Sustainable Food, Agriculture & Environment.  

For more info call (505) 747-5457 or (505) 747-5430

"Value Your Land, Value Your Water"

Sandoval County Regional Acequia Workshop


Thursday, August 22

10:00am to 4:00pm

Cuba, NM 


For more info contact the NMAA Farmer/Rancher Outreach Staff at 505.995.9644
Upper Rio Grande Climate-Change Impacts Assessment (URGIA)    

Dagmar Llewellyn will present
details of a two-year effort to characterize the potential risks and impacts associated with climate change to water supplies and demands in the Upper Rio Grande, including the Rio Grande and its tributaries from the headwaters to Elephant Butte reservoir.  

Wednesday, July 10


NM Natural History & Science Musem

Dyna Theater 

Co-sponsored by
the New Mexico Academy of Science, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and 
Science and New Mexicans for Science and Reason. 
Celebrando las Acequias (Part II)     
Agenda includes presentation about repartimiento, discussion of issues facing Embudo valley acequias including drought, and afternoon acequia break-outs. Lunch will be served to attendees.

Saturday, July 13th

Mission Embudo 


For more info contact Estevan Arellano at 505-579-4027 or email him at estevan_2002@yahoo.com.

Sustainable Grazing Practices to Mitigate Drought     
Open Gate On-Farm Learning Series

Mesteño Draw
Ranch Day
Friday, August 9 
Mesteño Ranch 
Mountainair, NM

At the Mesteño Draw Ranch Day you'll see what local land managers are doing to maintain land health & profitability during  drought:  
  Discuss practical stocking/destocking strategies, better understand critical monitoring criteria, evaluate herd mgt strategies, understand how best to maximize recovery, see how you can improve riparian health for increased forage production, get tips on how to increase upland forage health.    
Hosted by Holistic Management International. For more info visit  http://holisticmanagement.org/mesteno/ 

 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, Marguerite Casey Foundation, New Mexico Community Foundation, McCune Foundation, The Christensen Fund, 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 and Administration Local Government Division.