spring 2013

Noticias de las Acequias
New Mexico Acequia Association
August 2013
In This Issue...
Congreso de las Acequias
Acequia Realities of Water Scarcity in New Mexico
Parciante Perspectives on the 2013 Irrigation Season
Capital Outlay, Financial Reporting, and Audits
Foreign Dignitaries Visit with NMAA and Acequia Leaders
The Falaj System of Oman
Farmer-Rancher Outreach & USDA Updates
Congreso de las Acequias
congreso 2013

The New Mexico Acequia Association will hold its 14th annual meeting,
Congreso de las Acequias, on Saturday, November 23rd from 9:00am to 3:30pm at the Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe (Tesuque area).

This year, we hope to bring together our members, NMAA delegates, and supporters for discussions about land, water, and our acequias. There will be a registration fee of $20 per person to cover the cost of food.

For more information visit
http://www.lasacequias.org/congreso-de-las-acequias or call the office at (505) 995-9644.
Acequia Realities of Water Scarcity in New Mexico
Serafina Lombardi and Quita Ortiz
Rio Embudo
Record low water flow in the Rio Embudo in August 2013. Photo by Jason Jarmillo.

Acequia communities across the state are dealing with shortened irrigation seasons and reduced flows; subsequently, parciantes have reduced herds, planted less, and in some cases have even witnessed their pasture grasses die from heat and lack of water (see the table on our website, "Acequia Irrigation 2013 Trends"). The table is not a comprehensive survey of all acequia communities throughout the state, but it still provides a good snapshot of what's taking place on the ground.  


While nearly all acequias are challenged by water scarcity, the degree to which they are affected demonstrates the incredible diversity of water sources that our acequias depend on.  


To compare two extremes, consider the acequias in the Cuba area which depend on resumederos, or the collection of water high up in the mountains, to feed their acequias. This intermittent source of water is not the most dependable. As a result, many acequias in Cuba had a significantly shortened irrigation season this year; or in some cases no water at all. On the flip side, the acequias of Santa Rosa, which are fed off of the Ogallala Aquifer, have seen no reduction in water access from the acequia.


In the section below, "Parciante Perspectives on the 2013 Irrigation Season," we looked at a number of anecdotes from parciantes in different regions to gain a better understanding of what they're dealing with in terms of drought; and how they're coping. Additionally, we heard from a number of mayordomos who, at NMAA's Tradition and Adaptation statewide workshop in June, gave us a glimpse of the challenges they faced this year and how they addressed water sharing in the face of extreme shortage (see "Mayordomo & Community Response to Drought" on our website).  


Considering all these anecdotes from parciantes, commissioners, and mayordomos, we're seeing a pretty clear picture of the hardships experienced by communities throughout New Mexico. Acequias certainly aren't the only ones in the state feeling the effects of drought. Those in southern New Mexico are also dealing with thirsty farms. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District has had the shortest irrigation season in its history. At just 7 percent capacity, irrigators dependent on water from Elephant Butte reservoir received only one month of water releases this year; usually it's anywhere from 5 to 8 months. All of the state's reservoirs are far below average levels, and some of them hardly have any water at all - like El Vado reservoir in Rio Arriba County, which is only at 5 percent capacity.  


One thing that most reservoirs and acequias across the state can agree on are: thank goodness for the monsoon rains. But it's merely a drop in the bucket considering that, although the summer rains have kept our gardens and pastures afloat, winter snowpack is the key contributor in replenishing our rivers, lakes, and aquifers which support long term water supplies.  


Declining annual snowfall coupled with milder winter temperatures and an ever-increasing population is a recipe for long-term adverse water shortages. Soaring summer temperatures are also part of the equation. We're witnessing our plants as they cope with stress resulting from extreme heat. Even our native and landrace varieties are experiencing the hardship presented by temperatures that are well above normal, leading to lower yields and an increased proneness to disease and pests.


We don't know what's in store for our future when it comes to the water supply, but it's safe to assume that becoming accustomed to sharing very little water will be necessary. As we inch toward the future of water in New Mexico, it's evident that we'll face hard decisions - acequias must continue to claim their seat at the table at the state level as well as work together at the community level to keep the water flowing equitably for everyone.

Parciante Perspectives on the 2013 Irrigation Season

Below, we hear from a number of parciantes who have given us a glimpse of the hardships, strategies, and overall experiences with respect to a limited water supply this past irrigation season: 


Yolanda Jaramillo, Embudo Valley Acequia Association

"The river is at its lowest since the early 1950's. It has been at 0.5 CFS - and downstream there are areas between ojitos that are nothing but rock. It took 20 minutes to flow less than 100 yards one from head gate to another. This is the first time I admit that we are in the high desert. I've always said, 'we live in the mountains', but in reality we are in a high desert environment and people need to consider that when they're planning their gardens. We need to think about what type of gardens will fair better."


Lorenzo Candelaria, South Valley Acequia Association
"The drought impact is horrible, giving us a limited amount of water we can use. We are fortunate to have the water we do every 19 days - most of my cash crop is planted with drip, and I plant corn with seed developed over 20 years for drought tolerance. The drought has a major effect on how and what we plant - I could not have done a commercially viable chile crop this year."


Johnny Reed, Rio Mimbres
"We were hit hard this year - everyone in the Mimbers Valley just didn't have enough water to irrigate. And after the Silver Fire, floods brought that silt over head gates and into the acequias. I raise alfalfa and we've never had an elk problem, just deer. Folks in the area are reducing herds by up to 70%....we now have to buy hay for the horses. "


Jackie Powell, Upper Hondo Water Users Association

"We haven't had much water since February and have only been able to irrigate a few times using run off from the rain. Because of the fire, we had to put resources toward removing a few hundred yards of silt out of the diversion to get water through the ditch. So it's not just the drought itself, but the hard times it brings: this is the third year after the fire and the silt is not letting up."

Cows in Nambe
The lack of water is evident in the forefront as a small herd grazes on pasture in Nambé. Water from the Rio Nambé was used for the Jaroso Fire this summer, making an already scarce supply harder to distribute among the acequias in the Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District. Photo by Quita Ortiz.

David Ortiz, Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District

"We used up all of our water through June, and right now we are depending on the rain. There has been a little bit of water that has been utilized by some acequias, but only for gardens. We've benefited from rainfall, but there's no forecast for a significant increase to release water from the dam. Right now whatever is released from the dam is used by Pojoaque Pueblo. The last release for non-Indian irrigators was June 22nd and we normally irrigate through late fall. A lot of people in the valley were anticipating the drought and didn't plant as much. Everyone is feeling the effects."


Charlie Esquibel, Santa Cruz Irrigation District

"I feel for parciantes and the mayordomos who are having a heck of a time distributing the water fairly. Folks want more water than is available. And with a dam, we lose water to evaporation. At times water doesn't even make it to the end of the ditch. We are getting some rain and we need it; but it also brings concerns about flood damages."


Esther Garcia, Cabresto Dam

"The dam is very low, it didn't fill up this year. There wasn't enough moisture and it's gone down just from evaporation. There's a lot of fighting going on over water. It's very real - people still don't get it that there isn't enough water - this drought is taking a toll on everyone. We need to be more diligent in conservation. It is a reality that all of the acequias and dam owners are going to have to see. We're lucky we have a dam, but everyone needs to learn to conserve and work with each other."


Harold Trujillo, Mora Valley   

"We have not had water for irrigation for last two years, so instead we've tried to just sustain a flow in the river so there would be enough for the cattle to drink, but we could only keep that up 'til the June 1st. We had 15 acres of new alfalfa and it died. Also, the soil is weak - even though we've had good rains, the plants have had a hard time recovering. If we can't produce we have to buy bales, so people have a lot at stake."  

Capital Outlay, Financial Reporting, and Audits
Below is some important information for acequias regarding a number of topics:

Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plans: The deadline to complete an ICIP is on September 30, 2013. The ICIP is a useful tool in preparing and planning to request funding for an acequia construction project. The State Legislature and various state agencies are strongly encouraging local governments to submit an ICIP if your acequia plans to request Capital Outlay funding during the 2014 legislative session. NMAA is available to help prepare an ICIP for your acequia and we recommend the following:

  •  Contact NMAA for assistance in obtaining a username and password for the DFA website used to enter the ICIP information.
  •  Hold a public meeting of your Commission or membership to come to an agreement about the needs on your acequia.
  •  Write a description of your project and get a cost estimate. You can get advice on this from your local NRCS office, the Interstate Stream Commission, or a private engineer or contractor.
  •  Set up a consultation with NMAA staff to begin preparing your ICIP. NMAA staff are available throughout the month of September for 2 hour consultations in our office in Santa Fe.
  •  Hold a public meeting of your Commission to approve a resolution adopting the ICIP before September 30, 2013.

Capital Outlay: If your acequia is planning to submit a request for Capital Outlay during the 2014 legislative session, first complete your ICIP. It is also important to communicate with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you will be submitting a funding request. After your ICIP is completed, you will need to complete a Capital Outlay Request Form. NMAA staff can assist you with this form.


Audit Rule: To receive Capital Outlay, any local government, including acequias, must be in compliance with the Audit Rule according to the Executive Order by Governor Susana Martinez. Although this has always been a state law, it is now being enforced by the state.   The Office of the State Auditor has a tiered system of reporting.   While most acequias will only require submission of a letter to the State Auditor, others over a certain spending level will be required to do a financial report or audit.    

DFA Budget and Reporting Requirements: Similar to the Audit Rule, state law requires that local governments meet budget and reporting requirements. This has not been enforced in the past but the state is now making DFA compliance a condition of acquiring Capital Outlay.


To assist acequias in meeting the Audit Rule and DFA requirements, NMAA is hosting a workshop on Financial Reporting and Audits Workshop on September 19th, 2013 (click here for flyer). The purpose of the workshop is to inform acequias about these requirements. Representatives from three different agencies will give brief presentations and will be available to answer questions.  Please let us know whether you plan to attend this workshop by calling the NMAA office at 505-995-9644.  

Drought and priority calls:  Who will get the water?
Paula Garcia

It was a day of numbers.  Years of drought, inches of rainfall deficit, inches of irrigation, feet per year of aquifer depletion, and dollars.  The Drought Subcommittee of the Water and Natural Resources Legislative Interim Committee met in Clovis last week.   Water experts gave presentations and state legislators asked questions generating hours of discussion.  And at the end of the day, we were left with more questions.  How long with this drought last?  Have we hit the bottom yet?  Will the state implement prior appropriation and curtail junior water rights such that seniors are allocated the limited water that is available?  How long will aquifers hold out? 


Dr. Sam Fernald put the current drought in a historical perspective.  "You would have to go back 2000 years to find a wet period comparable to the 1980s and 1990s."   So what most of us regarded as normal was really a very wet period.  The current drought seems to be comparable to similar droughts that occurred in the early 1900s and the 1950s according to Chuck Jones of the National Weather Service but committee members pointed out New Mexico now has 2 million people making the current drought worse in relative terms.  Jones also mentioned that the last 36 months are the driest on record although he noted that forecasts showed a slight improvement in the next three months.    


Fernald showed a dramatic slide of tree ring data and emphasized that the region has experienced long term drought in the distant past.  In the 400s, it appears that there was a 150 year drought while in the 1600s there was a 75 year drought.  He noted the possibility that the current drought could be of this depth and duration.  Senator Wirth said that as policymakers, legislators need to understand the length of drought.  "We have had ten years of drought, three of them severe.  Are we in a 75 year drought?  We just don't know." ...CLICK HERE TO READ FULL ARTICLE. 

Foreign Dignitaries Meet with NMAA and Acequia Leaders
Quita Ortiz
Foreign Dignitaries
Acequia leaders and foreign experts on water resources meet in La Cienega in July. Photo by Quita Ortiz

This summer, NMAA was approached by the Albuquerque Council for International Visitors, requesting that we meet with a group of foreign dignitaries who are working on a water resource project funded by the U.S. Department of State's International Visitors Leadership Program.


The purpose of their project is for government officials, academics, educators, industry representatives, technical experts, and journalists to examine how the U.S. government, the private sector, and research institutions approach water resource management. They have worked to ensure or expand water supplies, resources, environmental stability, and community cooperation through meetings, site visits, and hands-on activities and investigating partnerships and cross-border collaborative efforts.  


NMAA staff, along with a number of acequia leaders from different regions in the state, met with the visitors, specifically their Community Activism Participants, who wanted to connect with local acequia leaders to gain a better understanding of the acequia system in general, as well as understand the issues facing acequias such as adjudication, traditional water management, water distribution, and conflict resolution.  


Participating dignitaries included representatives from a number of different Middle Eastern and North African countries. Their combined backgrounds and expertise included geology, water resource management, engineering, environmental planning, and irrigation and agriculture.  


Acequia de la Cienega mayordomo, Rey Romero, along with other acequia leaders in La Cienega co-hosted the meeting at their community center. We fed our guests an array of traditional foods including beans, chicos, chile, enchiladas, and tortillas (thanks in large part to NMAA's Community Organizer, Janice Varela, who did most of the cooking). They really enjoyed the food and one of the dignitaries even remarked at the similarities between their home foods and traditional New Mexican foods. Another said, "we have so many questions, but we're distracted by the food." As we ate, Janice pointed out the hornos found throughout our communities and spoke of about their North African origins. "Even though we have modern ovens, we still use the horno as a way to celebrate our food traditions, especially on Feast Days," she said.  


Antonio Medina, NMAA's President, welcomed the dignitaries and gave an overview of the history of New Mexico, connecting our heritage is to the Middle East and North Africa through the conquering of Spain by the Moors. "So maybe we're all cousins," he said, "because our history and cultures, our memories, and our traditions all connect back to the same place." Antonio also explained the importance of the homeland concept, saying that even when we leave our homelands for work in factories, "We always maintain a great vision and hope of coming back." He continued, "We keep our house, our land, with the expectation of always coming home."  


The dignitaries in general were unfamiliar with acequias and wanted to know more about the term acequia itself. Estevan Arellano, esteemed acequia researcher and historian, joined the conversation to give a history about the term. "Accroding to my research," he said, "'acequia

' appears to have evolved from Ethiopia, and from there it went to Yemen, then to Syria and North Africa, then to Spain, and then New Mexico."  



Janice Varela then joined the conversation to give an overview of the New Mexico Acequia Association and how, as a non-profit organization, it differs from individual acequias in the state as local governments. She also covered the structure of NMAA as an organization, our history, and policy accompliments over the years.  


Harold presented on acequia water management, "In 1598, when the Spanish settled this area, the first thing they did was dig a couple of acequias because they first needed to start raising food. For use, the acequia is not just the infrastructure - the path for the water to flow - it creates a sense of place, and a sense of community." He continued, "It's what binds us. It's more than a system of transferring water from the river to a field." He then proceeded to discuss water sharing and distribution, "The traditional way of distributing water is based on time, or tiempo

. Our time is given to us by the water manager, or mayordomo, and then we take that amount of water and apply it to our fields."  



Harold stressed that acequia users share in the shortages as well as the surpluses, and that because of the laws being changed at the state level, conflict has been building because of the changes in the administrative management of water by the state compared to the acequia or community. He contrasted that the state doesn't take time into account, "It's paper water, not real water, and we struggle with that issue," he said. In times of shortage, Harold explained, "acequias will reduce the allocation per acre, and then when it really gets bad, we leave the water only in the ditch for animals and nobody irrigates. We're in a very severe drought right now."


Following Harold's presentation, NMAA's Julia Mullen, described the modern requirements posed to acequias as local governments and how they benefit from public funds available to them, but that it's also a hardship in some cases because there's a great deal of capacity needed to stay after the recordkeeping and financial requirements. She also covered some common threats including water transfers, creating dialogue about the nature of water rights in the Middle Eastern countries. Following our meal and discussion, Dr. Abdullah Saif Al Ghafri, who is the Assistant Dean for Training at the University of Nizwa in Oman gave a presentation on the falaj system (see article below, "Falaj System of Oman").


We finished the meeting with an agricultural tour of La Cienega. Led by mayordomo Rey Romero, we visited a vineyard where a drip irrigation system was installed and the acequia was replaced with an underground pipe. In contrast, we went to the Rancho de las Golondrinas living museum to show the dignitaries the earthen Acequia la Cienega that, according to Rey, has been in place since the 1600's. We had a great time exchanging information and hope to continue a dialogue with them. More details of the visit will be included in our upcoming fall newsletter. The NMAA would like to thank our visitors as well as the U.S. Department of State for their efforts to arrange the visit. 

The Falaj System of Oman
Quita Ortiz
Acequia de la Cienega, Rancho de las Golondrinas
Mayordomo Rey Romero and Dr. Al Ghafri next to the Acequia de la Cienega at Rancho de la Golondrinas. Photo by Quita Ortiz.

Dr. Abdullah Saif AL GHAFRI (in photo at left) is an internationally recognized researcher on the falaj (aflaj plural) system, a traditional water management and irrigation system in the rural areas of the Middle Eastern country Oman. NMAA staff and acequia leaders had the opportunity to learn more about aflaj when Dr. Al Ghafri presented on the topic at a meeting with foreign dignitaries working on water resources issues (see "Foreign Dignitaries Visit with NMAA and Acequia Leaders" above).  


Based on an open water channel, the source of which is often a spring or groundwater, aflaj are very similar to the acequia system and many communities in Oman that follow this system still adhere to traditional practices of water sharing and taking turns for irrigation.  


The term falaj translates to "river" and, similar to the acequia, it also refers to the system of water sharing practices. According to Dr. Al Ghafri, 35 percent of agriculture is in Oman follows the falaj system, "about one third of the irrigated acreage is served by falaj", he said. Here in New Mexico, we tend to boast about the 400-year history of acequias, but consider that some of the canals using the falaj

system are as old 2,000 B.C. and are still operating today.  


Acequias can learn from the falaj, as communities in Oman have had to constantly adapt to changes in overall societal structures to assure the longevity of these interdependent systems. Of course acequias have the ability to influence their own future to some degree through community participation and advocacy efforts. But changes in our surrounding economic, political, and environmental landscapes should certainly be taken into account.  


Until Oman's modern renaissance in the early 1970's, Omanis lived without urban and industrial influence or impacts. The water allocation in the falaj was determined by the available water supply rather than demand (sound familiar?). After this renaissance though, national infrastructure including roads, hospitals, etc. were developed. While this gave rural Omanis increased access to markets which allowed them to take advantage of pumping technology, it quickly depleted groundwater reserves, resulting in the extinction of about 25 percent of the aflaj in rural Oman.


In his presentation, Dr. Al Ghafri also gave a brief summary of other traditional water management practices throughout the world. For example, in Japan they have a community water management system called Mambo; in Iran it's called Qanat. They all have slight differences and have implemented their own ways of operating, but one thing is the same among all: they are agricultural water management systems that are maintained and managed locally by the people who use them, just like acequias in New Mexico.


Regarding water rights in the aflaj system, the main principal concerning water "ownership" is that all village community members have free access to water for domestic purposes, but you must hold a falaj water right for irrigation purposes. What this means is that, for the most part, those who live in rural villages are either holders water rights or they're farmers who are leasing water rights, which means that everyone has a right to use the water one way or the other. Like the acequia system, water is viewed as a free resource in rural Oman, yet it's also a property right owned by those who built and maintain the system. 


Dr. Al Ghafri listed similarities to the acequia system that seemed endless, which isn't surprising since they likely stemmed from the same origins. They are both holistic water systems that take into account many different areas. Dr. Al Ghafri said, "There are three interlocked spheres that make up falaj: humans, technology and environment, and one part affects the other parts." He continued, "The falaj is like the acequia, it's the heart of the system. It's a socioeconomic system, a technical system, environment, and culture - all are associated around the falaj. It's every aspect of life." He asserted that it's more than simply an agricultural system, and preferred to describe it as a life system. There's a symbiotic relationship in the circulation of resources in Oman - rural villages provide food to urban centers; and the urban centers contribute to the soil via manure.  


There are also varying degrees of traditional uses and practices in the falaj system. For example, some aflaj are now accustomed to common modern gadgets like clocks and watches to time the irrigation schedule; others still use sundials and the movement of the stars to time their water use.  Dr. Al Ghafri's research can bring high hopes for acequias. Forming the basis for sustainable land and water management in Oman, although it's not as stable as it once was, 2,000 years later the falaj system is still functioning.

Farmer-Rancher Outreach & USDA Updates
Jason Jaramillo

The Farmer-Rancher Outreach team has been busy with workshops and applications this summer. We are happy to report that three to four acequias will receive funding under the EQIP Acequia Initiative. They are located in Mora, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval counties. There is possibly another in Guadalupe County.  Below are some important deadlines and information: 


Twenty three counties in New Mexico continue to be eligible for Primary Natural Disaster Relief -  Bernalillo, Catron, Chavez, Cibola, De Baca, Doņa Ana, Eddy, Grant, Guadalupe, Hidalgo, Lincoln, Los Alamos, Luna, McKinley, Otero, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, San Juan, Santa Fe, Sierra, Socorro, Torrance, and Valencia. The FSA is still accepting applications for micro-loans.  


The USDA is seeking applicants for funds to assist rural microentrepreneurs. The Rural Microentrepreneurs Assistance Program (RMAP) is for businesses with ten or fewer employees. The deadline is September 13th


Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) applications for Sod Grass, Onions and Garlic are due September 1st. Those for Barley, Canola, Oats, Rye, and Wheat are due September 30th


Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) applications are due December 20, 2013.  The NRCS program provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns and for opportunities to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland.


For more information about these and other USDA program, feel free to contact NMAA at (505) 995-9644. 

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Financial Reporting & Audits for Acequias   


Thursday, September 19 

9:30am to 12:30pm

The Lodge at Santa Fe

750 N. St. Francis Drive  




 Basics of Financial Management for Acequias


 ICIP and Capital Outlay Process


 Audit Rule Compliance for Acequias


 Budget and Report Requirements for Local Governments


 Acequia Project Funding Administration


Presenters include:  

  Office of the State Auditor,  

Department of Finance and Administration, Interstate Stream Commission, and NMAA


If you plan to attend this event please call 505.995.9644 to RSVP.
NM Water Quality Control Commission Meeting 


September 10, 2013  
9:00 a.m.  
State Capitol Building

 Room 307    


Click here for meeting agenda. For more info contact Pam Castaņeda at (505) 827-2425
or email pam.castaneda@state.nm.us  

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.