U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez met with local acequia leaders Aug. 31 while touring the ditch systems around Abiquiú.
Discussion focused on the resources the acequias needed from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed in the Senate early last month and was now undergoing amendments and awaiting passage in the House of Representatives.
New Mexico Acequia Association’s representative David F. García performed a song he wrote honoring the workers who clear out the ditches every year.
“I wanted to start writing songs that were dedicated to each of the different positions,” García said. “This one is dedicated to the peones who go and clean the acequias every year, because their work is so important to a lot of our communities. It was my first job when I was about 16, 17 to do the annual cleaning on the Acequia de los Salazares. My family is a parcentie there, the southernmost acequia on the Rio Chama.”
Leger Fernandez said the acequia system represented what she wanted out of politics.
“To me, acequias are the most perfect of what we should be about as a community, because we all have to work together to benefit everybody,” Leger Fernandez said.
She said the chronic drought in New Mexico was forcing mayordomos to make tough decisions regarding water allotments.
“Right now, we’re witnessing that we can’t do it all the time because we don’t have the water, and what you all are facing is not of your making,” Leger Fernandez said. “But you have to work through the struggles of making whatever water is available work for everybody in the communities.”
Not our water
Rio Chama Acequia Association President Darel Madrid said the water in reservoirs and rivers was often already purchased by communities and organizations downstream, from Albuquerque to Texas.
“For us, especially in times of chronic drought, it’s really tough on our farmers and ranchers to see this water flowing right by their house,” Madrid said. “We’re having to rely on handouts to buy this water which we don’t like doing. It’s difficult having to beg for money every year for water.”
Leger Fernandez said she felt many New Mexicans who aren’t directly involved in water didn’t know that the water up north was bound to other places.
“I don’t think New Mexicans know that (the reservoir) doesn’t hold any native water,” Leger Fernandez said. “It’s a checking account that everybody is now drawing upon. It’s not like a savings account.”
Madrid said they can only take water freely from the Rio Grande Compact when they’re flowing at high enough cubic feet per second.
“As long as it’s running above 100 cf/s we can run our ditches full,” Madrid said. “Under 50, we run at curtailment. This morning it was 25.”
With the flow that low, there were many places where it wasn’t just “not enough to tap” but that there wasn’t water running in ditches Madrid said.
Madrid said he hoped the representative would be able to get assistance for the acequias to be able to purchase water to keep in the reservoir and receive the permitting to store water. Right now they had received some water from Los Alamos but it wasn’t nearly enough for the entire system.
Madrid said he also had an issue he felt awkward bringing up, after talking about low-flow issues.
“This feels weird to talk about in a drought, but the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Water Reclamation that control Abiquiú dam, they do a lot of high releases at the start of the season and this is clean water but it has more force and has more power and it does a lot of damage,” he said.
Recently, Madrid said they had gotten movement at the Army Corps of Engineers to help do research on the earth works that make up the acequias and see what developments can be done to handle the pressure, but that research would also need support and funding at the federal level.
A lot of these issues came from the fact that the local farmers in the region weren’t involved in the Rio Grande Compact signed in 1938 to create a water sharing system between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
“An act of Congress created this situation only an act of Congress can get us out of it,” Madrid said.