Machine Dug Acequias


Here’s what the road opposite my house in El Valle looks like. Behind that mound of dirt is the Acequia Arriba that waters my upper field and orchard.

This is what it looks like from inside.

The ditch is now about six feet wide and more than several feet deep: No vegetation, piled up mounds of earth, shear walls of dirt backing into the hillside. I was out of town for the last acequia meeting and when I came home from the Dia de los Muertos parade last Sunday this is what I saw.

I wrote about Maintaining Traditional Acequia Systems in a World of Technological Fixes back in August of 2016, and while I’d already been complaining about some of the efforts to make the El Valle acequias more “efficient,” I wasn’t prepared for this. The machine came in and took away any semblance of an  acequia that had been been engineered and dug by people with shovels, cleaned and maintained by people with shovels, and cherished as testimony to the resilience of these people. This is how I described that efficiency in the article: “Ditch banks are cleared of all vegetation and more and bigger culverts carry the water more ‘efficiently’ despite the loss of riparian habitat and groundwater recharge. Ditch fees rise every year due to increased payments for cleaning, maintenance, and improvements that are decided and implemented by the commissioners, often without the approval or oversight of the rest of the parciantes.”

We’re a small community. Only 20 or so parciantes water their gardens and fields off the Acequia Arriba. Discussing this massive change with another parciante we wondered how the water will actually get to the compuertas when its hydraulic force is limited by both low-flow times of the year and the size of the ditch. Another parciante dismissed my concerns saying, “Oh, in another couple of years it’ll all be overgrown again.”

Will we then spend more money to do the same thing again? What if we spent that money to hire folks in the community who need work and can still use a shovel? While we all know that changing demographics make it harder to find parciantes young enough—and willing enough—to get out there for la limpieza, it’s still being done in other communities all over el norte. Let me tell you, mi amigo Tomás, who taught me everything about being a parciante, a commissioner, and a buen vecino, is rolling over in his grave.



  1. It feels like what the Conservancy does on the Middle Rio Grande ditches, but they use herbicide and it breaks my heart every time – the poison released into the ecosytem is totally unnecessary. When I called last year, the woman said they respond to calls from neighbors to the ditches, complaining about how “messy” it looks. I know the much smaller community is very different there, and this isn’t a good comparison, but still, I understand how it’s really hard to take.

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