By KAY MATTHEWS
Commissioners of the acequias who rely on the Rio de las Trampas met the other day to make sure all the communities were getting their fair of what little water there is. Everyone agreed that for now there was an equitable distribution but the commissioners would keep communication open should problems arise. The Las Trampas commissioners announced that they are implementing policy, based on traditional practice, that gardens and orchards be given priority for the water. Other acequias in el norte have also made that decision. The Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y del Arroyo Seco has prohibited any irrigation whatsoever, designating any water in the ditches for animals to drink. I asked that the El Valle commissioners consider assigning gardens and orchards priority, but they choice not to and we’re currently on a rotation among our three ditches.
Of course, all these choices will be rendered moot when there’s no water. From all accounts there will still be some run-off in the mountains (from a small snowpack that has yet to melt in this cool spring) but I doubt we’ll have irrigation water after the end of May. Unless it rains, nothing will be watered.
After losing our apricots in April the remaining fruit crops in El Valle—sweet and sour cherries, plums, peaches, and pears—seem to have survived the past two snowstorms. Unless we get another storm this week it looks like the currently blooming apple trees will also produce. But we’ll be forced to make the decision whether to resort to our wells to keep them watered over the summer. Ironically, they seem to be at peak production: I haven’t had this many blooms in many years. So the stress on the trees will be even greater with such an abundance of fruit (how I wish last year—with no fruit but plenty of water—and this year—beaucoup fruit but no water—were reversed).
Those whose hay and alfalfa fields will go dry (including me) will not be able to water them with their domestic wells. And unlike the farmers in southern New Mexico who have been pumping the aquifer to compensate for inadequate irrigation from Elephant Butte, they’re not going to start drilling newer and deeper wells. That pumping has resulted in the Texas lawsuit, heard in the U.S. Supreme Court and now in arbitration, that argues New Mexico must pay back the water it has failed to deliver to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact.
But the drought (which is actually the onset of aridification) is not going to stop the drilling of deep aquifer wells proposed in the Abeyta Settlement of the Taos Valley. The Town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation District, and the mutual domestics will use mitigation wells to offset at least 50 percent of any Taos Valley tributary surface water depletions resulting from future groundwater pumping. Paper water rights are also being transferred to offset pumping from the El Prado wells and the proposed Acequia Storage and Recovery well in Arroyo Seco (the commissioners have said they don’t want the well). And the settlement is dependent on water rights from the San Juan/Chama project that carries water from San Juan River tributaries under the Azotea Tunnel into the Rio Chama and then the Rio Grande. Colorado is also experiencing aridification: the states that are party to the Colorado Compact are currently in a dispute with Arizona over its diversions.
So it’s going to be a very difficult summer for those of us in the Southwest coming off the second driest winter on record. I’m wondering how other acequias are planning to deal with the situation and would appreciate any feedback, via either the La Jicarita comment page or on Facebook. While many acequias have consistently raised concerns about the Abeyta Settlement (and in the Pojoaque Valley, the Aamodt Settlement) over the lack of foresight regarding climate change, we’re up against a huge bureaucratic force in those situations. But as individual acequias, dealing with the immediacy of keeping our trees, gardens, and animals alive, I hope we can demonstrate that we can work together, as acequias have done for hundreds of years, to live within our means, even if that translates to a summer without irrigation.
Here’s a quote from author and acequia advocate Sylvia Rodriguez in Green Fire Times:
“Drought tests the integrity and resilience of an acequia community. Acequia farming, management and governance depend on a combination of subsistence practices as well as principles, values and attitudes that some scholars call a moral economy. The core principles of the acequia moral economy include reciprocity, mutualism, confianza (trust) and respeto (respect). How well an acequia fares in times of drought depends also on the character, dedication and personal example of individual officers and parciantes.”