In December 2022, more than 250 people gathered at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M. and online for the New Mexico Acequia Association’s (NMAA) annual meeting of mayordomos (acequia stewards), parciantes (water rights holders) and advocates for the 600-plus historic irrigation channels that make agriculture and traditional culture possible.
There was an early-morning procession of farmers, palas (shovels) in hand, from the Gallinas River. After the Bendición de las Aguas (Blessing of the Waters), where water from acequias across the state was put in a large ceramic pot, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, State Sen. Pete Campos, State Engineer Mike Hamman and State Auditor Joseph Maestas delivered remarks.
Over two days, remembrances were shared of unprecedented fires and floods and efforts focused on building resilience to the ongoing megadrought and disasters. Community leaders who worked tirelessly to save their acequias were acknowledged. Stories were shared to help the community get through challenging times together. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials spoke reassuringly and listened to community members’ concerns.
There were workshops, presentations by NMAA’s Sembrando Semillas, and the Sembrando & Youth Leadership Institute, music and teatro celebrating the acequias’ continued strength. A panel of local and statewide leaders discussed their experiences with adjudication, water-rights defense, water-sharing and infrastructure planning. Members discussed policies and voted on 10 resolutions and declarations.
The Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Fire decimated the area around Las Vegas, destroying and damaging an estimated 45 acequias. The Black Fire in southern New Mexico and the Cerro Pelado Fire near Los Alamos impacted 24 acequias. About 340,000-acres were subjected to fires and floods. Acequias are also under threat from land development and commodification of water.