The Santolina Development, if approved, would cover more than 13,700 acres of undeveloped land in the southwest portion of Bernalillo County. The plan area is bounded by I-40 to the north, 118th Street and the open space to the east, the Pajarito Mesa on the south, and the area adjacent to the Rio Puerco Valley on the west (Bernalillo County). This entire area, at present, has NO water rights. If this development were to be approved, the water it needs could only be provided by taking it from others, i.e. – Acequias. There is NO available water in the Rio Grande basin.
Brief Acequia History
New Mexico is a place filled with a unique culture and connection to land and water. It is common for communities to hold a strong sense of place-based knowledge. Here, Acequias play an important role in this traditional knowledge. Acequias are hand-dug irrigation ditches that are one of the oldest water management systems in the United States that dates back to New Spain. This irrigation technology connects New Spain’s framework of water systems to the irrigation technologies from Pueblo Indians. Acequias were created to incorporate water into dry land farming, and their dependence on snowmelt from the mountains make it possible to irrigate crops (Rivera 2). Since water is a vital component to life, it is important to not only highlight the economic fruit that comes from these ancient systems, but also their cultural importance
Definition of Acequia
La Acequia: The acequia has both a physical and a social definition. The world acequia refers to the water canal that carries irrigation water from the river to fields and refers to the irrigation infrastructure along the way. The word acequia also refers to the community of families who use the acequia for irrigation. For example, one would say, “I belong to the Acequia del Monte.” (Lopez 10)
What is the Importance of Acequias?
Acequias hold great cultural and political importance to the community, because they are one of the oldest forms of self-government. Water governance by acequias is rooted in the fundamental principle that water is essential to all life and it has to be shared for the common good. These principles have been customary in the survival of water-scarce landscapes so that future generations can sow the benefits. Acequias also make it possible to cultivate locally-grown food. “They are a place-based knowledge of watershed, interconnected with food traditions, community and culture.”(Rivera, A Brief History 9) A limpia, or a ritual of cleaning the ditches, usually takes place at the beginning of spring and allows for community members to clear debris from the ditches while renewing their strong attachment to their locality in order to prepare for another year of irrigation and community connection. (Rivera, A Brief History 9) These ancient systems not only help communities connect to land and water but are vital building blocks to the local food system, healthy ecosystems and sustainable futures.
Benefits of Acequias
- Recharge the Aquifer
- Maintain healthy connection to land and water
- Community and capacity building
- Maintain the possibility to cultivate locally grown food
Do Acequias Have Rights?
Yes. Acequias have ownership of 46,272ac-ft of water in the Middle Rio Grande Basin.(SVRAA.) A “transfer” of a water right is the shifting of an existing water right to a new location or a new use or a new point of diversion. When a water right simply changes owners but the water right is not moved from the land or changed in any way, that is not considered a “transfer” and no permission is required. For example, if a piece of irrigated land is sold to a new owner and the water right remains in place with the land, this is not considered a “transfer”. (SVRAA)
“There are no longer ‘surplus waters’ in our streams or reservoirs to apply for. This has created a demand for transferring water rights by those who do not own water rights and want to have water for use in a particular location. Growing cities and developers increasingly want to transfer water rights for new development. On the other hand, people living in rural communities, who have water rights, understand that their communities will not survive or have good options for their future if they allow water rights to be exported from their communities.”
Challenges for Acequias
- Sub Development and Urban encroachment
- Population growth
- Loss of culture and traditions
- Loss of land and water rights
- Lack of education related to acequia culture and history
According to a study by the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business from New Mexico State University, it is proposed that “shrinking surface water supplies and rising population will increase competition for water and raise the economic pressure to transfer water from agricultural to urban and industrial users.” (Hurd 3)
It is imperative that acequias are at the forefront of dialogues pertaining to water, since they are one of the oldest water systems in the Southwest and hold a strong significance to the community of the South Valley.
How Would Future Developments Pressure the Local Acequia Systems?
The Santolina Master Plan, as projected, would have a total demand of 38.7 million gallons per day. That would be 43,350 acre-feet a year (Santolina Master Plan, p.14). The San Juan Chama project water allocated to ALL of Albuquerque is 48,000 acre-feet. However, the projected demand by 2030 is illustrated in the summary below.
||Vested Rights in Rio Grande
||San Juan-Chama Project Contract
||Estimated Demand in 2030
||Excess Demand in 2030
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) has projected an “Excess Demand in 2030” of 46,602 ac-ft/yr, and that does NOT include the 43,350 ac-ft/year that The Santolina Development is projecting for its development over the next 40-50 years (Santolina Master Plan, p.11).
If the Santolina Master Plan is approved, it is likely that Acequias who have ‘vested’ pre-1907 water rights would be threatened. The South Valley Regional Association of Acequias are concerned that this development would seek to acquire and “retire,” or to transfer acequia Pre-1907 water rights from irrigated lands in the Middle Rio Grande Administrative Area (MRGA) to satisfy the conditions of approval for the ABCWUA ground water permit RG-960.
Is The Santolina Development Sustainable?
The Santolina Master Plan proposes a watershed problem not only for Acequias of the North and South Valley, but also for the greater Albuquerque area. As population increases and surface water becomes scarce, sub-developments like Santolina pose the question of whether large urban areas of this magnitude outside the established boundaries of the present utility service area would be sustainable. A development like this will not only threaten the cultural, historic and natural tapestry of the Acequias in the valley de Atrisco, but also threaten water availability to the community as a whole
Sonora R. Rodriquez, CESOSS Future Community Leader
Santiago James Maestas, CESOSS Board & Executive Committee Member
Produced for the Spring 2014 “Cultivando Nuestro Futuro” Leadership Institute/Center for Social Sustainable Systems
Sponsored by the New Mexico Acequia Association
*For a copy of the full document, please contact CESOSS at firstname.lastname@example.org