Colorado Water 2012: Acequia culture dates back a thousand years

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Here’s the next installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series written by Lauren Krizansky. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

During the eighth century, the Moors brought the acequia – an Arabic word pronounced a-TH-equia – system to Spain under Hakam II’s reign. When the Spanish conquered South America centuries later, they introduced the system in similar landscapes eventually as far north as the American Southwest. In the late 1500s, the Spanish explorers found the northern New Mexico Pueblo Indians had independently developed a similar ditch irrigation system, which they improved with their horses and advanced tools.

Gravity and velocity pull the water through the land and are the two main system elements. Acequias move water through the crop fields and usually continue to flow back into larger bodies of water. The success of the system depends on the community and, if possible, the leadership of an acequia manager known as an acequiero in Spain or a mayordomo in the southwest. The ditches must be cleaned in the spring to remove eroded soil and organic materials and water must be delegated through land use, land size and water availability. Constant maintenance and surveillance is a necessity during peak irrigation months.

Acequias do not only preserve history, they preserve the land that, in turn, preserves the people. If the acequia is still a primarily earthen system, it seeps water back into the ground and follows the land’s natural contours. Since acequia maintenance requires hands, not machines, the community must work together to sustain the irrigation channels.

The ancient irrigation practice, however, is struggling to survive for many reasons in the Valley and abroad. Drought makes the systems obsolete and technology replaces manual labors. The children raised on the waters are interested in other things because reporting time spent as a mayordomo on a resume does not open gates in the modern world. In spite of the challenges, there are local efforts to give the modern world an opportunity to conserve an international history.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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