‘After hundreds of years, the acequias are still functioning’ — Don Bustos


Here’s a in-depth look acequia culture in New Mexico from George Morse writing for the Rio Grande Sun (via TaosAcequias.org). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Española organic farmer Don Bustos makes his living growing vegetables that he sells to local restaurants. Although Bustos has adopted modern growing techniques such as drip irrigation and hoop houses that have enabled him to grow his produce year-round, the foundation of his operation is a ditch that runs through the top of his property.

Known as an acequia, it delivers water from the Santa Cruz River, which is hundreds of yards from his farm. This simple way of bringing the life-giving water to land has been providing Bustos and other farmers in the Española Valley and throughout Northern New Mexico with the way to make a living. “We have been using the same acequia for hundreds of years,” Bustos said. “Before it wasn’t like it was a luxury, it was a necessity. It was used for everything, even drinking, cooking, watering livestock.”

The acequias of Northern New Mexico are over 400 years old. Prior to 1701, there were already 18 acequias along the Santa Cruz River on the Santa Cruz Land Grant, which was established in 1695…

Because of the importance of the acequias to each member of the communities, a democratic system of governing them was established in the 18th century and still exists as perhaps the oldest established democratic system in North America.

The governing board of each acequia is now considered a political subdivision of the state. Every two years, the parciantes vote and elect a mayordomo whose job is to oversee the distribution of the water. Today, if a parciante wishes to use the water, he must inform the mayordomo of his intentions and it will be determined if and when the parciante can use it.

A mayordomo has the authority to close a head gate of a parciante who is using water that has been assigned to another parciante. He can also close and lock the head gate of a parciante who has failed to pay his dues…

The recent trend of eating locally-produced fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products that do not have to be transported long distances burning fossil fuels also has renewed interest in the acequia system and its benefits. That has helped people to look at water differently in different ways beyond residential and industrial uses and return to its traditional and historical uses for agriculture. “We’re going backward to go forward,” Bustos said. “After hundreds of years, the acequias are still functioning.

US Representative Cory Gardner plans legislation ‘that fixes the broken permitting system’


Here’s the current newsletter from Congressman Gardner. Here’s an excerpt:

Water Storage Tour in Weld County

On Friday, I led a water storage tour in Weld County and announced that I will be introducing new legislation when Congress returns from its summer work period.

Water is one of the main drivers of economic growth in Colorado, and every industry in the state relies on this vital resource. The federal government has continued to stall important projects like the Northern Integrated Supply Project because of a permitting process in Washington, D.C. that creates bureaucratic regulatory barriers.

The ongoing problems with water storage are why I plan to introduce a bill when Congress returns from its summer work period that fixes the broken permitting system. The legislation would establish an Office of Water Storage at the Army Corps of Engineers that would serve as the central hub for permitting decisions. This new office would coordinate with all agencies involved in the permitting and approval process for storage. The legislation would not call for circumvention of environmental reviews, but rather it sets a workable timeframe for an initial decision to be made on whether or not a project can move forward.

I stand ready to work with any willing partners on this issue that is so important to all of Colorado and its communities.

Statewide water plan: ‘We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do’ — Max Schmidt


State Water Plan, meet the “not-one-more-drop-club” from the Grand Valley. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon, writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Colorado should import water to meet burgeoning Front Range demands — and lessen the pressure on the Western Slope to slake that thirst, Grand Valley water officials suggest.

Managers of 10 Grand Valley water agencies and municipalities are preparing to ask their bosses to insist that bringing water into the state [ed. emphasis mine] — which would be known as augmentation — is a needed step in the development of a statewide water plan.

The problem, the water managers have concluded, is that there simply isn’t enough water in the state to meet the demands of growth, particularly on the Front Range, and the demands of millions of downstream Colorado River water users in Arizona, California and Nevada.

“Reallocation of state water resources is not going to do the job,” Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, said.

Managers of the agencies sat down together to draft a Grand Valley response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, and they began the process as a “not-one-more-drop club,” Clever said, in reference to any further diversion of water from the Western Slope over the mountains to the east. So any additional drops will have to come from elsewhere, Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, said.

“Our problem is that we’re the cheapest source of good clean water to the Eastern Slope, and there’s no other way around it,” Schmidt said. “We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do.”

The concerns by Grand Valley water managers center on the possibility that the lower basin states will place a call on the Colorado River under the 1922 compact governing the river. “Every time that (the East Slope) takes water from the West Slope, that enhances the chance of a compact call,” that in theory would hit hardest on the Eastern Slope, Schmidt said.

Hickenlooper in May directed the drafting of a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2014.

The proposed position acknowledges that the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 acre feet of water available for diversion and storage, but notes there is “considerable doubt” that additional development won’t result in a compact call.

The Grand Valley response would set out nine goals that such a plan would have to include, one of them being “implementation of a long-term, regional water-augmentation plan.” Other goals include protecting the “cornerstones of our economy,” agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism; preparation for the possibility of a compact call; protecting the health and quality of the state’s river basins; and preparing for the effects of climate change.

Other goals include protecting and promoting the area’s agricultural heritage; preserving local control of planning for development; ensuring federal agencies operate within state water law; and ensuring that upstream diversions protect and maintain water quality for downstream users.

Ultimately, “it is imperative for state officials to engage officials from the federal government and other basin states in developing, implementing and paying for an augmentation plan” that will benefit all the states dependent on the Colorado River, the proposed position says.

The proposed position will go before the governing boards of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as Clifton Water District, Grand Valley Irrigation Co., Grand Valley Water Users Association, Mesa County Irrigation District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Ute Water.

Statewide Water Plan coverage here.