How have people traditionally used the watershed and protected community values in a changing world?
Manipulation of water systems for human use has been used for centuries, if not thousands of years in the southwest region. The first signs of irrigation systems in the southwest come from around 800 AD, so when the Spanish came to the continent in the early 1500’s what they knew as “acequias” was nothing new. The puebloans had already been manipulating the land for water use. What the Spanish did have that the puebloans did not was a written law of how the ditches would be shared and managed. This was an is still known as the “Mayordomo system” where certain members of the community are elected to be “ditch masters” or Mayors of the ditch. The role of a Mayordomo is to coordinate ditch clean up and maintain the infrastructure, but the most important role is deciding who needs water for how long. Typically meetings within the community are held to determine how much water will be available for the year and who should be prioritized.
When the southwest was won over in the Mexican-American war, much of what is now known as the four corners region and California and Texas became part of the U.S. meaning that property and water would have to become part of United States law. Thanks to a very important document called the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the water that pueblos and spanish settlements had been using was protected, and the people of the southwest who owned land could continue using this precious resource. The greatest law formed from this document could arguably be that water became a public resource, meaning anyone who uses it can claim it. This was the start of water law in New Mexico.
Today, state statutes describe and govern many aspects of the nature, management and operation of community ditches and acequias, much as they did in the earlier years. Those statutes are found primarily in Article 2, Chapter 73, of the New Mexico statutes.
The video below gives us insight into how people of New Mexico have identified with Acequias for many generations.