Acequias: Lifeline for New Mexico

Spring cleaning the acequias in northern New Mexico.

In the springtime New Mexicans gather on the banks of the acequia to prepare for irrigation during the growing season. People from the northern communities share the labor, laughter and love during the annual event. In late April or early May, members of the community show up in their rubber boots and shovels in hand.

Water: The Vital Source of Life

Water continues to be the most important natural resource in the state. The acequias and rivers are the arteries which channel the water to this parched region.  There are approximately one thousand acequias in the state. The ditches delivering the water use the same traditional methods applied hundreds of years ago. Some of these waterways serve as few as three members, and some as many as 300 members. Some people dread having to spend a day cleaning the acequia. But there are others who feel a sense of pride as they carry on the work of their ancestors.

A Three-Hundred Year-Old Tradition

Allowing the water flow in an acequia.

The early Spanish settlers brought the acequia system to northern New Mexico. This type of irrigation utilizes a rudimentary method of delivering water to the land. In the process this ancient system has developed and maintained an important cultural tradition. The acequias have survived 300 years of expansion and land development. Community organizers alert people to the date, time and location for the cleaning. For those who are too frail or cannot help out they can send someone on their behalf. After the long weekend the people of northern New Mexico have the satisfaction of knowing that this ancient tradition will continue for future generations.

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