The Center for Social Sustainable Systems (CESOSS,) a non-profit group in the South Valley, welcomed New Mexicans to Sanchez Farms Open Space last Saturday to learn about the history of the Valley de Atrisco and the Armijo Acequia at their sixth Acequia Walk and Talk.
An acequia is a traditional irrigation channel used heavily in New Mexican agricultural work.
Jorge Garcia, the Mayordomo (the head of the acequia) of the Armijo Acequia and founder of CESOSS, led the talk by explaining the history of water rights in New Mexico since it became a state in 1912.
In the 1920s, New Mexico created the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) to manage the flow of water and drain the valley in the Albuquerque area.
Garcia said the acequias that were managed by the community were suddenly faced with a new entity coming in and charging them with taxes. At that time, the South Valley wasn’t necessarily a poor community, but the people subsisted on their farming, according to Garcia.
“This was before New Mexico became a part of the whole capitalist economy,” he said. “So, it was very difficult because a lot of people in the South Valley didn’t understand the anglo-saxon legal system, and some people didn’t speak English so it was a big conflict.”
For people to pay off their taxes, a lot of land was sold by the 1930s. The recession caused people to move outside of the south valley to find jobs.
In 2003, Garcia became a part of organizing around establishing the acequias. Through this process, he found people had a lot of misconceptions about the acequias and who they belonged to.
Garcia said community members used to think they were no longer in charge of acequias because they had given away their rights during the 1920s.
After investigating the U.S. and Mexico Constitutions, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and various original contracts signed in the 1920s, Garcia found people never relinquished their full rights to the acequias in the MRGCD.
“The contracts were only for the MRGCD to manage the irrigation system, make sure it was working and that the levees were created. They never actually gave away the acequias as their property,” Garcia said.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave water rights to individuals as a constitutional right. Since then, Garcia and other members of the community have been fighting for the rights they said that they are entitled to.
Garcia said, at the end of the day, the conflict helped to heal the South Valley community as they became closer to the MRDCG. They were also able to set the record straight that the contracts set in place were still valid.
Dr. Virginia Necochea, the executive director of CESOSS and Garcia’s life partner, said the Armijo Acequia has been connected to her family for generations and is a special place.
Working at the University of New Mexico and other parts of the community, Necohea realized people had a misconception of the South Valley. She said the South Valley is a place with many resources, some of the most important being land and water.
“Our non-profit focuses on the protection and preservation of traditions and these ways of life that are connected to land and water,” Necochea said. “One of our focus areas is definitely the acequias because they represent the veins that connect the entire New Mexico community.”
Necochea said CESOSS has done a lot of work ensuring the resources and assets remain a part of the community in the Middle Rio Grande and reconnecting young people to the agricultural traditions surrounding the acequias.
CESOSS is hosting a Tribute to Barelas Acequia Walk and Talk on September 7. More information on this event and other information on what CESOSS does for the community can be found at cesoss.org.
Amanda Britt is the Photo Editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or at @AmandaBritt__