New Mexico’s Acequia’s: A Stroll Through the Past

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

Acequia at Candelaria & Glenwood in Albuquerque, NM

I like the word acequias, it has a nostalgic ring to it. They are also a vital part of the culture of my hometown of Albuquerque, and the northern areas of New Mexico and southern Colorado. 

Working like gravity chutes, acequias are irrigation canals that are designed to share water for agriculture with others in the arid lands of the Southwest. They look like a big ditch that are either lined with concrete or made of earthen banks that transport water from a larger source, such as the Rio Grande River in our case, to agricultural lands. 

Interestingly, acequia is a Spanish world that comes from Classical Arabic, which has the double meaning of “the water conduit” or “one that bears water.” This system of irrigation evolved over 10,000 years in the arid regions of the Middle East. In the 8th century, the Arabs brought the technology to Iberia during their occupation of the peninsula. In the United States, the oldest acequias were established more than 400 years ago; many continue to provide a primary source of water for farming and ranching ventures in the region.

The Pueblo Indians in the Southwest practiced various types of water harvesting strategies including floodwater farming and the use of irrigation ditches. When the Spanish arrived in 1540, they combined their Iberian water techniques with indigenous practices, resulting in the innovative and unique system of acequias present throughout the state of New Mexico. Today, there are between 600 and 700 community acequias in the state. 

Communities typically grew around an acequia, as neighbors understood the importance of sharing precious water. Many of the acequias remain intact today because they are tied to individual plots of land, and communities have maintained them. More than four centuries later, acequias remain vital to New Mexico agriculture.

Acequias have an ancient origin, but are important to me because along their banks are trails or roads that are open for enjoyment by walkers, bicyclist, and horseback riders. In Albuquerque, I find them quite beautiful since old Cottonwoods and other trees provide a quiet sanctuary from the nearby city bustle. It is always fun to encounter a wide variety of people enjoying the acequias.

Acequias have brought together communities and neighbors for generations. Although the acequia is community-owned, there is also a system of governance for maintenance and to ensure the water allotment is fair and equitable. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District governs the Albuquerque area system of acequias.

A renewed interest in acequia irrigation has grown in recent years as the local food movement has taken off. Many acequia members sell produce at local farmers markets, giving residents access to healthy, locally grown food. Acequias are a win win proposition: a place to enjoy nature and as a source of water for locally-produced food. I hope they continue for another 400 years.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!

Divided, Dr. Ames’ latest book,addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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