Literary arts

New Paseo booklet educates the public about acequia history and function

By Dena Miller
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 10/25/18

It has been a harrowing several years of drought in Northern New Mexico, a time that has posed concerns for our farms, our national forests and our ski resorts. Mother Nature can't be …

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Literary arts

New Paseo booklet educates the public about acequia history and function

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It has been a harrowing several years of drought in Northern New Mexico, a time that has posed concerns for our farms, our national forests and our ski resorts. Mother Nature can't be controlled but, for centuries, the flow of surface waters has been, using a network of ditches known as acequias.

"There is an enduring divinity that lingers in the Taos Valley, an entity that flows against the weight of the ages, the demands of the people and the disputes over its existence," a statement from the Taos Valley Acequia Association reads. "The water of the Taos Valley is one of the most resilient watersheds in the Western Hemisphere, quenching the thirst of some of the most arid lands of the Southwest. We are one of the only communities in the Southwest that has set precedent in water sharing but now is burdened with some of the biggest decisions and negotiations of how to live sustainably in the future."

One way to help mitigate those burdens is through a community-based education program that creatively engages its audience. The understanding of traditions and their important historical roots goes far in elevating both awareness and civic pride, an accomplishment for which The Paseo Project has a proven track record. This weekend, the organization will offer yet another example of the power of positive enlightenment.

"Acequia Aqui: The History and Preservation of the Acequia del Madre del Rio Pueblo," a publication of The Paseo Project, will make its debut Saturday (Oct. 27) from noon until 2 p.m. at Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

Along with complimentary distribution of the booklet, refreshments from Michael's Kitchen are planned for this free family event to which everyone is invited. A number of community-based speakers and advocates are also scheduled to address the crowd.

"Acequia Aqui" was prepared over the past 10 months and includes 12 pages of maps, history, visual guide to local laws, "acequia vocabulario," and an essay by Dr. Sylvia Rodríguez, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

"All together they illuminate the value of our deteriorating acequia network located in the heart of the town of Taos," said J. Matthew Thomas, director of The Paseo Project and the lead for this publication.

"Through this exploration, (we) seek to transform our community by celebrating the downtown acequia network through creative and artistic events and installations. With the help of this booklet, we hope that our community will better understand the history and value the acequia system has provided to our town and imagine with us new ways that we can celebrate the gift of their presence," he continued.

The selection of Kit Carson Park for the rollout of "Acequia Aqui" is purposeful. It's a recognition of the vast system of laterals from Acequia Madre that traverse the park and support its oasis-like presence in the center of town. Using the maps found in the booklet and taking advantage of the balmy autumn weather, stroll through the heart of town and trace the arteries of its structure.

In a timeline contained within the booklet and constructed with content from both the Taos Valley Acequia Association and the New Mexico Acequia Association, it was noted that this method of irrigation was initially developed a millennium ago. Its gravity-driven systems was likened to the human circulatory system.

At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, during the Juan de Oñate expedition, Hispano acequias were established where the Río Grande and Río Chama converge. The Acequia Madre del Rio Pueblo, whose headwaters originate in sacred Blue Lake of Taos Pueblo, first appears in records in 1797.

Maintained by parciantes (dues-paying members) on designated days, acequias face the challenges of both dwindling participation and real estate decisions that have allowed many of the Acequia Madre laterals to be lost. Although water rights have historically been part and parcel of land bequests, the subdivision of of those lands and the loss over time of titles has created a confounding bureaucratic maze.

Despite that, landowners in Taos Valley are asked to remain vigilant, especially now, of their water. "Membership (in an acequia) is a privilege, a responsibility, an obligation. Educate yourself and step up to respect and protect the acequias of Taos," Rodríguez stated.

Thomas is hopeful for the future of our acequias. "We want to lift up the community's momentum in recognizing what we have and the fragility of these systems that support us in times of drought," he said. "Let's figure out how we can support them."

To that end, The Paseo Project is calling for creative projects from artists, writers, environmentalists and others who wish to participate in elevating awareness of this issue. If you are interested in participating, please visit paseoproject.org for more information. And if you wish to endorse this endeavor, donations supporting Acequia Madre are gladly accepted. Information as to how you can help will be available at Kit Carson Park on Saturday.

This project was made possible by the LOR Foundation in support of Friends of the Acequia Madre del Pueblo. With offices here and in Bozeman, Montana, Jackson, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C., the foundation is committed to "supporting prosperity and preserving character in the rural Mountain West," according to its mission statement.

In addition to Rodríguez, The Paseo Project wishes to recognize photographer Dorie Hagler, the Mildred Tolbert Family Archive and the many other acequia supporters who have made this booklet possible. For further information on Saturday's event, please visit paseoproject.org/acequia-aqui.

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