Acequia Conservation Management

2001 Annual Report for SW98-060

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $49,272.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $61,138.24
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Stephen Reichert
Tierra y Montes Soil & Water Cons. District

Acequia Conservation Management


Irrigation in San Miguel County is predominately accomplished by Acequia Systems. Acequias are historic irrigation ditches which are community oriented and traditionally Hispanic. This project will broaden efforts to introduce water management technology to these traditional water users. This is a critical link to sustainable agriculture. The water management technology will help farmers manage soil moisture and fertility, long term, as well as supporting soil erosion control practices. In many situations, there is a variety of ways for acequias to improve in the efficient use of this valuable resource to sustain the economic viability of farm operations. This is critical in a semi-arid region prone to severe drought . One goal is to enhance the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends. On a statewide level, irrigation accounts for approximately 75% of surface water use in New Mexico.

Objectives/Performance Targets

To introduce 140 acequia irrigators to water management concepts and technologies through the placement of seven demonstration projects in separate geographic areas of San Miguel County.

To increase water management knowledge by providing bilingual educational materials to 640 irrigators at acequia meetings and other activities by the end of the second year.

To increase knowledge of water management through the presentation of a bilingual video to local irrigators.

Develop specific long- term water management implementation goals, follow up survey and discussion with 640 irrigators participating in educational programs by the end second year.

Implement water management improvements with 32 landowners by enrolling them in the Interstate Stream Commission re-loan program by the end of the second year.


Henry and Vicky Sena Have 2½ acres of alfalfa and grass that is now in its second year of production. Last year with the new seeding, they had a problem with weeds that came up all over the field. This year these weeds for the most part had died out and the alfalfa and grass crop have started to fill in the field. His production was from 3 cuttings producing approximately 2 tons per acre. Although this is not the best he can do, it is double the previous year’s production. To further improve his production results this coming year Henry is planning to fertilize in early Spring. He will be using chemical fertilizer as animal manure is unavailable in this area. He is also removing an old orchard at the top of his field as this impedes on the water distribution. A lateral ditch to carry the water to mid field would help Henry’s irritation situation, but at this time Henry will not commit to putting a ditch across his field nor is he convinced it will improve his production.

Cathy Swedlund has 30 acres of alfalfa and grass on the end of this acequia system that was unable to be irrigated due to ditch failure. After construction of a new turnout and renovation of two hundred feet of ditch, she now has the capability to irrigate this land. The original idea for this project was to put into irrigation an area above her home of approximately one to two acres of orchard and garden and windbreak. Cathy had started to work a garden area with some work horses and implements, but due to circumstances out of her control, the ditch ran dry for a period of 75 days during the peak growing season. Because of this she did not plant anything in her garden. She did not want to use her domestic well to water the garden.

On a more positive note, the 30 acres of alfalfa, produced 21 tons of hay. Because of a short growing season, two cuttings are the most you can get. Production was limited on half of the field due to a dense invasion of Musk Thistle. She is manually working on eliminating these by digging them. Because the problem is so serious, she is looking for other means without using herbicides to fight this problem. I provided Cathy the SARE web site which has a publication on weed removal through mechanical means.

Daniel Garcia has 7 acres of Alfalfa that is 8 years old now. It produced from three cuttings, approximately 4.3T/acre. This as an increase from last year that can be attributed to fertilization and good winter moisture. Daniel’s diversion structure was slightly different due to some problems in the acequia. Because of the low ditch elevation the water has to be stacked up 12” before it begins to flow onto the field. While doing this with their old structure, the water was eroding the floor of the ditch causing the walls of the structure to collapse. The new structure has a concrete floor that prevents any erosion from taking place. The whole process to get water to Daniel’s and a neighbor’s field is now much simpler. Daniel plans to continue with his crop of alfalfa as long as it is producing well. He will fertilize again in the Spring.

Alfredo Romero harvested 300 pounds of chico corn from his two acres. Since producing chicos is very labor intensive, he crop shared one half of his crop. Corn Chicos are made by baking the white field corn in a mud horno or oven, air drying and then shelling and winnowing the finished product. The local market is $8 per pound and Alfredo sold all he could produce.

His future plans are to chop the stalks this fall and plant oats or White Wonder grass next Spring and harvest for winter feed for his cattle.

Our Conservation District this year chose to give its Farmer Recognition Award to Mr. Romero. He has been the mayordomo or ditch rider of the El Pueblo irrigation ditch for 10 years since he retired to dedicate full time to farming. As mayordomo, he has worked hard to maintain a fair distribution of water on the acequia. While doing this he was a driving force in getting the approval and eventual construction of the association’s new dam, completed in the Spring of 2001, by the Corp of Engineers there on the Pecos River . After many years of a very limited water supply for irrigation, they now have a good reliable source of water for the dozens of parcels located along the acequia system.

He has been very instrumental in organizing meetings for Tierra y Montes in the El Valle area. Giving of his time and energy so that these meetings are successful and attended by the local farming community.

Justo Lucero harvested two cuttings from his three acres of alfalfa. Production was similar to that of last year in the 1.75T/acre range.
Although Justo’s irrigation system was improved with our construction of a new turnout and splitter box, he is planning to eventually attach a gated pipe system to both sides of the splitter to distribute the water better around the field’s edge. At 80 years of age, Justo can do only limited physical work. This improvement to his system would help him get a better irrigation while making it a less physical chore.

Justo plans to rip up this 15 year old field of alfalfa and replant using oats as a nurse(cover) crop this coming summer. Justo’s field is nearly on the end of the acequia ditch system and he has to wait sometimes during the summer months for water because users above him take it first and he is at the mercy of their scheduling.

Julia Villunueva had no activity on her 8 acres of alfalfa. The field was to be plowed and seeded again this past summer because the previous seeding had not developed satisfactorily. Due to gopher and beaver activity in the acequia bank, the water eroded the soil around the new structure causing a breach in the berm. Several attempts were made to seal up the breach, but water is still escaping around part of the structure. Due to demand, the ditch cannot be shut down again until Spring of 2002 and at which time, another attempt will be made to correct the leak. The field will be plowed and seeded anew once this problem is solved.

The seventh and final irrigation diversion structure was completed in March of 2001. Meetings were held with irrigators in different areas of our district to provide information on farm practices and irrigation methods that will save water, labor and improve production results.

A tour was made in October of several of our sites to promote sound irrigation practices and exchange ideas between the participants. Another similar tour will be held in June of 2002 to share ideas and practices that have made a difference for local irrigators. Meetings will be held in local areas throughout the winter months inviting irrigators and professionals to make presentations and discuss methods of improving the overall farm situation. Since our district is situated in one of the most economically depressed counties in New Mexico, opening up new markets and alternative crops are a priority to investigate in order to make farming a more sustainable endeavor.

To help implement improvements, we have low interest funds available for our farmers to borrow to install these types of improvements provided to us through a special fund from the Interstate Stream Commission. Most individuals resist the idea of borrowing money since they do not want to risk loosing land that in some cases has been in the family since their ancestors settled the area hundreds of years ago. The idea of a mortgage on this land that they may not be able to pay off is a considerable hurdle. If they are serious about making a change, they will look for other financial assistance programs such as the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program(EQUIP). This is a cost share program that can reduce a participants project cost by 50% or so. Others will just pay for their work out of pocket

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Reproductions have been made of our video production on local Acequia irrigation, both in English and Spanish to keep available to Acequia Associations and other individuals at these meetings. This video was made on site here using participants from this project. The video promotes irrigation practices that can help farmers distribute their water better to their crops at a variety of cost ranges.

A long term water management plan of priorities and goals was produced and distributed during 2000. This final year we will follow up on this plan through questionnaires and discussions at the above mentioned meetings to determine the why, where, and how these priorities and goals are being attained and to what extend. As always with any type of change we must know if the desire and incentive is there to initiate this work and at the same time, continue to promote the benefits of attaining these goals.

I have worked with two individuals who have began the first stages to improve their on farm irrigation efficiency. One of these is Justo Lucero, who is a SARE participant. Both of these individuals are proceeding to build gated pipe irrigation systems which will help their distribution of water, saving on water and labor as well as doing a better job of watering their crops.

The major benefit of this type of system is that the water is piped from the acequia or ditch to different sections of the field that is to be irrigated. It is then piped over the field and allowed to flow out at different intervals, the most common is every 30 inches. At this point the water flows down the field through corrugations or furrows made in the soil. If designed properly and the farmer is willing to spend the money, the water will flow about two hundred feet and at this juncture the gated pipe is moved here and the process started again. The system avoids the loss of water through deep percolation and the over watering of parts of the field caused when the water has to travel long distances and for extended periods across porous soils. One of these individuals will be installing this type of system on two more of his fields over the next four years.

All remaining activities in this project will continue to promote the benefits of adapting some of these ideas, whether it be in the construction and installation of more efficient equipment, or making adjustments in field design and irrigation procedures. This is a process that will not ever have an end as accomplishments come in stages over years to come. Since many of these systems are nearly the same since their initiation, we must maintain our patience while working to get these changes a part of reality. The demand for water is increasing daily. To offset this, new technology will be developed along with stricter uses and higher levels of improvements will take place to utilize our water in ever more efficient ways.


Chuck Caruso

Office of State Eg.
NM 87504
Jay Moore

NM Land and Title Co.
6th St.
Las Vegas, NM 87701
Daniel Garcia

El Pueblo, NM
Gilbert Gallegos

Villuanueva, NM
Mark Feedman

Luna Vocational Tech
NM 87701
Mark Cody

NM 87102
Alfredo Romero

Farm participant
HCR Box 68
Ribera, NM 87560
Dan Hobbs

New Farms
NM 87701
Pat Melendrez

County Extension Agent
Las Vegas, NM 87701
Julia Villanueva

Farm participant
P.O. Box 37
Villanueva, NM 87583
Cathy Swedlund

farming participant
HC 69 Box 46A
Sapello, NM 87701
Henry Sena

farm participant
Star Rt. Box 85
Ribera, NM 87560
Pat Juarguiberry

USDA Wildlife Service
NM 87701
Leroy Jons

District Conservationist
Las Vegas, NM
Milton Gentry

NM 87701
Patricia Martinez

Wells Fargo Bank
NM 87701
Lionel Maestas

NM 87504
Justo Lucero

Farm Participant
1742 39th. St.
Los Alamos, NM 87544