A new agreement means that the long defunct acequia will see water flowing again – and it comes with funding, jobs and new leadership.
Taos acequias are on the rise. On February 15, 2018 members of the Vigil y Romo acequia met at the offices of the Taos Land Trust in downtown Taos to restore an ancient irrigation system. The four members, known as parciantes, established new bi-laws, elected officers and set a plan in motion to get water back in the ditch perhaps as soon as this summer.
“This is historic,” said Kristina Ortez, Executive Director of the Taos Land Trust, which spearheaded the re-establishment of the acequia. “In bringing this acequia back to life, we are at once celebrating our agricultural heritage as well as building food security and resilience in our community.”
In December 2015 the Taos Land Trust, with the help of the LOR Foundation, purchased the 20-acres of the former Romo farm adjacent to Fred Baca Park along the Rio Fernando. The future Rio Fernando Park. With that purchase, Taos Land Trust became the largest water rights holder on the old Vigil y Romo ditch. The acequia, which once watered corn and alfalfa fields as well as a wide array of fruit trees and several market gardens, hadn’t actually seen water in it since the 1960s.
The Land Trust, with support from the LOR Foundation, the Taos Ski Valley Foundation, the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) and the Coca-Cola Company made the rebirth of the acequia one of its top priorities.
“We’re continuing the work of the late Ruben Vigil. He’d been keeping the memory of this acequia alive. He deserves a lot of credit,” said Cipriano “Cippy” Medina, the chair of the acequia’s board. “Now we can move it forward.”
But the restoration of the acequia won’t be easy. The water diversion is in need of extensive repairs, and the entire ditch needs to be cleaned and in some places re-engineered. The Land Trust is working with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) to hire and train area youth to do most of the restoration work on the acequia. The hiring process for those positions will begin in March. Taos Land Trust will have youth crew working June through August.
The revitalization of the acequia is just one step in a much larger vision. The Land Trust aims to irrigate the 13-acres of now fallow agricultural land and offer opportunities for community gardens and other agricultural projects.
“Our community has been losing its children to greener pastures for some time. In revitalizing the ancient Vigil y Romo Acequia, the Town of Taos is utilizing our community’s strengths to help address this problem. If our Taos acequias system is revitalized, kitchen gardens will spring up and our surface water delivery system will be refurbished; urban waters will irrigate parched lands to the west. The upper aquifer will be recharged, our tree canopy preserved, long term water sustainability enhanced and agricultural land and its tax status will be protected,” said Taos Town Councilor, Fritz Hahn the interim Mayordomo, or boss, of the Vigil y Romo Acequia. The Town of Taos holds several water rights on the ditch and aims to help in the revitalization.
Taos Land Trust is also restoring an extensive seven-acre wetland on the property and working with the community to create a new public park complete with bike and walking paths right in the center of Taos.
“We feel that conservation efforts are most sustainable when the whole community is part of the process,” says Ortez. “Conservation works best when it brings people together and builds community resiliency. Getting the Taos acequias in play again is a key part of that.”