Opinion: Conservation economy creates jobs in Taos

By Jim O'Donnell
Posted 5/10/18

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! In our community, it is always good to see well-paying jobs become available. Conservation work generates jobs. Right now, the Taos Land Trust is hiring youth crews to restore the …

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Opinion: Conservation economy creates jobs in Taos

Posted

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

In our community, it is always good to see well-paying jobs become available. Conservation work generates jobs. Right now, the Taos Land Trust is hiring youth crews to restore the Vigil y Romo acequia.

The Vigil y Romo acequia hasn't seen water in decades. On February 15, members of the acequia met at the offices of the Taos Land Trust in downtown Taos to restore the ancient irrigation system. The five members, known as parciantes, established new bylaws, elected officers and set a plan in motion to get water back in the ditch although drought conditions this year will most likely prohibit that. Regardless of our ability to use water in dry years, it is important that we reaffirm existing water rights, so they are not at risk of being sold downstream.

To get the work done, the Taos Land Trust contracted with the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps to hire 14 area youth and two skilled crew youth leaders. The youth crews will help restore the Vigil y Romo acequia and its laterals.

They will also assist with invasive plant mitigation, the Land Trust's wetland restoration and preparation of 13 acres of agricultural lands and possible orchard sites. Central to this work are extensive educational opportunities ranging from learning about water rights and acequias in Northern New Mexico to tree pruning, water and land ecological health, ArcGIS mapping and identifying invasive species.

The youth crew positions are 40 hours a week at $10 per hour and are available for those between the ages of 16-25. The two crew lead positions for 18-25 year-olds are likewise for 40 hours a week at $12/hour. Work will run late May through mid-August.

Conservation is an economic driver in general, but in small communities like ours, organizations like the Land Trust can have a significant impact on the economy. Employment opportunities that come via restoration activities help rural communities. The Land Trust wants to expand its role in the restoration economy in the coming years. Pairing environmental restoration and conservation with job creation and social benefits, such as preserving our agricultural heritage, is a win-win situation.

Our acequia systems not only preserve an ancient way of life and an agricultural economy, they also benefit the ecosystems of our valley. Acequias extend the riparian ecosystems beyond the corridor of rivers and streams, generating forests of cottonwood, willow and other native species that in turn provide wildlife habitat. The acequias also recharge shallow water aquifers. It is estimated that up to 70 percent of the water removed from a river for an acequia system returns to the river.

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. 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, hasn't actually had water in it since the 1960s.

The revitalization of the acequia is only one step in a much larger vision. The Land Trust aims to irrigate 13 acres of now fallow agricultural land and offer opportunities for community gardens and other agricultural projects.

This is an opportunity to help educate those who are unfamiliar with Northern New Mexico's fragile acequia system. We want to keep this part of our culture and identity strong. The Taos Land Trust is also restoring an extensive seven-acre wetland and riparian area on the property. It is working with the community to create a new public park complete with walking paths right in the center of Taos.

Conservation works best when it brings people together and builds community resiliency. Getting the acequia in play again is a key part of that.

Anyone interested in the Youth Conservation Corps positions can get more information and apply at taoslandtrust.org/get-involved/employment.

Apply now. The deadline has been extended to May 13.

Jim O'Donnell is communications coordinator for the Taos Land Trust

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