Opinion: Education needed about acequia associations, water rights

By the Leadership and Education Committee
of the Taos Valley Acequia Association
Posted 5/3/18

In recent weeks The Taos News has featured articles, an editorial, anuncios and two cartoons about Taos area acequias. Careful, accurate, informed coverage about acequia-related events, issues, news …

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Opinion: Education needed about acequia associations, water rights

Posted

In recent weeks The Taos News has featured articles, an editorial, anuncios and two cartoons about Taos area acequias. Careful, accurate, informed coverage about acequia-related events, issues, news and history is generally appreciated by parciantes and "non-parciantes" alike.

As the recent editorial and cartoons note, urbanization and the real estate and water markets are among the many challenges facing acequias today. Although traditional acequia communities strive to maintain their water rights, infrastructure and agricultural practices, many forces conspire to separate water rights from the land and irrigated properties from the acequia networks to which they properly belong. These include ignorance about acequias on the part of three important local business sectors: realtors, bankers and the newspaper itself.

When newcomers purchase irrigated land with water rights, they may or may not be adequately informed by their real estate agent about the status of those rights as well as the obligations, responsibilities and possible debts they entail. Many Realtors are ignorant of these factors and their potential cost to the buyer as well as their implications for the related acequia system and for local hydrology.

Some call the Taos Valley Acequia Association office expecting the staff person to do the necessary research about water rights associated with a particular property they want to sell. In fact, it is the Realtor's or buyer's responsibility to do this often time-consuming research, since after all they are the potential beneficiaries. Of two local title companies, one does perform this service.

The NMSU Cooperative Extension Service published a document known as the Code of the West that was adapted by the Santa Fe County Board of Commissioners and revised by the Taos County Cooperative Extension Service in 2016. Available online, its subtitle is "How to Avoid Surprises and Be a Good Neighbor When You're Buying, Building, and Developing in Taos County. "

There is a brief section under the heading, "What if I have an acequia running through my property?" that touches on acequias' legal status and the matter of acequia easements. Copies are supposed to be available in Taos county and town offices, but the Taos County Association of Realtors has apparently never undertaken a campaign to educate its own membership about it or distribute it to local relevant interests, including banks.

The April 19 Taos News editorial covers important acequia challenges and reviews avenues of hope. It mentions the TVAA as a resource, and the overall tone of the piece is informed and points to practical solutions of key challenges.

But it contains a glaring inaccuracy by asserting that "Realtors are doing nothing wrong when they tell a buyer that they can sell (separate) the water rights from the land to help pay for the land." In fact, they are encouraging the buyer not only to undermine the acequia but break the law as well.

New Mexico Statutes (73-2-21 and 73-3-4.1 2008) specify that an acequia water right cannot be transferred without an application to the relevant acequia commission and a hearing before the parciantes to determine whether such a transfer would impair the functioning of the acequia. All acequias need to incorporate this protective provision into their bylaws.

Bank employees need to be informed about the status of acequia associations as local government entities and subdivisions of the state. Otherwise, when acequia commissioners come to the bank to establish an account or register a change in authorized signatories for an acequia's account, they may be erroneously required to register as a corporation.

This has happened to several acequieros and can have disastrous consequences for the organization. Acequias are not corporations. Under state law, if an acequia incorporates it will lose its legal status as a public acequia and local government entity.

The recent online poll by the Taos News indicated that respondents are roughly split on the question of whether acequias are dying on the one hand or flourishing or reviving on the other. Regardless of whether one is a parciante or not, ignorance about acequias and action or inaction based on ignorance is potentially destructive to one of Northern New Mexico's greatest cultural, social, economic and ecological assets.

Everyone claims to love acequias like motherhood and apple pie, but few make a committed effort to actually learn about them. The TVAA office at the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center is open five days a week to provide information to current and future acequia parciantes and the public.

Submitted by the Leadership and Education Committee of the TVAA: Gael Minton, Juanita Lavadie, Patricia Quintana, Sylvia Rodríguez, Judy Torres

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