Drought Hits the Southwest, and New Mexico’s Canals Are Drying


LEDOUX, NM — Ledoux, a remote village nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, has relied on a network of irrigation ditches to irrigate its crops for more than a century. The outpost’s acequias, as New Mexico’s legendary canals are known, are filled with snowmelt and rains each year. But while the Southwest is implacably locked droughtThey began to dry.

“I never thought I would witness such a collapse in our water supplies,” said Harold Trujillo, 71, who saw hay production in Ledoux fall from 6,000 to about 300 bales a year. “I look at the mountains around us and ask: ‘Where is the snow? Where are the rains?”

Acequias – pronounced ah-SEH-kee-ahs – gets its name from the Arabic term for water pipe, hand-sike. are celebrated in song, your book and verse, and they endured for centuries in the state. Spanish colonists in New Mexico began digging canals in the 1600s, building on water harvesting techniques developed by the Pueblo Indians.

Even then, acequia reflected the blending of cultural traditions. After the Muslims invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century, they introduced acequias in Spain, using gravity to manage irrigation streams. Acequias eventually spread to the Spanish-speaking world.

The co-managed acequias of New Mexico, which enabled subsistence agriculture in arid lands, riots, epidemics and wars territorial conquestBy maintaining a small-scale form of democratic governance that was rooted before the United States existed as a country.

But as a sign of how climate change is beginning to upset farming traditions across the Southwest, mega drought Influencing New Mexico and neighboring countries may be acequias’ biggest challenge yet.

The challenges faced by farmers in Ledoux, pronounced locally as Leh-DOOKS, exemplify those facing hundreds of aquias around New Mexico, and fewer farmers. southern Colorado and Texas.

Climate researchers say that after years of rising temperatures, water scarcity is plaguing aquias, and it’s not surprising that depleted reservoirs and epidemics spread. Massive forest fires around the west clear indication of the crisis.

To make matters worse, the monsoons that once regularly wet northern New Mexico didn’t happen last summer. And during the winter the snowpack once again disappointed. Parts of New Mexico, including the area around Ledoux, have received some rain in recent weeks with more weather forecasts this week, but the rains have done little to improve abnormally dry conditions.

More than 77 percent of New Mexico severe droughtAccording to the National Center for Drought Reduction, limiting pasture yields and irrigated crops is stunted.

Thomas Swetnam, a scientist who studies tree rings to interpret changes in climate, said the drought in the Southwest has been so severe and prolonged this century that few rivals in the last millennium include a perennial period of extraordinary drought in the late 16th century. .

“This is probably the second worst drought in 1200 years,” said Mr. Swetnam, emeritus professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona and now living in New Mexico, where he runs the Jemez Mountains Tree-Ring Laboratory.

Some acequias, especially those in the Rio Grande, still provide water to farmers in a show of resistance. But many aquias with other water sources, such as lakes or small tributaries, take a direct hit.

In the 1980s and ’90s, the mountain lake, on which villagers had relied on the town’s livelihood since the 19th century, was filled with relatively abundant snowfall and precipitation. Twenty years ago, however, extraordinarily dry weather had become the norm, drying up some of Ledoux’s ditches.

“There is no better way to increase tension in a village than to let the aquias dry out,” said farmer Mr. Trujillo. As farmers compete for increasingly scarce irrigation water, contention over aquia streams intensifies, he said.

Mr Trujillo said the drought has also escalated decades of migration from Ledoux to larger towns and cities. Ruins of adobe houses are scattered around the village’s old Catholic church, giving parts of Ledoux a ghost town feel.

Paula Garcia, who grew up on a farm in northern New Mexico, said she’s seen her drying tendency get worse throughout her life. The town where he lived, Morea, was once a thriving farming outpost.

Now, “The Peloponnese is chronically dry,” he said. This means that sometimes there is enough rainfall for one of the aquias around his house to run off with water; the other two do.

“It’s the same thing from one community to the next,” said Ms. Garcia. 49, The executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, a nonprofit group that aims to protect the 700 or more acequias in the state.

Ms. Garcia says she regularly receives calls from farmers concerned about acequias that are declining or even completely drying out. Sometimes Mayor, or the ditch boss, who calls. Other times, the parciantes is one of the individual waterers.

In the village of Hernandez, Ms. Garcia said farmers are dealing with critical water shortages in the Rio Chama, a tributary of the Rio Grande. Farmers in the communities of Cañon, Jemez Springs, Nambé, and Santa Cruz in northern New Mexico face similar conditions.

Acequia de los Indios, near Pojoaque, has completely dried up after the spring it drained this year. Ms. Garcia said farmers relying on this have been trying to figure out why the aquifer has not suddenly been recharged for a spring that has been supplying water for decades.

Traditionally, the acequia growing season in most of New Mexico was from April to October. But in parts of the state where farmers are grappling with water shortages, the season progresses only half that time.

The change highlighted not only locally grown organic food sources (many acequia farmers sell their produce at local growers’ markets) but also a lifestyle that began to feel at risk of disappearing into the past.

For centuries, acequias functioned under a management system where farmers shared the cleaning and maintenance of each trench. They also pay dues and elect a mayor who has the power to determine how much water is available on any given day and which farmer or farm gets it.

The system is not without flaws, as some former mayors who have had fights with angry neighbors can attest. However, it did allow the acequias to face one challenge after another.

Ralph Vigil, a farmer in the 1,400-population town of Pecos, said the drought has exacerbated the problems farmers are already grappling with, from arguments over water allocation to apathy.

“Raising food looks sexy in the magazines, but it’s a really hard way to make a living here,” said Mr. Vigil. Crops include spinach, kale, and maíz de concho — 42, a type of corn used to make chico, the adobe oven-roasted staple of New Mexican cuisine.

As concerns over water resources began to mount, Mr. Vigil said he had converted most of his farm to drip irrigation, a method that uses less water than traditional flood irrigation from aquias.

Mr. Vigil says he is still trying to chip away at the old ways, emphasizing that the land he farmed was opened to agriculture by his fourth great-grandfather. donaciano’s seizure, a district governor of New Mexico.

But Mr. Vigil said he saw how other people in the Pecos chose to abandon farming altogether and go to work in Santa Fe. As a blow to Pecos’ revenues, some sold their water rights to developers elsewhere in the state.

Still, Mr. Vigil said he doesn’t see acequias as a potential victim of climate change. Instead, he sees them as part of the solution.

While Mr. Vigil is well aware of the tightness of water supplies around New Mexico, he remains hopeful that the Pecos River, which feeds his neighbors, will receive enough snowmelt and monsoon rains to keep flowing.

pointed studies It shows that acequias can benefit far beyond elaborate irrigation systems made of metal pipes or steel culverts in times of drought.

For example, soil channels of acequias can hold water for a long time. Its seeps help replenish small aquifers while also moisturizing habitats for birds, wildlife and, of course, humans.

“We have been low-carbon for centuries,” said Mr Vigil. “But we still need the rains for our survival.”


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