Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest

By José A. Rivera | Go to book overview
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Throughout the upper Río Grande bioregion, from the uplands of the north to the more desertic and mesa lands to the south, watercourses and their tributaries stand apart as the most defining features critical to all forms of life, biotic and human. For centuries, this region has been a homeland to the aboriginal peoples, the Tewa, Tiwa and Keres (Pueblo) Indians, and the descendants of the first European settlers, the hispano mexicanos. These cultures revere water, treasuring it as the virtual lifeblood of the community. The upper Río Grande, the Río Chama, the upper Río Pecos, and other rivers and creeks stand out as the dominant natural systems of this southern Rocky Mountain province where it joins the great Chihuahuan Desert. Nestled within the canyons and valley floors, tiny villages and pueblos dot the spectacular, enchanting landscape. Their earthen ditches, native engineering works known locally as acequias, gently divert the precious waters to extend life into every tract and pocket of arable bottomland. 1

On a comparative basis, these acequia communities aptly fit the classic subsistence mode of water control described by Donald Worster, in his study of irrigation societies throughout world history and civilizations:

In the first and simplest type of irrigation society, based on the local subsistence mode, water control relies on temporary structures and small-scale permanent works that interfere only minimally with the natural flow of streams. The needs served by that simple technology are basic and limited: water is diverted to grow food for direct, personal consumption.... In such cases authority over water distribu


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