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

By José A. Rivera | Go to book overview

THREE
Acequia Governance and Administration

By the time Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearny claimed New Mexico as a territory of the United States in 1846, following the American military invasion of the republic of Mexico, acequia irrigation practices in the Spanish-Mexican province had evolved for more than two centuries. Seeking the allegiance of all nuevo mexicanos, Kearny promised that their property rights covered under former and existing laws would be protected. With respect to water rights, the Kearny Code, as the laws of his provisional government came to be known, decreed that the "laws heretofore in force concerning water courses... shall continue in force." 1

When the territorial legislative assembly convened for the first time in 1851, the right of the people to construct "acequias de común" (communal ditches) was engraved into article one, chapter one of the Leyes Generales del Territorio de Nuevo México ( New Mexico Territorial Laws). The legislature also crystallized in New Mexico water law other water-use customs and precepts already in place, following more than two centuries of acequia evolution: the irrigation of cultivated fields "debe preferirse a todas los demás" (should be given preference above all others); all owners of tillable lands, "propietarios," shall labor on the public ditches in proportion to their land; animals should be kept under the care of a shepherd so as not to cause injury to the field, otherwise damages will be paid; finally, as an underscore to the Kearny Code, "the course of ditches already established shall not be disturbed." 2

Less than six months later, the legislative assembly continued with the task of codifying and enumerating the extant acequia customs and making them law. The act of January 7, 1852, provided more detailed guidance re-

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Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Documents vi
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xvii
  • Chapter One - Irrigation Communities on the Río Grande 1
  • Two Evolution of the Acequia Institution 25
  • Three Acequia Governance and Administration 49
  • Four Water Democracies: the Acequia Papers 77
  • Five Contemporary Status of Acequias: Development Vs. Sustainability 147
  • Six the Future of the Acequia Institution: State Policies and Acequia Action Strategies 187
  • Notes 205
  • Acequia Glossary 227
  • Selected Readings 233
  • Index 237
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