Briefs

New map shows damage status of 50+ acequias in the northern NM burn scar

By: - November 23, 2022 4:30 am

The acequia that runs parallel to Cañoncito Creek and past Grace Vigil’s home sits dry after a flood July 12. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)

Many historic irrigation canals are still damaged in the 530-square-mile swath of charred land the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire. After the acequias were scorched by the largest fire in state history, ensuing floods forced debris and silt into the waterways. 

Members of the New Mexico Acequia Association are marking headgates and walking each mile of the network, painstakingly creating field reports and a map of the 84 known irrigation channels in the burn scar. 

Acequias are vital for agriculture and ranching in the area. Getting them cleared and flowing smoothly again is crucial to bringing life back to the region. 

As government roadblocks pile up for acequias in the burn scar, visions spring of a gran limpia

 

Despite their importance, local acequias have had difficulty accessing state and federal funding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently began accepting applications from the agency’s Public Assistance Program. But that program is reserved for public entities, and acequias had to convince the agency that they qualified. 

Paula Garcia, director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, told Source New Mexico about 40 acequias have applied for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program. The deadline for applications was Nov. 3. 

If the applications are accepted, the real work will begin in creating a plan and doing the repairs, Garcia said. And much of that will fall on small volunteer groups who oversee acequias, she said. 

About 50 acequias are in need of major repairs, either flooded with silt or with structural damage to the headgates, she said. 

The acequias also have not gotten much help from the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, according to mayordomos and association leaders, who say state agencies have given them the runaround on simple service requests. 

But the New Mexico Department of Transportation has stepped up, promising to help with debris removal, Garcia said. DOT has not yet done so but will soon begin burn scar acequia clean up, she said.

As of Nov. 15, out of  84 acequias the association identified and marked, 52 have now been assessed. 

Damage was confirmed in 20 acequias and reported in another 16. Ten more are likely damaged. That leaves just six that are probably OK, or that have been confirmed to be unharmed. 

And the condition of the rest is still unknown.

See an updated map of the acequias in the burn scar below. 

  

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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