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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #287025

Title: Acequias and the effects of climate change

item Rango, Albert
item FERNALD, ALEXANDER - New Mexico State University
item STEELE, CAITRIANA - New Mexico State University
item HURD, BRIAN - New Mexico State University
item OCHOA, CARLOS - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/30/2013
Publication Date: 8/1/2013
Citation: Rango, A., Fernald, A., Steele, C., Hurd, B., Ochoa, C. 2013. Acequias and the effects of climate change. Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education. 151(1): 84-94. 2013

Interpretive Summary: A traditional method of irrigated agriculture in northern New Mexico is the use community ditches or acequias which have been utilized for approximately 400 years. Water is delivered to the small farm fields through gravity flow. Such irrigated farms could be susceptible climate change. The major competitors for the limited water supplies are large agricultural operations, urban growth and condominium development. There are several advantages that acequias shave when it comes to climate change, such as, senior water rights, a traditional way of life with strong social and cultural bonds, closeness to high elevation snow fields, equal sharing of water during times of water shortage, and return flows to streams after irrigation. This results in a delay in the streamflow for downstream water users, which can extend the runoff season. At the same time acequia communities need to combat climate change by moving activities up by 3-4 weeks, including ditch cleaning, planting of crop, and transporting of crops to market. Better estimation of the timing of snowmelt using remote sensing will benefit the individual farmers and acequia associations.

Technical Abstract: Traditional forms of acequia irrigation can be combined with ground based and remote sensing snow measurements and snowmelt runoff modeling to better estimate runoff volumes now and in the future under conditions of climate change. The experience gained over 400 years of irrigating small fields strongly binds communities and strengthens the resolve of acequia associations to contest challenges presented by climate change. Increased density of snow measurements in high elevations of the Rio Grande along with input of real-time data to snowmelt models has led to an improved potential for acequia decision making under the increased temperatures projected for the future by climate models. Acequia communities and similar Native American settlements have shown the willingness to share water during times of severe water shortages in the southwestern U.S. Acequia associations have shown the desire to adopt new forms of hydrologic data and modeling techniques and incorporate them into acequia association approaches.