Notes From the Road: (Not the Last) Ditch Efforts

Connections to Community
In recounting my connections to Sunrise Springs, I forgot one, New Mexico Algae, a business my three partners (all La Cienega residents) and I started over four years ago.  When we first began organizing the business, we held business lunch meetings at Sunrise Springs on an almost weekly basis. Our business continues to move forward, our effort to grow a nutritional supplement is doing well, and we expect to sell this product locally within the next few months.  Our three-thousand square-foot research and development facility is located on Tres Rios Ranch at the southern end of the La Cienega Valley.

Acequia (Ditch) Associations
One of the unique features in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado are the acequia associations. First established by the Spanish settlers in the 1600s, there were acequia associations throughout the Southwest and into California. Over time many of those acequia associations disappeared as new watering and farming techniques came into use. In Northern New Mexico, the associations remain as essential irrigation systems for farmers in small communities that sustain the centuries-old honored agricultural traditions established by the Spanish.

Many consider acequia systems to be among the first forms of democracy in New Mexico because they established specific control over water use and required a mayordomo (ditch boss) and an acequia commission to be elected by the parcientes (ditch members). Each acequia commission established formal processes to resolve water rights and other acequia issues. A New Mexico law enacted in 1903 requires all acequias association to hold yearly meetings, keep minutes of those meetings, and maintain financial records.

The La Cienega Valley has two active acequia associations, the Acequia la Cienega and the El Guicu Ditch Association, both of which are over 300 years old. Each spring the local acequias get into gear. First comes the annual meeting when elections are held, ditch dues collected, acequia projects planned, and the ditch cleaning is scheduled. The dues are collected to pay the mayordomo and the secretary for their services and may be used to hire additional workers for the ditch cleaning. Projects might include installing a new head gate at the holding pond, replacing a culvert, or piping a problematic section of ditch.

The ditch cleanings are held on a Saturday, generally in early April. Each member checks in with the mayordomo, then stands around talking until the cleaning begins. The mayordomo is responsible for checking the ditch as it is being cleaned, ensuring the sides of the ditch are squared and smooth, that all brush and vegetation is cut back and cleared, and that the silt from the previous irrigation season, at the bottom of the ditch, is removed. It is not easy work.

More than just a cleaning, this is a time for the members to get together, to share stories and talk about what has happened over the last year. It is a bond that spans centuries and includes descendants of the first Spanish settlers. It is a renewing of a tradition that first founded this agricultural community.

Guest Comments

What did you do to hire such an incredible staff?

Everything I did was a highlight.

Carl Dickens

Carl Dickens, Human Resources Coordinator
Carl Dickens grew up in New Mexico, his parents having met and fallen in love here. After a brief stint in Alaska, the family returned to the warmth and light of the high desert. Carl was raised in the farming community of Los Ranchos, in the North Valley of Albuquerque, among alfalfa fields and arroyos. He began working at Sunrise Springs in 1984, the same year he and his young family moved to the valley. Carl remained at Sunrise Springs for five years, returning again in September of 2012. Carl is active in the local community and is passionate about the history of the area, preserving its agricultural traditions and water conservation.