Nambé neighborhod left dry after acequia blows out

May 6, 2019

NAMBÉ — Mark Burton woke up Saturday morning to the sound of fast-moving water rushing through the arroyo that runs about 25 feet below an acequia in Nambé that he and scores of his neighbors rely on to irrigate their crops, gardens, landscaping and trees.

Burton was thrown by the sound, which normally would be a joyous one, a sign of much-needed rainfall in the desert. “There wasn’t any rain the night before,” he said Sunday.

The running water had come from the irrigation ditch, Acequia de Comunidad, across the road from Burton’s home. Filled with brush, tree limbs and other debris, the ditch clogged up at a culvert. As a result, the water backed up, slowly rose up and over the bank and eventually “blew out” a roughly 10-foot wall of the acequia, he said, sending the overflow into the arroyo below.

The good news: The water will weave its way back to a nearby river.

The bad news: That doesn’t help the 120 Nambé households who no longer have access to the acequia’s flows. It was turned off over the weekend to prevent the water from being wasted.

“I told them, ‘Don’t plan on any water for at least a week,’ ” said 81-year-old Narciso Quintana, mayordomo of the Acequia de Comunidad for about 30 years.

Quintana said some of his neighbors told him they had seen workers from a tree service company trimming and cutting trees along the acequia Friday afternoon. The crews collected and hauled away a lot of debris, Quintana was told, but left plenty behind.

Two large branches of an elm tree were still sitting in the acequia Sunday afternoon, a sign of the Friday job. While they no doubt slowed the water’s flows, Quintana said, they probably did not do as much damage as the wall of mud and debris that had built up at the opening of a culvert under a dirt roadway as sediment collected on twigs and brush discarded in the ditch by the tree cutters; the blockage stopped the acequia from flowing altogether and caused the blowout, he said.

Quintana shook his head sadly as he watched the remaining water trickle over the side of the acequia.

“No respect for the acequia,” he said. “They have no respect for it at all.”

He isn’t certain who was responsible for the destruction of the ditch. Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative often sends contracted crews down to the acequia to trim back trees so they don’t interfere with power lines, he said. But this time, he added, it looks like “overkill.”

An electric co-op representative could not be reached for comment Sunday on whether the utility had hired a company to cut trees in the area late last week.

New Mexico acequias — an irrigation technique employed by Pueblo people centuries ago and later embraced and vastly expanded by Spanish colonizers who settled in the region in the 1600s — make up a complex system of waterways that rely on the area’s rivers, tributaries and lakes to provide irrigation water for farmers, ranchers and gardeners.

Mayordomos, most of whom are volunteers, are responsible for maintenance and repairs in each ditch, the division of water, the watering schedule and more. But they operate on a shoestring budget. His acequia association can’t afford to fund major repairs, Quintana said.

As he surveyed the muddy acequia Sunday, he paused to pick up discarded plastic water bottles and beer and soda cans along the waterway.

The Acequia de Comunidad relies on water from Nambé Falls Dam to irrigate about 220 acres in the community, he said.

A neighbor who lives near the acequia heard it breaking sometime early Saturday morning and called Quintana. He showed up around 5:30 a.m. to survey the damage.

“Bad,” he said.

Quintana — named one of the Santa Fe New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference in 2013 for his efforts to preserve the community’s acequia tradition — was trying to get together a work crew to repair the broken wall, located precariously over the arroyo below. He was hoping to get the work done Monday.

In the meantime, he was hoping for rain, which would help the acequia users get through the days and possibly weeks ahead without irrigation water.

He might get his wish.

Meteorologist Andrew Church of the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said that while Monday and Tuesday were expected to be dry and sunny, two storm systems — one coming from the west and another from the northeast — could hit the northern part of the state and bring “a good chance of showers and thunderstorms from Wednesday night into Friday.”