By Zak Rosen
For the first episode of our new season of shows, we spent the third week of June in the Española Valley of New Mexico, a place none of us had been to before. It was truly eye-opening and exciting to spend time with farmers, santeros, mechanics, therapists, professors, oral historians, addicts, cashiers, musicians and poets…
The reason we ventured southwest-ward in the first place was because of water. Specifically the way in which the people of the valley, for well over 400 years, have thought about, shared and used water. In New Mexico, there are more than 1,000 acequias, which are not only man-made irrigation ditches, but also an entire culture and decentralized democracy in and of themselves.
Jack Loeffler, an affable and righteously-bearded radio producer/writer/sound collagist, is just one of the many people we interviewed who holds the acequia in high regard.
“I mean, in a spiritual sense, it really is the center of the community and it will thus remain, really, because that water that comes along an acequia that has been carved into the soil by human shovels, basically, and it is sustained by human shovels.”
That’s a heavy thought for something as seemingly ubiquitous as a ditch. Syvlia Rodriguez, an anthropologist who grew up with an acequia running through her yard believes that,
“In a way, the digging of a ditch and the maintaining of a way of distributing water that’s not centralized, that’s not profoundly authoritarian, is the cornerstone of civilization. You cannot have a ditch; you cannot have the allocation of water in a systematic way without a whole way of organizing this.”
And so, despite the fact that most people in the Valley no longer live off the land like they used to, its apparent that the acequia system, and the principles inherent within it; cooperation, accountability, participation, seem vitally relevant to our country in this historical moment.
Professor Rodriguez has written and lectures extensively on acequias. You can find her book on the subject here.
Jack Loeffler has been interviewing residents of this area since 1962. “I interview everybody from scientists and all disciplines, to the salt of the earth – people from every culture – and try to see what’s the collective wisdom here?”
He’s got a content-packed website that I highly recommend checking out. Lore of the Land.
Now as for that amazing beard I mentioned…