Community members gathered in the Village of Questa administration building on July 26 to discuss the prospect of an umbrella association for improved collective representation of the acequia associations throughout northern Taos County.
Questa Economic Development Director Lynn Skall began the meeting of about 30 participants by asking for introductions from those in attendance. Residents and acequia association members from San Cristobal and Llano to Questa, Cabresto, and Cerro showed up to voice support as well as question the logistics behind this proposed umbrella association.
“Each of the acequias have their own governing body and that’s not going to change with anything that we’re doing here,” said Skall. “What we’re trying to accomplish is to get support for all of the acequia groups, so that we have a voice that we can use in the state.”
Christian Isely, state government affairs representative for Chevron, was also in attendance to speak on details regarding funding for this umbrella association. Both Skall and Isely want to make it clear that this is not meant to take autonomy from any of the individual acequias; it is intended as a collective organization for the purpose of unifying all voices and sharing resources.
“I’m happy to give you some good news on the funding front,” said Isely. “Chevron just signed a grant agreement with the Questa Economic Development Fund. The total grant is going to be $160,000, that will be dispersed incrementally over the next three years. We just requested the first check for $60,000 and that should be coming to the Questa Economic Development Fund shortly.”
Isely explained two reasons why Chevron supports the new association: Chevron sees the acequias as key resources in water management: Chevron still owns some water rights on local acequias that Isely says Chevron is looking to divest from in the future. Secondly, Chevron values its close relationship with the Questa-area communities and it has an interest in keeping water rights local to this area.
“All the things that Lynn just mentioned — green hydrogen, energy, farming, an agriculture cooperative, housing developments, all that stuff — you can have all the money in the world. but if you don’t have the water, you can’t do any of it,” said Isely.
A common concern from the crowd was a fear that this umbrella association would overshadow the individual acequia associations that it would supposedly represent. Isely clarified again that it is intended as a “support organization” to make the voices of the acequias more united and more powerful when interfacing with the Office of the State Engineer, the state legislature, and other regulatory bodies.
Treasurer for the Cabresto Acequia as well as the Project Manager for the Village of Questa Jake Lefore, asked Isely a hypothetical question: “What happens if the acequias don’t join the association?”
“I’m not sure exactly if it will be an official member organization,” replied Isely. “It’s kind of preliminary to say whether or not an acequia has to be a member… [that is] to be figured out. I do think, now that the funding is lined up, it’s there if you want to take advantage of it. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Why not seek out the help?”
Mayodormo for the Cabresto Acequia Jolton Lefore, spoke up: “I want to tell you all a real serious thing,” Jolton began. Llano, Cerro, Taos, San Cristobal, Cabresto, We live in a desert… In the ten years that I’ve been Mayodormo… I’ve had two good running water years… You say you want to manage our water [as he points to Isely], I have a hard enough time managing my water for the 300-plus people I manage water for. It’s tough… We’re lucky to have this damn water. Christian, I have faith in you… I love Questa, I manage our water, and I take it dead serious. I’m watching every year get worse and worse and worse… If you want to manage our water, what do you want to manage?”
“Chevron’s not managing —” Isely tried to respond. Jolton pointed to Isely again. “You started off this conversation about wanting to manage our water! I heard you, that was the whole topic of this thing. I’m asking you and Chevron, and I’m listening cause we need all the help we can get, I believe in you. I’m asking you to invite all of the associations and all their parciantes (water rights owners) so you can look them in the eye and tell them what you’re trying to tell us. That’s what I’m asking you.”
“Yeah, we can do that,” responded Isely.
“Put everything on delay and talk to every one of these parciantes — Taos, San Cristobal, Cerro, Llano, Cabresto, Amalia – because we’re struggling to get water,” Jolton’s passion was on full display as he was advocating for each acequia. “I’ll stand up for our people! If you want to help us, truly look at our people and tell us what you’re helping us with.”
“We’ll do it,” responded Isley as Jolton sat back down in his seat. “This is your organization. It’s not Chevron’s organization, it’s not the QEDF’s organization, you own this organization, you will create this organization. This is not something that Chevron will manage, this is yours, and it’s going to take a lot of resources to help you manage.”
“I think it’s a good idea to have an association,” said President of the Questa Citizens Ditch Bobby Ortega, “I think it makes sense that people can work together here in the north, it’s good to see other acequias here. As Jolton said, it’s a very important thing.”
Ortega expressed his concern about how the northern acequias will fund this Questa-area Acequia Association after three years when the funding provided by Chevron becomes exhausted. “It’s good to have that initial money from Chevron,” said Ortega. “But what happens after three years? The lands here in Questa are not producing what they should be… We not only need water, we need management of the lands here.”
Ortega’s main concern was over how to fund the proposed acequia association in the longer term, because the acequias may not be able to raise their membership dues.
“We’re a poor community,” opined Ortega.
“I think it’s your duty, to get us an invitation so we can invite our people and you can look them in the eye,” said Jolton, up from his seat again and pointing at Isely.
“Could we arrange such an opportunity,” Isely asked Skall.
“Absolutely,” Skall responded.
“I want your help, Christian,” Jolton continued. “God knows, we all want your help. We’re struggling, we’re a desert community, people,” Jolton turned from side to side, addressing the whole crowd. “Climate change is gonna kick our ass! Get our parciantes behind you and we’re all for it, that’s all I’m saying.”
Director of the Taos Valley Acequia Association Judy Torrez explained to the crowd that her own association is partnering with the Taos Land Trust to try and improve their water management and conservation methods. “For [the] Taos Valley Acequia Association, we have an annual meeting. That’s where we get all the acequias together and that’s where they will get their directors,” said Torres. “I told [the Taos Acequias] that the best thing for us to do is to get your attention first and then you guys go back to your parciantes… Every acequia should have one representative on the board [of the umbrella association] so they know what your issues are… and not be a self-appointed person on the board. You want someone for the people.”
Torres recommended a meeting for every acequia with all of the parciantes in attendance during which everything about the umbrella association is explained, its intent, and how it will operate, and then hold an election for who will represent each acequia on the board of the umbrella association. Torres also emphasized that the TVAA is not a regulatory entity; they do not oversee its acequia members, they just assist. Each of their 55 acequia associations has their own set of bylaws and the TVAA reports the status of each of each stream at their annual meeting.
A recording of the full meeting is available on our Facebook page. https://tinyurl.com/AcequiaMeeting.