USDA Briefs Acequias on StrikeForce Assistance
Rey Adame (505) 761-4406
TECOLOTITO, N.M. – There are more than 800 acequias -- local, rural ditches -- that weave their way through New Mexico.
One of these centuries-old waterways is the Tecolotito Acequia, nestled in the back country of San Miguel County in northern New Mexico. The term, “acequia” carries a double meaning here. It is the actual centuries-old, hand-built ditch from which each family drawing water must help maintain. It also refers to the legal name of the body of government for that particular ditch. In this case, there are approximately 40 families that comprise the Tecolotito Acequia.
This acequia – like so many others – is generally made of local farmers and ranchers who are direct descendants of the landowners who carved out a portal connecting them to a communal watering ditch. Their livelihood and survival depended then as it does now on getting and using their allocated water as efficient as possible. This is where the Department of Agriculture is helping the most.
At a recent acequia meeting, representatives from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Services Agency (FSA) addressed members of a few acequias who live close to Tecolotito on the benefits of using the NRCS and FSA to become more efficient in managing their private lands. This briefing and visit is part of USDA’s StrikeForce initiative. The initiative is a coordinated effort to increase economic opportunities in rural communities suffering persistent poverty.
“We have the technical expertise and financial assistance to help communities like Tecolotito to get the most from their land and water,” said Kenneth Alcon, District Conservationist for the NRCS. Our Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) can really help in this case,” he added. Last year the NRCS in New Mexico created to a special Acequias EQIP program aimed specifically at helping the acequias of New Mexico. Current EQIP policy prohibits the agency from directly funding the Acequias (bodies of government) because federal funding cannot go to a body of government.
Alcon briefed on the Acequia EQIP program and fielded questions. He explained that under the new Acequia EQIP program, individual Acequia members can form a formal or informal joint venture that would allow them to receive EQIP funding for projects that enhance existing natural resource concerns. “The new process calls for members to discuss and agree on a specific conservation plan targeting specific resource concerns.”
There are quite a few funding sources available to the acequias. With smart planning and working with USDA, the acequias can get a lot of help in reaching their goal to improve their acequia infrastructure,” he said. “We want and encourage each member to discuss among themselves what they want to accomplish and then visit with their local USDA Service Center.”
FSA County Executive Linda Alcon also spoke at the meeting. She informed the audience of the myriad of programs and assistance the FSA has to offer. “We can help and want to make it available to you,” she said. Both the FSA and NRCS are located in the USDA Service Center in Las Vegas, New Mexico. For more assistance with FSA programs, visit their website at FSA New Mexico Programs. For more information on the NRCS Acequia EQIP program, visit their website at EQIP Acequia Initiative.
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The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides leadership in a partnership effort to help people conserve, maintain, and improve our natural resources and environment. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20250-9410, TDD.
Kenneth Alcon, District Conservationist for the NRCS New Mexico for the Las Vegas team area, answers a question from an acequia member at a USDA StrikeForce meeting with the Tecolotito Acequia on April 16, 2014. Alcon and the Farm Services Agency County Executive were on hand to brief acequia members on what their agencies can do to help them achieve their agricultural and natural conservation goals.
(Photo by Rey Adame)