February 15, 2018

Luján Introduces Legislation to Make Acequias Eligible for Federal Funding

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) today introduced legislation to enable New Mexico’s acequia’s to qualify for federal funding through the Farm Bill. Acequias are centuries old irrigation structures still in use today in rural communities across New Mexico and are governed by a board made up of private land owners known as the community ditch association. Luján’s bill, the Acequia Conservation Program Eligibility Act, would enable community ditch associations to access federal funds through four conservation programs in order to make improvements or repair damage to these important irrigation channels.

“Water is life in New Mexico. My Mom and I have three acequias that we care for on our land, and growing up, I worked with my Dad and my brother to maintain them. I know firsthand, the importance of these acequias. It’s how we tend to our crops, care for our animals, carry on our valued traditions, and make our living. I’m proud to introduce legislation that helps honor that legacy,” said Lujan. “By making it easier for acequias to access federal funding, we can improve the water use and conservation practices that are key to helping our agricultural communities growing.”

For many years, local New Mexico farmers have asked for acequia associations to be able to access funds through EQIP and other federal conservation programs. Until 2014, individual producers could apply for assistance but were not allowed to include the community ditch association to help with the work, even though the association is charged with maintaining the infrastructure for all water users. During consideration of the 2014 Farm Bill, Luján successfully pushed for a provision to allow Acequia and Community Ditch Associations to form partnerships and apply for federal grants through EQIP as well as a number of other federal programs. This new legislation would lift the roadblocks that still exist and streamline their eligibility.

The Acequia Conservation Program Eligibility Act will enable acequia associations to access funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and the Conservation Security Program.

Luján’s legislation was developed by working with the New Mexico Acequia Association and the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts.

“Acequias are the lifeblood of our communities as part of our cultural heritage and rural economy. They support the availability of locally grown food and the livelihood of farmers and ranchers in New Mexico," said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. "We greatly appreciate the effort of Congressman Luján to improve eligibility of acequias to participate in USDA conservation programs. Water conservation practices can help keep acequias flowing more efficiently, particularly during times of drought, helping to keep a centuries-old irrigation tradition alive.”

“We appreciate Congressman Luján’s efforts to secure language in the next farm bill for the Acequias,” said Debbie Hughes, Executive Director of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts. “The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts is happy to work with USDA and NRCS to provide financial and technical resources through the Farm Bill to New Mexico’s acequias and are hopeful that this legislation will make that process easier moving forward.”

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