Grow! Los Luceros
The Acequia Madre
Connections to nature and people through time.
by Carlyn Stewart
Hello again dear readers,
As of March 20th it is officially spring and signs of it are popping up all over New Mexico. One of the biggest signs that spring is here at Los Luceros is the now flowing acequia madre (irrigation ditch).
The Acequia Madre (mother ditch), also known as Lucero Ditch or Alcalde Ditch, was constructed in the 1700s. A man named Sebastian Martin Serrano was granted over 51,000 acres of land, including what is now Los Luceros Historic Site. Prior to his arrival however, this area had been cared for by indigenous Tewa-speaking people who lived in the nearby pueblo of Phiogeh. They farmed corn, beans, squash, amaranth and cotton along the Rio Grande and used irrigation systems long before the arrival of the Spanish colonists. After Sebastian Martin usurped the land, he began returning land back to the people of Okhay Owingeh in exchange for their labor in digging the first large acequia of the area. The acequia begins three miles upstream of Los Luceros and diverts water from the Rio Grande which then connects back to the Rio Grande two miles south of Los Luceros. Along these five miles of the acequia, smaller ditches called laterals branch off bringing water to the farms and properties along the river. These laterals are controlled at metal headgates and can be turned on or off using circular wheel-like keys.
At Los Luceros, we use water from the acequia madre to water our 1500-tree apple orchard, various fruit trees around the property, grass, and fields of alfalfa. All life at Los Luceros is connected to this water. The water helps our alfalfa grow tall which in turn is consumed by our Churro sheep, goats, and burro. The wool and fur are used by birds to build their nests. The alfalfa provides shelter to rodents and insects. Birds of prey and snakes hunt the rodents that live in the fields. The elk and deer enjoy feasting on the alfalfa and take relaxing sips of water from the lateral ditches. These connections go on and on. Not only this however, but an entire ecosystem has developed around the 300-year-old ditch. Massive cottonwoods take root along the walls since it provides a reliable source of water, birds and animals live in and along the stream and large crustaceans also have become an integral part of this ecosystem.
However, we are not just connected to the wildlife and nature of this area through the acequia, but we are also connected to our community. Each year the acequia is turned off from November to March. Prior to turning it back on, the ditch must be cleaned. This is a community effort in which everyone along the acequia cleans their portion – removing trash, tumbleweeds, and debris. If one person does not clean their section, the rest of the acequia is affected, so we all do our best to help our neighbors too. This community effort is a unique part of the acequia system – an entire culture is created around it which is built upon cooperation and a deep care for the land. In other irrigation system through time there is often a hierarchy in which important or wealthy individuals control the water but in this case, it is cared for by an entire community.
The streams of this acequia reach even further beyond just our local community and nature but to people of the past as well. We are connected to Martin, to all the people of many backgrounds that have worked on this ditch to keep it running for 300 years. We are connected to land manager Maria Chabot who acted as el presidente of the acequia association and all of the men she instructed. We are connected across the ocean to northern Africa where the acequia culture has its roots when the Moors invaded Spain. Every visitor to Los Luceros drives over a bridge that crosses the acequia madre, though many might not understand its importance.
So, after reading this, when you arrive at Los Luceros and drive over the bridge in the beautifully shaded area with flowing water beneath you, I hope you will take a moment to consider all of those connections – to nature, to the local community of the present, and people of the past because you are now a part of that history – you are now a part of Los Luceros.
Originally published on March 31, 2021 as part of the Grow! Los Luceros series.