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Acequia History

The Valle de Atrisco

Acequias are community-based forms of water sharing used for irrigation, first introduced to the region by Spanish settlers in the seventeenth-century.

Sanchez Farm Open Space and Arenal Acequia. Google Street View.

The Valle de Atrisco, commonly referred to as the South Valley, is one of the oldest and most historic areas of Albuquerque, owing its name to the Atrisco

Land Grant of 1692. The word “Atrisco” is derived from the Nahuatl word “Atlixo”, which means “surface of a body of water” and is an indication of how important acequias and water systems are to the area. The land grant was designed to spur settlement in the area and is still relatively intact to this day as families and individuals whose histories date back centuries still claim rights to land and water in the area. The acequia system played an integral part in irrigating the land to cultivate corn, wheat, beans, alfalfa, and allowed the area to grow and prosper throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Acequias were the critical point around which farmlands were built and maintained. The space around the acequias from the colonial period of the seventeenth century through World War II consisted of rural farmland subdivided between families. Today, acequias still play a vital role in local food production, however, due to factors of modernization and urbanization, acequias of the South Valley also function as unique public spaces, they are an integral historical and cultural tradition of our region.

What is an Acequia?

Acequias, sometimes referred to as ‘ditches’ or ‘arroyos’ are community-based forms of water sharing used for irrigation, first introduced to the region that is today New Mexico by the Spanish in the seventeenth-century. The acequia system itself is much older, dating back to methods developed by the Moors and brought to the Iberian Peninsula during their occupation of the region (ca. 700-1492).


It should be mentioned, that the pueblo and other indigenous inhabitants did have irrigation systems already developed, the acequias are an expansion and refinement of those constructs. 

For centuries, the Middle Rio Grande region has supported human settlement. In New Mexico, we have many unique major cultural intersections around water.

Today, because of the development of industrial food systems and the market economy, acequias are under serious threat. The acequias represent much more than an agricultural irrigation system. The rich agricultural lands of the Middle Rio Grande have been systematically encroached by urbanization and the lower river at this time is endangered. Acequia culture is deeply engrained with love of the land. Continued use of the acequias and preservation of water rights will help to preserve these historic traditions.

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