NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Farmers and ranchers impacted by the Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon Fire say they are in a crisis after a majority of acequias around the burn scar stopped flowing. They say this is devastating to their future as they try to get back on their feet after the fire.
Paula Garcia lives in Mora County – she’s also the executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. She explains, “Now I know firsthand what it’s like to be in a disaster and live in a disaster zone and live in a burn scar. I just want everybody to know that it’s heartbreaking.”
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The NMAA has been doing mapping and damage assessment. So far, results show 41 out of the 68 acequias around the Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon fire burn scar are severely damaged. Garcia said, “They’re clogged with debris and sediment after the fire, there was flooding that brought down a lot of soil, sediment ash and the acequias are no longer able to flow.”
Farmers and ranchers are having a difficult time getting their work done. Garcia shares, “What I’m hearing from people in the community, it’s a really great sense of urgency, our way of life is at stake, our ability to, to take care of our animals, to be able to grow hay for animals…this is part of our livelihoods.”
Getting the appropriate resources from federal and state-funded programs has been a challenge. The NMAA went before the Land Grant Interim Committee on October 20 urging lawmakers to create new legislation to specifically help acequias. “We need an acequia disaster contingency fund that will be available for this rapid response repair work that has to happen,” said Garcia.
Senator Leo Jaramillo, who serves as the chair of the committee, says he sees a great need to help protect water resources for rural New Mexico communities. He explained, “In most cases, acequias need to come up with the percentage upfront to get these projects covered. By having the money available, acequias would be able to get the job done quickly and have the funding on hand so that these projects could get done.”
Jaramillo will sponsor the legislation which is still in its beginning stages. The senator says this bill would also prepare acequias from future disasters. “I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, because they understand the importance of farming and ranching, and what the importance of keeping the acequia water flowing is. I’m very confident with the bill that I’ll draft,” Senator Jaramillo said.
Right now, the Department of Transportation is assisting with debris removal to try and get the acequias open and flowing again. that funding is being provided through FEMA.