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Acequia documentary gets local funds

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A documentary about acequias in New Mexico can continue production, thanks to funding from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Raindrop Foundation.

“Acequias: The Legacy Lives On” is produced by Aracely “Arcie” Chapa, a filmmaker with the University of New Mexico’s Film and Digital Arts Department.

The MRGCD board approved $28,000 in funding at the March 9 meeting. The Raindrop Foundation has also contributed $7,000.

“I’m thrilled about this project,” MRGCD Chairwoman Karen Dunning said. “The district has a storied history with the acequias, and I think it’s important that gets told, as well as how it’s evolved over time.”

Acequias are community irrigation systems that have existed in New Mexico for more than 400 years. They were influenced by pueblo irrigation traditions and the water governing practices of Spanish colonists.

For Chapa, making the film is like weaving a tapestry. She uses archived photos and documents, new interviews, and footage of the landscapes to show how water law, cultural traditions, interstate water compacts and persistent drought have shaped the history and current use of acequias.

“I’m still discovering the story,” she told the Journal. “There will be no wasted frame in this film. I hope it evokes pride in our acequias and in New Mexico. This is my passion.”

New Mexico has more than 700 functional acequias. They are governed by a mayordomo, who oversees infrastructure of the irrigation ditches and ensures all community members receive enough water.

Acequia governments are enabled by state law to protest water rights transfers that would harm the community water supply.

Chapa has produced documentaries for 20 years, including recent films celebrating the 125th anniversary of UNM and the 50th anniversary of Popejoy Hall. She said the acequia project is an opportunity to teach a complex history in a beautiful, entertaining format.

Chapa includes the perspectives of farmers, acequia leaders, advocates, scholars and lawmakers for the one-hour documentary. There has already been heightened interest in the film from teachers who want to educate about the past, present and future of acequias.

“The acequia story can’t be told in isolation,” she said. “I hope the film helps people truly understand our water situation in New Mexico. We can learn a lot about working as communities to deal with challenges that are coming, like sharing water in times of scarcity and climate change. Acequia governance already knows how to do that.”

Chapa is about halfway done shooting the film, and has a goal of a fall 2020 premiere.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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