Nothing new about actions in water dispute

T.S. Last wrote the July 18 Journal North article “Caught in the Middle” about Mora County rancher Richard Fresquez and the neighboring Acequia de los Vallecitos Association, run by three locals, Carla Gomez, Rey Villa and Wendy Capek. They diverted the water from Richard’s land in Encinal Canyon, stopping the water both to Richard and to families down-canyon who have relied on this water flowing continuously for countless generations, without interference.

Last tells us that a Mora County record filed in 1938 establishes the legality of the acequia water rights on Richard’s land. Last also states that, for over a century, this acequia has been used for irrigation by families below Richard’s property, as well. The document further shows his senior water rights.

When both Gomez and Villa purchased large land parcels a few years ago, they formed their acequia association for their ditch, along with Wendy Capek. As Richard was quoted in Last’s article, “… the majority of the board is made up of former business/romantic partners of Fresquez who have filed lawsuits against him in the past.”

This reads more like a vendetta against a man by two spurned women, but there is another nefarious bite. These covert asset-stripping actions – robbing and controlling water, thereby devaluing land and forcing people to leave – are age-old and used extensively today during COVID.

Many folks do not understand that the acequias are based on a people-controlled water distribution system with their own bylaws, developed by the Spaniards 200 years ago, and the state has no governance over their structuring of the use, amount or delegation of the water. It has no legal authority over the distribution of water through the acequia associations. Period.

When people involve the State Engineer’s Office in their local disputes, they “give away” their power to govern themselves locally.

The water association is based on cooperation, mutual respect and fairness, which Richard demonstrates. Gomez claims, but does the opposite. She says, “Especially in times of drought like this, it needs to be shared,” erroneously implying that Richard uses all the water, while she takes it all.

Additionally, no association has any jurisdiction over another. As Last writes, “The Acequia de los Vallecitos association filled in a diversion channel that used to direct water to the property of Richard Fresquez because of a dispute over fees the association says he owes.” This is an aggressive act based on nothing other than bullying and force. There is nothing legal about these actions. They have no authority to claim such governance.

Even Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, explains, “Her (private) organization isn’t a regulatory agency and, while they work with acequia associations throughout the state, they don’t get involved with their internal affairs.” In other words, each local acequia association is intended to work cooperatively with others who share head waters, with respect, and honoring the importance of equality and birth rights.

El agua es la vida. We also understand that there are those who think that they can take whatever they want but, thankfully, folks like Richard Fresquez understand what a working community is about and he fights to uphold others’ rights, as well as his own.

Kathleen Dudley lives in Ocate.

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