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Climate Change Puts New Mexico’s Ancient Acequias to the Test

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Acequia in Corrales, New Mexico. A narrow, meandering ditch brings water from the Rio Grande into the orchard on Enrique Lamadrid’s north-central New Mexico property. The retired University of New Mexico professor and folklorist often marvels at the abundance of birds that flitter through the trees on its banks. “We have Great Horned Owls. We have several kinds of hawks, including the little gavilanes—the little kestrels,” he says. “We have all kinds of songbirds. We have wrens. We’ve got the Bewick’s Wren that sings up a storm.”

This small waterway is known as an acequia, an ancient type of gravity-powered ditch found throughout northern New Mexico. These earthen canals carry mountain snowmelt and rain to fields, orchards, and gardens. The emerald-green ribbons of vegetation that flourish as a result provide an oasis for a diversity of avian life, says Lamadrid, an avid birder who has researched acequias extensively. “We forget to give acequias credit, but acequias broaden and expand the riparian zone,” he says. “Where there are acequias, there are beautiful trees full of birds.”

Acequias (pronounced ah-SEH-kee-ahs), have a long history of delivering water for flood irrigation dating to the colonization period during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They have […]

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