Taos Historic District Acequias

The acequias of Taos are one of our greatest cultural treasures. The acequias tell the history of our agricultural community - how it evolved and grew as a response to its physical and cultural environment - and they act as a gauge of our health as a community today. The functionality of the acequias can make or break our farming community by dictating whether local crops will be available in summer and fall, they make available different water-loving species of plants that can be used in folk medicines, they provide a habitat for a great many species of birds, insects and animals... and more than that, the acequias help to recharge our aquifer and protect our structures from storm flooding.

GPS Mapping expeditions conducted by Archinia and our team in 2011 on the 4 major acequias in the historic district indicated the total length of the major arteries as  19684.3 lf = 3.79 miles. Those arteries, and their unique characteristics are: 

Madre Acequia

Madre Acequia

The Madre Ditch is located almost wholly on Taos Pueblo lands. It is open ditch type, within a high berm (5’ tall in some areas) for flood control. This acequia feeds both the Kit Carson Laterals and the Van Vectin Laterals, the latter of which source both the La Loma and Paseo Ditches. There are a few small sections with concrete and metal gates occurring along the ditch. The ditch is in need of a thorough cleaning. An area just north of the Kit Carson Park border appears to be a “no-mans land” and it is unclear whether this is Pueblo or Town property, or privately held. There is a functional pond here presumably used for overflow, fed by 3 separate laterals off the Madre ditch. 

La Loma Ditch

La Loma Ditch

The La Loma Ditch starts at the El Pueblo Lodge on Paseo del Pueblo Norte and traverses west along Theodora, where it turns south and west, eventually crossing Camino de la Placita at the Plaza de Retiro and working slowly south and west along the west side of the new middle school and Enos Garcia, continuing along Saavedra to La Loma Street, and then turning west to cross San Antonio behind La Loma Plaza and moving southwest along Valverde towards Ranchitos Road. This acequia is unique in that the vast majority of it is open dirt. It has an “earthy” way about it and it is extremely clean and well-kept, save that many of the culverts could use cleaning out or outright replacement, there are a great many Cottonwood and Chinese Elm trees that should be removed and some areas could be dug out to facilitate better water flows – a low cost solution that could be completed on annual cleaning day(s).
Paseo ditch

Paseo Ditch

The Paseo Ditch illustrates a sad part of Taos’ history. With growth, many people abandoned their acequias or moved them underground. Many did so, including governmental authorities, without consulting the acequia associations. This has rendered the Paseo acequia severely damaged and in need of substantial intervention.  The majority of this ditch is underground, and its only story is the one told in the subtle cracks left in the roads where its culvert is buried.

There are sections where the acequia was honored. The visible remnants of acequias along Paseo are more often beautiful than not. They may be lined with grass, concrete, stone, or gravel. Some are landscaped. Some businesses have even installed faux acequias. Most of the reason for this acequias’ failure is abandonment. Culverts were not cleared, sidewalks are built over the trench with no path for the water to go, and many underground culverts were either incorrectly installed or improperly maintained, so that they are full of trash and dirt, causing flooding when the water cannot continue on its path due to blockage downstream. This disrepair threatens every home and business along the acequia with flooding. 

Kit Carson laterals

Kit Carson Laterals

The acequias in Kit Carson Park have several unique laterals. One at the north runs east-west along the north perimeter of First Presbyterian Church, then turns south to rejoin and pass through the northwest corner of the park; another runs diagonally from the northeast corner of the park in a southwesterly direction to the intersection of Civic Plaza Drive (apparently a portion of what is effectively a drainage now is actually the original plaza ditch identified in 1845 maps of Taos); and the last runs diagonally from northeast to southwest, wrapping around the corner of the Kit Carson State Cemetery and southwest along Dragoon Lane and across Kit Carson State Highway past the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, splitting to traverse along and across Quesnel . 

These ditches are unique in that they are predominately open type and grass-lined. They are sinuous, wrapping around trees and the form of the landscape, and they seem “soft” until they leave the open sections at Kit Carson Park to go underground along the west side of Dragoon. This “softness,” grassy lining and sinuous nature of these ditches should be preserved, and cottonwood trees along the ditch removed as soon as possible, and especially if they are ill.


Laterals (general)

Because the acequias have not been fully functional in the recent past, and many laterals therefore abandoned, these off-shoot ditches can generally be described as in need of digging out as well as vegetative and detritus removal prior to an acequia returning to full capacity. Note in the photo above that everything downstream (to the bottom) of the last split is overburdened with dirt. It is not possible for water to pass through… which not only damages the wall to the side as the entire area floods, but also this condition prevents water from reaching the La Loma and Paseo ditches. This is a problem at most laterals that shall be addressed prior to opening ANY of the ditches currently not running.

Saving our Acequias

The three most important things we can do to preserve our acequias are:

Participate!       Get involved in annual clean-up days
Liberate!           Remove dead and dying cottonwoods, and do NOT replace them!
Educate!            Implement a planting and building setback guide, as shown here:
Planting and Structures should be held back from the acequias at the following distances:
  • Lawn & Flowers: acceptable any location, with approved plants (see below) 
  • Dwarf Trees: 15' or more from center of ditch/pipe 
  • semi-Dwarf Trees: 25' or more from center of ditch/pipe
  • Trees above 50' tall: 50' or more from center of ditch/pipe
  • Structures: 15' or more from center of ditch/pipe
  • Fenceposts/light posts: 3’ or more from center of ditch/pipe
Acceptable plants:
To determine what types of plantings are acceptable (per the above distance guidelines), consult the state’s list of plants and trees which do not threaten the well-being of our acequias at this link: http://wuc.ose.state.nm.us/Plants/