Wildfire Damage to Water System
Issues: Fire, Watersheds
Partners: Mora Land Grant, New Mexico Highlands University
Airport Origin : Las Vegas, NM
We flew to survey acequias that were damaged in the April 2022, New Mexico mega-fire. Our flight examined acequia damage, and how restoration efforts can move forward to repair water transport.
In April 2022, two prescribed fires in New Mexico grew out of control due to dry conditions and seasonal high winds. The fires erupted and converged into the largest and most destructive wildfire in New Mexico's history. The Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Complex Fire began April 6, kept growing until June 24, and was not fully contained until August 21. It burned over 340,000 acres.
The fire had disastrous effects, destroying infrastructure and displacing thousands of people throughout Mora, San Miguel, and Taos Counties, burning largely within the historic boundaries of La Merced De Santa Gertrudis de lo de Mora - the Mora Land Grant. The Mora Land Grant was an area formalized by the Mexican government in 1835, which supports a complex of Mexican and Native American families. The land was integral to the Norteño's traditional way of life, supporting agriculture, grazing, timber, food, and medicine. The heirs of the Mora Land Grant had raised concerns about the prescribed burns that were scheduled in April, a windy time of year, but their concerns were largely overlooked. Prior to this, the Land Grant was involved in negotiations with a congressional delegation to implement strategies to remedy years of mismanagement and return some of the US Forest Service back to the Grant as common land for the people, but were frustrated by a lack of urgency and on-the-ground results. Now, the Norteño communities in Mora County bear the effects of the disastrous fires that greatly affected their water system, the acequias, community-managed irrigation channels.
Our overflight surveyed the acequias, the extent of the wildfire damage, and how restoration efforts can move forward to repair water transport. There are over fifty acequias in Mora County and our partners are working to educate officials and the community of Mora and San Miguel counties on restoration and how to navigate the effects of this disaster.
Our partners are also working to ensure the direct heirs of Spanish and Mexican Land Grants - like the Mora Land Grant - are involved in the restoration of their lands. These land heirs have long cared for and properly managed their lands, using generations of traditional knowledge that is essential to land management and acequia restoration.