Udall, Heinrich Secure Provisions Making Acequias and Land Grants Eligible for Grants and Technical Assistance

Udall, Heinrich language in Farm Bill makes acequias and land grants eligible for USDA conservation and environmental programs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that they secured a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 87-13, to make acequias and land grant-mercedes eligible for grants and technical assistance from conservation and environmental programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to increase agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources.

Acequias and land grant-mercedes (land grants) are communities that are deeply important to the culture and history of New Mexico. These traditional communities can trace their origin back centuries, and are now incorporated into New Mexico’s government as independent political subdivisions. Unlike other subdivisions, such as irrigation and conservation districts, acequias and land grants are unable to levy taxes on users, and thus the cost of upkeep and repairs has historically been placed on individual members of the community.  There are hundreds of acequias and dozens of land grants in New Mexico that can now gain access to ley conservation programs, so they can perform work on their communal lands and infrastructure.

“New Mexico’s traditional communities – our acequias and land grants – are centuries-old institutions, conscientious and vigilant stewards of our land and water that are central to New Mexico’s culture, agriculture industry, and way of life,” Udall said. “Our provisions make acequias and land grants eligible for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides over two billion dollars across the country each year in critical federal assistance. This authorization will cut cumbersome red-tape and it is the culmination of years of work to support New Mexico’s traditional communities. I’m proud to have helped carry these provisions over the finish line. New Mexico’s acequias and land grants understand that our land and our water are fundamental to who we are as a state – and I will keep working to ensure that our traditional communities have the support they need long into the future.” 

“Acequias are the lifeblood of northern New Mexico’s rural communities. New Mexico’s acequia associations and land grants should be able to access important federal conservation programs and resources just like any other landowner,” Heinrich said. “These provisions in the Farm Bill will ensure that traditional communities are able to participate in programs to protect our water and soil for generations to come.”

The Farm Bill includes two provisions to benefit New Mexico’s traditional communities. 

  • One provision makes land grants and acequias eligible for funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program, allowing NRCS to provide technical assistance and infrastructure investments to land grants and acequias by contracting with them to support conservation work on lands owned by and lands adjacent to land grants and acequias. This provision will enable land grants and acequias to improve water conservation, water distribution, conservation of surface or groundwater, aquifer recovery and crop rotation. By becoming eligible entities for EQIP, acequias and land grants can work directly with NRCS to access this $2 billion a year program which provides financial investment to farmers and ranchers in every state.

  • The farm bill also makes acequias directly eligible entities for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In 2014, the New Mexico delegation included a provision in the Farm Bill to allow acequias to access Natural Resources Conservation Services’ (NRCS) grants through partnerships with other eligble entities, such as conservation districts.  It has been one of the most successful partnerships in the country, giving New Mexico farmers access to programs that help them implement conservation practices on their farms to conserve water, protect soil and assure that farmers have the tools needed to remain productive in the future. This year’s provision builds on this success, cutting red tape and making acequias directly eligible for RCPP programs. Regional Conservation Partnerships are collaborative, watershed-scale projects where eligible producers and landowners of agricultural land may enter into conservation program contracts or easement agreements under the framework of a partnership agreement to conserve water, soil and assure economic viability for the community.  They help to leverage private investment with public money to increase the impact of private lands conservation.

"The inclusion of acequias and land grants in the Farm Bill is an important historical milestone,” said Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. “We are extremely grateful for the work of our congressional delegation to make our communities eligible for conservation programs. This will improve access to funding that will support a centuries-old way of life and a long legacy of stewardship of land and water in New Mexico. 

“Acequias have been the lifeblood of many New Mexico communities for centuries. Now, by being able to access EQIP and RCPP funds, acequias can better invest in the infrastructure needed to ensure their survival for centuries to come,” said Ralph Vigil, chairman of the New Mexico Acequia Commission. “A big thank you to Senators Udall and Heinrich for helping to make it possible for acequias obtain the necessary tools to expand conservation practices, and for assisting New Mexico's farmers and ranchers to provide our state with much needed acequia grown food, all while improving the health and economies of our acequia communities.”  

“The New Mexico Land Grant Council is very excited that land grant-mercedes and acequias have been included as eligible for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) under the Farm Bill,” said Juan Sanchez, chairman of the New Mexico Land Grant Council. “This is a huge milestone for land grants-mercedes in New Mexico, who collectively manage over 200,000 acres of common lands throughout the state. Eligibility for EQIP funding has been a top legislative priority for the Council for over 4 years.  The Council is thankful for the leadership of Senator Tom Udall in his advocacy efforts in the U.S. Senate and for all of the hard work of the entire New Mexico Congressional Delegation in supporting this important policy change in the Farm Bill." 

These provisions are based on Udall and Heinrich’s S. 2133, the PLACES Act.