By Tom Udall Press Office
U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Michelle Lujan Grisham, Steve Pearce and Ben Ray Lújan are urging the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to maintain a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill to make acequias eligible for federal resources through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). They also requested that the committees include language to make land grants eligible for these resources as well. These provisions would help acequias and land grants better access critical grants and technical assistance from NRCS programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Acequias provide water for many small and traditional farmers in New Mexico. Allowing acequias and land grants to be directly eligible for NRCS funds and technical assistance would provide these traditional communities with additional federal support to better protect New Mexico’s natural resources, improve water conservation efforts, implement sustainable production practices and support local farmers and ranchers.
“These traditional communities are a core part of New Mexico’s agricultural industry and cultural heritage and their sustainment is the lifeline that conserves our land, water, and natural resources while providing food security for families in New Mexico and across the nation,” the delegation wrote.
The congressional delegation has worked to enable New Mexico’s traditional communities to access federal programs and funding for water and resource conservation projects. In 2014, the delegation included a provision in that year’s Farm Bill that would have allowed acequias to access NRCS programs through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The NM delegation championed the provision, which would make acequia associations and land grants throughout the state eligible for federal resources through the NRCS, including the EQIP and CSP programs.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program helps agricultural producers adopt practices that ensure sustainable production on farms, ranches, and working forest lands that protect soil, water, plan, wildlife, and other natural resources. Funds from EQIP can be used to improve irrigation delivery systems – like water control structures, pipelines, and concrete ditches – that benefit individual or multiple land owners.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) helps producers build on their initial conservation efforts while strengthening their operations through increasing crop yields, improving grazing conditions, developing wildlife habitat, and other measures. New Mexico has the second highest number of acres enrolled in CSP.
“Strategic investment from EQIP and CSP for acequias and land grant-mercedes will provide increased agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources through technical assistance,” the delegation continued. “New Mexico is an arid state. Acequias, irrigation districts, and other water users benefit from EQIP and CSP funds to increase cost savings, reduce water consumption, address water quality, and advance soil health. By including the Senate language to grant acequias and land grant-mercedes access to EQIP and CSP, farm and ranch operators can sustain cultural traditional, institute sustainable practices, and protect our natural resources.”
Ralph Vigil, Chair of the New Mexico Acequia Commission stated, “As New Mexico and the Southwest continue to experience record drought levels and shortages of water, the provision in the farm bill which allows Acequias to access EQIP and CSP funding is more critical than ever to our Acequias and rural communities.”
“Acequias are a vital part of New Mexico’s agricultural heritage and rural economy,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. “The New Mexico Acequia Association strongly supports language in the Farm Bill that expands eligibility of acequias for EQIP and CSP. These programs help keep farmers and ranchers tied to the land by improving irrigation efficiency and water conservation. We are hopeful that the efforts of our congressional delegation will contribute to the long-term sustainability of agriculture in our communities.”
“The New Mexico Land Grant Council is pleased that the entire New Mexico Congressional Delegation continues to advocate for the inclusion of eligibility for land grants-mercedes in the farm bill for certain conservation program funding, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP),”said Juan Sanchez, Chairman of the New Mexico Land Grant Council. “These programs would provide much needed support to land grants-mercedes throughout the state with the management of their common lands, which collectively is in excess of 200,000 acres. Access to conservation funding will benefit not only the local land grant-merced, but also the surrounding region as projects aimed at improving watershed health and soil conversation will have ecological benefits beyond the land grant-merced boundaries.”