Luján, Cornyn Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Drought Protections for Acequias

Washington, D.C. – Today,U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced bipartisan legislation that ensures acequias are able to access the same USDA disaster assistance programs available to other agricultural systems. The ACEQUIA Act amends the Non-insured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to ensure that Parciantes qualify for drought and other disaster assistance. Additionally, the legislation codifies current agency guidance that Parciantes do not need to obtain a special-use permit to perform routine maintenance or in-kind improvements on federal land. U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) will introduce the House companion bill.

This legislation builds on Senator Luján’s successful effort to ensure the USDA fully compensates Rio Arriba farmers and ranchers for unfair changes made to the Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) reimbursement rate by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in New Mexico.

“For generations, New Mexicans have taken care of our acequias, which are essential to our way of life. Our farmers and ranchers are dependent on this intricate, community-owned and managed irrigation system that delivers water throughout local regions,” said Luján. “As drought conditions in the West have taken a toll on farmers and their crops, USDA programs have provided critical financial support for certain agricultural operations but failed to include acequias. That’s why I’m introducing this bipartisan legislation that ensures acequias have access to drought relief and other disaster assistance programs to ensure this sacred tradition will be protected for generations to come.”

“Drought conditions make it much harder for farmers and ranchers to provide the goods and services our country depends on, and community-operated irrigation canals called acequias have long supported Western communities,” said Cornyn. “This bill would support those who manage acequias by ensuring they have access to vital disaster assistance programs, and I am grateful for Senator Luján’s leadership on this issue.”

“Our acequias are essential to New Mexico’s long historical practice of farming and ranching with respect and reverence for our lands and waters. As a former mayordomo, I know firsthand what it means to protect these precious waters that bring life and growth,” said Leger Fernández. “In the wake of the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, many of our precious watersheds were damaged or destroyed. This bill makes sure that our parciantes get equal access to disaster assistance from USDA.”

“Acequias in New Mexico are vital to our land-based way of life and the continuation of ancestral agricultural traditions. This legislation is an affirmation of our use and maintenance of historic waterways that originate on federal lands,” said the New Mexico Acequia Association.

Summary of the bill is available HERE.

Background: Acequias­­ are community-owned and -managed irrigation systems comprised of gravity-fed irrigation channels and the people who maintain them. Acequias create a land-based culture that has sustained communities throughout the arid west for generations, yet, like other agricultural practices, increasing aridification is creating significant challenges for Acequias. Drought conditions in the West are affecting growing seasons and crop yields, and Parciantes face barriers in accessing United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs to cope with these setbacks. Barriers to accessing assistance are particularly pronounced for USDA programs that are predicated on prior year production values, over time Parciantes are being yielded out of disaster assistance.



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