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Acequia Association asks legislators to boost emergency response funding

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Big wildfires earlier this year damaged the acequias that funnel water to New Mexico’s rural farms and communities. Diversion structures were destroyed, silt and debris filled many existing water channels and water flow changed paths.

On Monday acequia managers asked lawmakers in Santa Fe to fully fund acequia disaster response.

New Mexico Acequia Association Executive Director Paula Garcia said there are 72 acequias in the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak burn scar, and they have benefited from the Federal Disaster Declaration that mandated federal help, coordinated by FEMA.

Garcia told the Rural Economic Opportunities Task Force that the Acequia Association submitted 38 requests for public assistance to FEMA. The challenge with FEMA assistance, she says, is that it comes in the form of reimbursements for money spent on repairs. But people can’t afford to pay upfront.

"Their cash balances in their bank account might be $1,000. Ours is typically about $600," Garcia told the committee. "There’s no way that they’re going to pay for this work up front and get reimbursed.”

The federal aid in northern New Mexico came because that fire was accidentally started by a federal agency, the U.S. Forest Service. There has been no similar help for victims of the Black Fire that raged between Silver City and Truth or Consequences in May and June.

Without FEMA intervention those local acequia associations are left with the slower and more complex request for financial assistance through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Representative Roger Montoya (D) from Velarde was among the lawmakers to offer a somber acknowledgement of the suffering of rural New Mexicans whose lifeways have been threatened by the wildfires. He encouraged the Acequia Association to be bold when finalizing funding estimates for lawmakers — a task that had not been completed prior to the hearing.
This report is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

Kaveh Mowahed is a reporter with KUNM who follows government, public health and housing. Send story ideas to kaveh@kunm.org.
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