2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


CEPEDA, Joseph C., Department of Life, Earth and Environmental Sciences, West Texas State Univ, PO Box 60162, Canyon, TX 79016-0001 and ALLISON, Pamela S., Milkweed Press, 2515 5th Avenue, Canyon, TX 79015, jcepeda@mail.wtamu.edu

The acequia system at Del Rio has been operated continuously from 1871 to the present day. The system has provided water to the oldest continuously-active vineyards and winery in the State of Texas, truck farms, and even provided water to an ice-making plant that operated through the 1950’s. The acequia system was dug between 1871 and 1873 by the San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing and Industrial (SFAM&I) Company that was chartered in 1871. Although the original diversion dam and master ditch are both named Madre, suggesting that an earlier system may have been in place, the SFAM&I acequia system totaled more than 30 miles of ditches via 6 separate main ditches. An additional diversion dam was built farther downstream on San Felipe Creek to supply 2 of the ditches. The original purpose of the acequia developers was to attract settlers to the townsite by providing an abundant supply of irrigation water and irrigable land.

Challenges to the acequia system include court actions originating in south Texas challenging SFAM&I’s use of Rio Grande water, to which the San Felipe Creek is tributary, issues of beneficial use of water, and endangered species protection.

More recently, state regulators have put some pressure on the acequia managers to demonstrate that water waste is minimized. This is despite the fact that the acequia system flows back into San Felipe Creek so than any unused water goes back into the creek, and the fact that although they are permitted for 5000 acre-feet per year yet have been using only 3000 acre-feet per year. This pressure has resulted in an ongoing program to line the sides of the acequias with concrete. This program has the potential to irreparably affect the vegetation that has flourished at the edges of the acequias for the last 130+ years and alter one of the most unique urban ecologies in the state.

The impacts of the acequia system, which operates on an as-needed basis as communicated and coordinated by ditch masters and the superintendent, on the endangered Devils River Minnow ( Dionda diaboli) in San Felipe Creek have not been considered.