New Mexico Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Project

Under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, Congress authorized $4 million to conduct a study of the irrigation infrastructure within the 18 Rio Grande pueblos, and $6 million in each of ten subsequent years to address identified infrastructure improvements. The Act requires a study report to be submitted to Congress including a list of projects recommended for implementation.

Detailed physical surveys of the existing irrigation infrastructure at each pueblo have been completed throughout the past several years as program funding became available. Fiscal year 2018 will see most or all infrastructure surveys for 16 of 18 pueblos complete. While some survey work will continue, sufficient information has been gathered to complete a draft report, which was concluded in September 2017.

The study has identified nearly $280 million in irrigation improvements needed on pueblo lands. These improvements are important to the Tribal economies, to preserving their cultural traditions for future generations, and to maximize water conservation in the Rio Grande Basin.

The remaining fiscal year 2018 efforts are focused on completing funded surveys and the final review of the draft report. The report is currently being reviewed and staffed throughout the Department of the Interior prior to briefings for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The expectation is to submit the study report to Congress by late 2018.

Current Status: The draft Study Report is working its way through the staffing process. Remaining review milestones include:

  • Office of the Solicitor General
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Secretary of the Interior
  • Office of Management and Budget

Upon completion of these signatures, the report will be submitted simultaneously to the:

  • U.S. Senate – Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
  • U.S. House of Representatives – Committee on Resources

There is a commonly used quote within irrigation literature focused on the Southwest Region, attributed to Will Rogers and shown at right. While there is some question whether he said such, it is certainly believable; there is no doubt that irrigation is essential to productive farming in the Rio Grande Valley (Fleck, 2013).

“The Rio Grande is the only river I ever saw that needed irrigation” — Will Rogers

In the northern Rio Grande Valley, ancestral Puebloans developed a very successful culture and economy based on floodwater farming, irrigation through stream diversions, and subsistence hunting and gathering. Prehistoric Puebloans continued to improve on agricultural methods, including soil and moisture conservation methods. The earliest historical records, from the sixteenth century Spanish expeditions, noted the prevalence of agriculture within Puebloan communities throughout the Rio Grande Valley (Anschuetz, 1984; Cordell, 1984; Hammond and Rey, 1940).

By the end of the Sixteenth Century, the Pueblos intensified production through expansive irrigation infrastructure, both to increase production of native foods and to support production of European crops such as wheat (Wozniak, 1987).

Those irrigation systems continued to be utilized and improved upon in subsequent decades and centuries, by Indian irrigators as well as Hispanic and European settlers in the region. The irrigation network evolved and expanded, with numerous community-based irrigation networks that were managed by local governments or by a community-elected official. These systems were known as acequias, a term which is still used to denote community-based irrigation ditch systems (“History: The Politics of Water”, 2017).

Congress authorized the Colorado River Indian Irrigation Project in 1867, which led to the establishment of the Indian Irrigation Service under the Department of the Interior. This or