Our organization was founded by South Valley locals, Jorge Garcia, Executive Director, and Santiago Maestas, Board Secretary. As early as 2003, Santiago and Jorge began to work with community leaders across the Atrisco Valley to organize the acequias. Upon the reorganization of the acequias as sub-political divisions of the State, our community organized to address threats to the South Valley Community connected to the protection and revitalization of acequias in the Middle Rio Grande Region. Their work quickly grew beyond acequia preservation to include water and land advocacy, as well as youth development. Understanding that the history of acequias (land and water) in the Middle Rio Grande is plagued with historical dispossession and trauma, the organization of our programs continues to be done under the auspices of Transformative Justice under which our community is gaining a sense of ownership and querencia based on our legacy and stewardship in the Middle Rio Grande.
Everything we do is guided by the fundamental belief that it is our responsibility as community members to protect traditions connected to land and water. Due to continued drought and pressure from major developments and a lack of understanding of water systems, the protection and preservation of water have become a major issue in the Middle Rio Grande Region. In order to safeguard the legacy left to us and our community, we must work together as stewards of tradition through education, engagement, activism, and ceremony.
Our organization developed the Agua es Sagrada (Water is Sacred) Philosophy to promote the preservation of water. This philosophy has been passed down through generations to provide a deep understanding and practice of agriculture and acequia traditions. Through this philosophy, individuals in the community are actively empowered to resist the complete commodification of water, and by doing this; we are creating the conditions to achieve Transformative Justice from the ground up and from the inside out.
Our work is focused on local advocacy and capacity building through programs to promote the intersections of land, water, and tradition within our community. We work alongside the South Valley Regional Association of Acequias (SVRAA), and many other community partners to protest and educate ourselves and our community about water rights, including transfers that negatively impact our community. We strongly believe in working alongside our community because we are and represent our acequia community.
Over the last several decades, the Valle de Atrisco has seen numerous cultural and economic changes. More than 58,000 people call the South Valley home and 80% of these residents are Hispanic/Chicanos/Latinos. The median household income is $41,810 and an estimated 25% of people in the South Valley live in poverty. Although the South Valley is often referred to as a ‘poor’ community, it is rich in culture, identity, traditions, and resources. From aerial maps, it is easy to recognize that the area is rich in land and water, and it is part of the green belt that runs North to South.
One of the major threats to the Atrisco community is the Santolina Master Plan, which is a proposed development that intends to build 37,000 houses and industrial buildings on 13,850 acres of southwest Mesa. Developers estimate a population of 95,000 people – almost the size of Rio Rancho. In other words, developers propose to build a new city and put additional pressure on our already strained water system. Our organization is proud to be a part of the Contra Santolina Working Group. This group is an alliance of local organizations, neighborhood associations, and community members who understand that water is sacred.