Hello, Radio Readers! We’re talking about John Nichols’ Milagro Beanfield War as the first book in our 2017 Spring Read, Water and Replenishment. Set in New Mexico, the novel explores the conflict between communities of haves and of have nots, who, in this story, are divided by access to water and water use. On one side, are those who want a dam to create a lake for fishing and boating and to stimulate a business economy; on the other side are subsistence farmers who need water for irrigation.
You all may already know this, but I had to do some Googling through various sources, so bear with me here. First of all, I hadn’t known that irrigation in New Mexico dates back to the days of Pueblo Indian farming, which makes irrigation an ancient custom, right? It’s just that traditional Hispano irrigation depended on river-fed ditches. Farmers used shovels to divert water from one ditch to another and from ditches to fields. Beginning in the early twentieth century, many New Mexicans advocated for engineered solutions for irrigation, specifically large concrete dams and levees and canals. While such water management systems are more efficient, they’re also quite expensive to construct and maintain. Conservancy, or taxing districts, were developed. Historically, in New Mexico, many subsistence farmers, unable to afford the taxes, lost land owned by their families for generations or forfeited their rights to water access.