Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico's Third District spoke on the House floor today on an amendment he offered to support Acequia and Community Ditch Associations in New Mexico. The amendment to the Farm Bill enables Community Ditch Associations to apply for federal funds within the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). The amendment was adopted by voice vote. Below are Luján's remarks on the floor.
"Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. For many years, local farmers in New Mexico have been asking for an amendment that would allow local Acequia and Community Ditch Associations to access EQIP funds. An acequia is a centuries old irrigation structure that is still in use today in primarily Hispanic communities across New Mexico, and is governed by a small board made up of private land owners.
"The board of private land owners, also called the Acequia and Community Ditch Association, is in charge of administering maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure, which often requires work on sections of the infrastructure residing on private land. Because of the current EQIP rules, individual producers can apply for assistance under the program but are not allowed to include the Community Ditch Association to help with the work, even though the Community Ditch Association is charged with maintaining the infrastructure for all water users.
"Mr. Chairman, you can see the dilemma that we are facing in New Mexico. This translates into burdensome roadblocks to improve conservation practices or manage scarce water resources.
"Mr. Chairman, in New Mexico we are seeing one of the worst droughts in our history and improving water use and conservation practices are key to keeping our agricultural communities alive.
"The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), charged with administering the EQIP program, has indicated this language in my amendment would create the administrative efficiency needed when working with small producers in New Mexico who irrigate their crops via acequias and community ditches.
"This amendment does not open up the program to large irrigation districts or government entities, but simply affords local Hispanic farmers in rural New Mexico equal eligibility to compete for funding. Acequia and Community Ditch Associations, which are comprised solely of private land owners, do not have the authority to impose taxes or levies, and are in need of this clarifying language.
"Mr. Chairman, these programs are put together state-by-state and are funded state-by-state. It is my hope that through the work with the committee staff -- and Mr. Chairman, the minority staff and the majority staff, I really want to thank them, because they took the time with my team to take a look at this, and I think everyone understands the need, although there still may be some questions. And so with that, Mr. Chairman, I will yield."