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Mr. BEN RAY LUJÁN of New Mexico. 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 it is governed by a small board made up of private landowners.
The board of private landowners, 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 infrastructure residing on private land. Because of 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're 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 Resources 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 acequia 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 community ditch associations, which are comprised solely of private landowners, do not have the authority to impose taxes or levees, and are in need of this clarifying language.
Mr. Chairman, these programs are put together State by State and funded State by State, and it's my hope that through the work with the committee staff--and, Mr. Chairman, I really want to thank the minority staff and the majority staff because they really 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.
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