May 15 is the feast day of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers. Yesterday, in Agua Fría, a small town just down the road from Santa Fe, we joined friends as the community celebrated this feast day and performed a blessing of the Santa Fe River.
We gathered in front of the old church for vespers, and then we were each given handfuls of flowers to carry on the procession. We walked down the middle of the street singing the Alabado de San Isidro (processional hymn) behind a large banner of San Isidro. The priest blessed the River, and because there was no water flowing, someone filled buckets from upstream to pour into the river bed. We threw flowers into the channel as we sang.
I had been looking forward to the blessing, but I was surprised by how moving it was. I was toward the front of the procession, and it was such a beautiful experience to arrive at the river and turn around and see the street filled with community members playing guitars, singing and carrying flowers. I was thankful to feel so welcomed in this tradition.
The natural springs have dried up and the River no longer runs regularly through this small community although it once supported a pueblo with more than 500 rooms, a bosqué with cottonwoods and small ponds and irrigated fields of corn, alfalfa and wheat fed by a system of acequias. Water is a precious resource in New Mexico, and its presence has significant cultural, social and economic impact on human activity and settlements. The residents of Agua Fría settled here, like all settlements in the arid Southwest, because of the water - auga del vida, the lifeblood of the community.
I have had the joy of working closely with the people of Agua Fría to restore the River in this community. My favorite part of my job is working with people, working for people to implement projects that will benefit the community, building consensus, fostering connections, building relationships. The people of Agua Fría are a strong people who have endured the theft of their water by the utility company and threats from the encroaching city. I have found them to be sharp and discerning the way downstream users need to be. They are dedicated to their community's history and traditions. Their families have lived here for generations. They are deeply connected to their land. They have a generosity of spirit that is infectious. They are an inspiring people.
The Santa Fe River has been impounded in the upper watershed for decades to use as drinking water. I can't even tell you how sad it makes me to know that most people in Santa Fe don't know where their drinking water comes from. Most people in the City don't even know that we have a Santa Fe River. Santa Fe has turned its back on the River, a resource that allowed humans to settle here in the first place. We've lost so much by abandoning our River. It has become a dry arroyo, a dumping ground, a flood control system.
Luckily this is changing. The city, county, non-profits and dedicated community groups are working hard to restore the river. The City passed a Living River ordinance to allow up to 1,000 acre feet of water per year to flow through the River for the sole purpose of fostering a Living River. Restoration work has been successfully funded through bonds approved by voters. The tide is shifting.
One of my dreams for Santa Fe is to see the River restored. Trash removed from the eroded, incised channel. A meandering river bed. A healthy riparian environment. A greenway of parks and trails. Water flowing at least part of the year. It will never have the significant agricultural role that it once did, but reviving its role as a a focal point of the community will be a great achievement and asset for Santa Fe.
|Looking upstream from San Ysidro Crossing.|