PILL: Acequia Thinking


Acequias are social-hydrological systems, protocols for communal management of shared irrigation ditches with deep history in the American Southwest. They are pragmatic, adaptive, and human-scaled, requiring the development of seasonal and ecological awareness. “Cathedral thinking” has become a climate meme and metaphor for communal long-termism; in this PILL, I seek to promote acequias and “ACEQUIA THINKING” as a model of regional-scale activism for resiliency against climate change to help spur people into local-level action and community. I will do this by the creation of a meme campaign (3-4 images) to cheekily slip this lexicon into discourse.

And here is a longer-winded version of this post:

Acequias are communally-stewarded water systems, largely for irrigation, present in the former Spanish colonies of the American Southwest (particularly New Mexico). Their histories are related to other arid-climate irrigation systems in the Arab world and Iberian peninsula, and their use focuses on distributing responsibility and collectivizing benefits of proactive care for irrigation ditches that meander across landscapes with shared ownership. However, as documented in various places (including books Mayordomo by Stanley Crawford and Acequia Culture by José A. Rivera), the knowledge bases and culture of maintaining these systems is falling apart with culture change.

As the climate changes, arid climates will proliferate and water resources will become more constrained, and I believe acequias, positioned as materially-embedded protocols for stewardship, should be both championed anew and treated as an opportunity to learn how much communities can benefit when they act, in coordination, within a shared moral fabric. (Thankfully, there is some evidence of this happening already!)

I have done lots of initial research into this topic: I have written about acequias previously in my newsletter, and again on acequias as a way of thinking about communal stewardship of a scarce resource. However, I would also like to use this as an opportunity to reach out to the Acequia Governance Project to understand better the current state of acequia management.

My PILL proposal is to create some graphics (some straightly informative, some as meme campaign) to promulgate the idea of the acequia as a metaphor for this form of stewardship. Just as we have seen “cathedral thinking” as a metaphor to promote long-termism in the climate movement, I believe “acequia thinking” will promote a sense of stewardship.

The output of this grant will serve as easy-to-distribute images to renew curiosity and stoke potential in acequias against their current state of decay, supporting the second “Problem Area” of the RFP. (Battling ossification and seeking to renew this form of protocol).

As I initially imagine this, it takes the form of 1 infographic about acequias, and 3 funny/cheeky memes to garner quicker attention.

Thanks! I am curious if people think this could work as a short story as well. I have previously written some short speculative-future climate change fiction via the CCFP project, so this format feels approachable to me too.


most people live in cities and most memes are shared by city people. what do you think will be salient for them (if you choose memes as a format)?

Good question; it is of course less about the acequias and more about what they embody. Just as people can connect with “cathedral thinking” even if they don’t live near a cathedral.

People in cities have lots of ways to do environmental stewardship, things like reducing environmental toxins, watershed stewardship, trash reduction & clean-up, air quality enforcement, community compost…


Can’t open these 2 links (404). :raised_hands: :sweat_drops:

Oh man! Thanks for pointing that out! Fixing them ~ …