Environment | National

Al Jazeera: New Mexico tribe maintains farming amid drought





Kewa Pueblo in New Mexico had to give up its traditional irrigation methods in order to continue farming during drought conditions:
Farming is an important tradition for the people of the Santo Domingo tribe, whose lands are located in central New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. While it’s not an economic driver, the food grown here goes to family and friends and often supports the tribe’s cultural events. So rather than risk the complete loss of this important practice, tribal leaders made the tough decision to give up one cultural practice — irrigation in the way their elders did it — to save another tradition, farming.

In doing so, they joined a growing movement in Indian Country by taking a pre-emptive approach to the problem.

With traditional foods and ways of life at stake across Native America, more and more North American tribes are beginning to face the impacts of climate change head on. By developing climate adaptation plans, many tribal leaders are working to predict and adjust to the coming ecological fluctuations, keeping their communities ahead of the climate change curve.

For Santo Domingo tribal officials, the answer to their diminishing surface water supply was an upgrade to their irrigation system. The new pipe-based structure was installed in about 10 percent of the tribe’s fields. The system wasn’t cheap, costing about $250,000, but with some grant money and assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Reclamation, they’ve now successfully completed phase one of this irrigation transition.

The new system allows farmers to do more with less water, especially when compared with their traditional earthen-ditch-based method. A field that used to take more than two days to irrigate can now be properly watered in about four hours. Issues with evaporation have also been significantly mitigated, and farmers lose much less water to downstream flow.

Get the Story:
Drought forces some Native Americans to choose which tradition to save (Al Jazeera 3/20)

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