Agua es vida.

Water is life.

Aracely Chapa
Arcie Chapa

In a new documentary film, award-winning film director and manager of Multimedia Services at The University of New Mexico Center for Regional Studies Arcie Chapa examines the lifeblood of northern New Mexico communities in Acequias —The Legacy Lives On. The film, presented by UNM's Center for Regional Studies in partnership with the National Hispanic Cultural Center, will premiere Saturday, Jan. 28, at the NHCC. 

The event will begin with an hors d’oeuvres reception at 6 p.m., followed by the film premiere at 7 p.m., and a panel discussion at 8 p.m.. The event is free. For tickets, register here.

“The story of New Mexico acequias has always been a film I’ve wanted to produce since moving to New Mexico in 1998. I was in awe when I first learned that this historic water distribution system of over 700 acequias was still watering and nourishing New Mexico’s arid landscape,” Chapa said. A native of Chicago, her family is from the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, which also has its own acequia system. “I used to swim in them as a child during the summer.”

Life-giving water sparkles as it runs through the ditches and the New Mexico landscape glows in this beautiful documentary film about the Land of Enchantment’s enduring acequias as seen through the eyes of farmers, advocates, scholars, practitioners, and members of acequia communities. Chapa produced and directed an emotional and reverential tribute to acequias' past, present, and future.

View the trailer.

Chapa has over 30 years’ of experience in broadcast journalism, holding positions as anchor, reporter, news director, and senior producer of documentary films. She was the host and executive producer of the New Mexico PBS weekly public affairs show In Focus, as well as the KUNM Call-In Show. She has won several awards, including the prestigious National Press Club award for investigative environmental reporting and five Emmy awards for documentary filmmaking. A sample of her films includes the trilogy of Emmy-nominated films commemorating UNM’s colorful history and significant anniversary milestones titled Zimmerman@75, UNM@125 and Popejoy@50. 

Chapa noted that acequias are unique to New Mexico. 

“No other state in the country has what we have. We tend to take things for granted that we’ve seen all our lives, but the acequia system should not be one of those things.”

In an arid state where every drop of water is studied and tracked, it has been shown that acequias provide recharge to groundwater systems as water seeps into the earth beneath the flow. For over 400 years, acequias have been in continuous use and remain important to an understanding of New Mexico's history.

With funding from UNM's Center for Regional Studies, the film sets a historical context and unfolds through a series of storylines, including the acequias' current challenges, such as climate change and water rights transfers, their important role in the development of local foodsheds, and the economic opportunity they provide for members of rural communities.

“The New Mexico acequia story is the story of New Mexico’s history. They go hand in hand,” Chapa said. “Some say climate change and development pressures make their extinction inevitable; others believe there’s still time to protect them for future generations. I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who showed me the beauty of the land and spoke so passionately about their dreams for New Mexico acequia communities. It’s safe to say that New Mexico’s beautiful, lush valleys and cultural traditions emerged from the acequias.”

Chapa hopes all people who love our beautiful state will get a chance to see the film.  She plans to screen it at several venues around the state, including the upcoming 2023 Land and Water Summit. Through this film she hopes people will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for New Mexico’s acequias.

Photos by Vladimir Chaloupka