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Acequias and the Hydraulic Genius of Shari’ah Law

You may not have heard the term “acequia,” but it describes one of oldest, most common-sense systems of irrigation on the planet. The basic idea is to use, and share, a river’s natural patterns rather than rely on the predominant American system—namely, trap it, pipe it, and race to be the first to use it. Our writer tours the globe to track down the acequia’s history, and its leading practitioners.

Story and photography by ROBERTO LOVATO

Listen to “The Hydraulic Genius of Shari’ah Law”

You’ve probably never heard the term “acequia,” but it describes one of the oldest methods of irrigation on the planet. Too bad American ranchers have largely ignored it.

The Multi-Layered History of Acequias in the West

Acequias arrived with the legendary (or infamous, depending on one’s perspective) expeditions to New Mexico and Colorado led by the best-known conquistadors: Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, Juan de Oñate, and Diego de Vargas—all native-born Spaniards. Less commonly known is the fact that these conquistadors who brought acequias to the southwestern U.S. region were most often…

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