The San Juan and Espada acequias : two historic cultural landscapes preserved, restored and adapted as contemporary urban agriculture




Alvarado, Daniel Joseph

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This report assesses the historic, current and future conditions two Spanish Colonial irrigation systems in San Antonio, Texas known as the San Juan and Espada acequias, respectively. The two acequias are the only functional remnants of what was once a city-wide system which supported thousands of early San Antonians. Today, the two acequias are managed separately, each in a way that reflects their complicated history and institutional structure. This report relates in detail those histories and parses out the complex institutional structures in the context of the rapid urban growth of San Antonio and wider challenges such as climate change and groundwater depletion. It demonstrates that the acequias democratic, derecho-based water and land allocation structure is a valuable institutional model for resilient resource management regimes, however their continued existence will require significant adaptation to contemporary legal, political and ecological realities. With this in mind, this report seeks to identify theoretical frameworks with which the acequias could be restored and adapted for these contemporary realities as urban agriculture system while maintaining aspects of their traditional water and land allocation structures. It identifies the acequias as social-ecological systems (SES) that could be incorporated into a broader ecosystem services valuation of the San Antonio River watershed. It argues that the National Park Service (NPS), a major stakeholder in the acequias, should adapt its definition of Cultural Landscapes to better support working lands within their purview. Finally, it identifies the development status of the 1,750 acres of land (broken down by parcels) potentially irrigatable by the acequias and quantifies the potential yield of those parcels as supporting 38,356 people’s recommended vegetable consumption per year.


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