Eric P asked a question on my moving water post that sent me back into the history books:
I also wonder, out loud, whether the Mormons did some observing of their Hispanic neighbors to figure out the irrigation system in Utah, which was like the acequia system. Hmm…
To refresh memory, the first waves of Mormon settlers arrived in Utah in 1847 with little knowledge of irrigation practices, having come from a wet place. But they quickly established a very successful community-based irrigation culture. In fact, according to Donald Worster’s excellent biography of John Wesley Powell, the early Mormons did exactly what Eric surmised:
Before abandoning their earlier home in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Saints went on trade missions to Santa Fe where they observed the irrigation practices of the Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley. The basic principle in those towns was that water must be shared for the common good, not made the exclusive property or right of any individual. Beyond picking up that cooperative principle, Mormons borrowed the time-tested methods of building community ditches, or acequias, brought from Spain to the New World and merged with native American techniques.
John – really interesting post and follow-up. In some ways, it’s rather unfortunate that the opposite wasn’t true too, as I think one of the aspects that kept Mormon irrigation works in good shape was tithing and the funds used for infrastructure. There are dues for the acequias/ditches here in NM, but I think I had read somewhere that the Mormons had actually levied a steep tax for maintaining these.