This April, as the communal irrigation ditches known as acequias run with spring melt and farmers carve new furrows into their fields, many northern New Mexico villages will celebrate their annual homecoming. This is the time of the limpia –– the cleaning of the acequia, when water-rights holders and their families gather to haul rocks, dig mud and clear brush, honoring a tradition so old that its followers can only guess at its roots. In some villages, the tradition has died out as young people move to cities in search of employment and the elderly pass on. But in El Cerrito, a small agrarian community on the Pecos River 60 miles southeast of Santa Fe, more people come home to attend the limpia every year.
El Cerrito has been photographer Sharon Stewart’s creative ground for two decades. Now based in Chacon, N.M., Stewart grew up among canals and pump houses in southern Texas. Her great-grandfather was a photographer, and her father a water district attorney. She earned a degree in economics at the University of Texas, and after an uninspired fling with business school, helped found the Houston Center for Photography. Her work has been featured in galleries across the United States and in Europe. To read more about the Acequia tradition in the high country news, click here!