The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Restoring the Oldest Water Right in Texas: The
Mission San Juan Acequia of San Antonio
JosE A. RIVERA*
IN JUNE 2001 THE labores (FARMLANDS) OF MISSION SAN JUAN
Capistrano regained access to irrigation water from the San Antonio
River as had been the practice during the Spanish colonial period of
South Texas. During its early history the mission community at San Juan
Capistrano relied on agricultural products harvested from the labores for
daily sustenance and plans for economic self-sufficiency. Between 1718
and 1731 Franciscan friars founded five missions near the headwaters of
San Pedro Creek and the Rio de San Antonio holding the surrounding
properties as trustees for the indigenous cultures while promoting the
emergence of civil communities of landowners.' The hopes for a perma-
nent Indian Pueblo at Mission San Juan and the other four missions
along the Rio de San Antonio did not materialize as envisioned by the
Spanish crown, but the system of acequia (ditch) irrigation at the mission
properties survived and continued to function for more than a century.
Using Indian labor, the friars had located the ditchgates at key loca-
tions on alternate banks of the Rio de San Antonio to support the chain
of missions over an eight-mile stretch of the river. The secularization of
mission lands by the Mexican government in 1824, coupled with the
urbanization of San Antonio during the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, led to the end of acequia irrigation at all but two of the mis-
sions: the Espada Acequia at Mission San Francisco de la Espada and the
* Jose A Rivera is a professor of public administration at the University of New Mexico,
where he teaches graduate courses in water resources, community planning, and rural develop-
ment. He is the author of Acequza Culture: Water, Land, and Community zn the Southwest
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998). His study of the San Juan Acequia case
would not have been possible without the guidance provided by individuals knowledgeable
about San Antonio history, the missions, the acequias, and contemporary efforts to restore
water to the headgate of the San Juan Ditch: F6lix D. Almariz Jr., Dean Bayer, Waynne Cox,
Jesus F. de la Teja, Thomas F. Glick, James B. Oliver, Fred Pfeiffer, and Rosalind Z. Rock. The
two peer reviewers also contributed to the quality of the final manuscript by providing critique
and substantive recommendations.
' Felix D. Almariz Jr., The San Antonzo Misssons and Thezr System of Land Tenure (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1989), 2-5.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed September 21, 2014.