The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 368
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
San Juan Acequia at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Except for brief peri-
ods the Espada Acequia has continuously irrigated the labores formerly
held by Mission Espada. The same had been true for the farmlands of
Mission San Juan Capistrano until the spring of 1958, when a channel
improvement project relocated the bed of the San Antonio River two
hundred feet away from the headgate of the San Juan Acequia. In the
process of straightening, widening, and deepening the river, the site of
the original saca de agua (the historic San Juan Dam) was buried with
excavated dirt and rubble. The new channel was too far away and deep
to supply water to the San Juan headgate by way of gravity-flow irrigation
as had been the practice for more than two hundred years.
A few months after the initiation of the channel improvement project,
the landowners of the old labores began to urge for the restoration of
water from the San Antonio River to their irrigation canal. In June 2001,
with the assistance of local and federal agencies, the ditch headgate was
reopened and water once again moved through the old canal. In the
early years of the struggle, litigation was the principal strategy the irriga-
tors employed. The antagonist was the agency that had sponsored the
channel improvement project, the San Antonio River Authority.
Ultimately the irrigators prevailed, but only after winding their way
through the Texas judicial system to two victories in the Texas Supreme
Court. The legal wrangling ended in 1966 and finally an agreement
between the San Antonio River Authority and the irrigators was reached
in early 1967. Thereafter, efforts to restore a permanent supply of river
water to the San Juan Acequia and the old mission labores resumed
through bureaucratic channels, a process that itself lasted more than
thirty years. At the conclusion of negotiations, collaborative strategies
across the set of actors, who put aside their divisions in favor of preserv-
ing a vital part of San Antonio's colonial agricultural history, prevailed.
The campaign to restore water to the San Juan headgate throws some
light on San Antonio's urban planning history and the history of preserva-
tion in Texas, particularly in terms of how legal records can underscore
the significance of the past in light of often conflicting private and public
interests. Spanish irrigation systems determined the early land and water
use of San Antonio, and ultimately these watercourses shaped the city's
landscape through the present era. The San Juan Acequia is only one of
two operating systems dating from provincial San Antonio. The water
rights appurtenant to the San Juan Acequia are the oldest rights in Texas,
though these rights came close to extinction but for the persistence of the
landowners and the eventual cooperation of key public agencies.
2The San Juan Acequla currently holds the oldest water right in Texas. However, the first
Spanish ditches in the state were constructed on the Rio Grande near present-day El Paso at
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/436/: accessed May 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.