The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 369
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Restoring the Oldest Water Right in Texas
Another important aspect of this course of history is the fact that the
San Juan Acequia has functioned as an irrigation canal under the laws of
Spain, Mexico, and the United States. The struggle to return access of
San Antonio River water to the headgate of Acequia San Juan required
the judicial system of Texas to review and ultimately to validate grants of
the former sovereigns. In the end, the dispute over local property rights
turned into a broader public policy discourse as the San Antonio River
Authority and the National Park Service negotiated with the irrigators to
restore and preserve the old San Juan Acequia as an important element
of San Antonio's colonial past and Hispanic heritage.
To irrigate lands of the B6xar garrison, presidial soldiers and Indian
laborers constructed the first acequias in San Antonio during the 172os. A
short time thereafter other irrigation systems were built to accommodate
civilians who had been recruited to settle lands in the San Antonio valley
once the fort and the earliest missions were established. The fields sur-
rounding the municipality of San Fernando de B6xar were divided into
parcels of land (suertes) assigned to these early settlers by drawing lots.
This compact arrangement of blocked parcels and the arid environment
virtually required a communal system of irrigation. To receive land grants,
settlers would have to help clear the land, contribute labor, and share
expenses toward the opening and maintenance of the town's ditches."
Of the seven major irrigation systems constructed during San
Antonio's Spanish period, two were built for civilian use of the munici-
pality: the San Pedro Ditch and the Upper Labor Ditch. Five additional
systems were constructed for the benefit of the Franciscan missions along
the river: the ditches for San Antonio de Valero, Nuestra Sefiora de la
Purisima Concepci6n de Acufia, San Jos6 y San Miguel de Aguayo, San
Juan Capistrano, and San Francisco de la Espada. The five mission com-
munities operated into the nineteenth century until the missions were
fully secularized by the Mexican government in 1824. By that time the
mission labores had been subdivided and granted to settlers, who agreed
to maintain their individual parcels under agricultural uses as before.
With regard to Mission San Juan Capistrano, the competition for
grants of land at this downstream mission was intense due to the extent
Ysleta following the Pueblo Revolt of 168o when the Spanish retreated from Santa Fe and other
parts of New Mexico There, Franciscan friars used Pueblo Indian labor to build irrigation sys-
tems and raise crops on about three thousand acres. Unlike the San Juan and Espada Acequias
of San Antonio, the Ysleta ditches were replaced with more complex irrigation works construct-
ed in the early twentieth century as part of a federal reclamation project on the Rio Grande. See
Betty Eakle Dobkins, The Spanish Element in Texas Water Law (Austin: University of Texas Press,
1959), 104; Arthur R Gomez, Espada Dam: A Preliminary Hzstorical Report (San Antonio: San
Antonmo Missions National Historical Park, 1990), 2.
"Jesis F. de la Teja, San Antonio de Bixar: A Community on New Spain's Northern Frontier
(Albuquerque- University of New Mexico Press, 1995), 75-76, 81, 87, 96.
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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/m1/437/: accessed January 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.