The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 375
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Restoring the Oldest Water Right in Texas
By the late 1950s, ongoing work of the San Antonio channel improve-
ment project had reached the vicinity of San Juan Dam where the San
Juan Acequia drew its irrigation water directly from the San Antonio
River. The saca de agua for the ditch had been located in the 173os by
the Franciscan friars at a horseshoe bend of the river to elevate water in
the channel and divert it to the acequia headgate. Unlike other Spanish
dams that often straddled the width of a stream, this particular diver-
sionary structure operated more like a weir, partitioning some of the
flow in the river away from its normal channel, and once in the earthen
main canal (acequia madre) pushing the water by gravity flow approxi-
mately two and a half miles before dividing into two smaller lateral
ditches, the Acequia de Afuera (Outside Ditch) and the Acequia en
Medio (Middle Ditch).16
To partition the water effectively, San Juan Dam was unusually long
and had been constructed alongside the west bank of the river jutting
out into the stream and directing the flow toward the ditch. The struc-
ture was approximately three feet thick and three feet high and extend-
ed for about three hundred feet on a north-south orientation.'7 Except
for occasional repairs, San Juan Dam had served its purpose for more
than two hundred years as a critical feature of the gravity-flow system of
irrigation. In March 1958, however, the San Antonio River Authority
(SARA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers relocated the
bed of the river approximately two hundred feet to the west in an
attempt to straighten the bend of the old river channel precisely where
the dam for the San Juan Acequia divided the water. At the same time,
project engineers had also widened and lowered the river ten feet below
the original channel, cutting off the normal water supply to the old dam
and leaving the "ancient dam . .. high and dry."'8 This new channel ren-
dered the old dam useless and unable to provide gravity flow water from
the river to the ditch headgate. Army Corps of Engineers bulldozer
operators, moreover, had placed some of the excavated dirt from the
Texas at San Antomo, Survey Report no. 179 (1989), 2-3. Also see Rosalind Z Rock, "Mission San
Juan Capistrano, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. A Case Study," paper presented at
the seminar "The Culture of Water: History and Historic Preservation" sponsored by the Institute
for Medieval History at Boston University, Apr 8-9, 2ooo; copy on file with Rosalind Z. Rock at the
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (cited hereafter as SAMNHP) Rock notes that for a
period of time, starting m the 188os, Celestine Villemam, landowner of the labores at Mission San
Juan, managed the acequia until the founding of the San Juan Ditch Company in 1900oo.
"'James B Oliver, "San Juan Acequia Study" (1992), 2 (SAMNHP).
" Hafernik, et al., "Archaeological Investigation of the San Juan Dam," 2-3.
" "Flood Control vs. Irrigation. Old Dam Lacks Water," San Antonzo Light, Feb. 15, 1959. This
news article was written almost a year later to review the effects of the relocation and the contro-
versy that ensued. A photograph of the remains of the old dam is included with the caption:
"Flood Control Program Left This Old Spanish Dam High and Dry"; photocopy m Water-San
Antonio Acequias folder (DRT Library at the Alamo, San Antonio).
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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/m1/443/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.