Exploring matters on landscape design, practice, and traditions in the contemporary world.


The Alakoko Fishpond lies at a large bend in the Hule‘ia River, from which it is separated by a 2700’ narrow land bridge, built of stone and backfilled with the ponds dredge. The design of the wall, how it’s sited in the topography and the features of its constructions, ingeniously capture fluctuations in the rivers level through a sluice gate system ​(makaha) that allows small fish to enter but prevents larger ones from leaving, acting as a natural estuary in the brackish waters near the river mouth.  

Said to have been built by Menehune, suggesting that it was built during the earliest period of Hawaiian settlement, it had long since fallen derelict until very recently. Mālama Hulē’ia a non-profit committed to restoring the traditional system, took it on themselves over the course of years to clear 40 acres of invasive red mangrove that had gradually devoured the pond. With the pond not clear, recently they hosted a workday calling for the help of all (Pohaku) stone builders near and far to rebuild the wall.

The turnout was extrodinary  

An assessment of vessel traffic patterns in the Hawaiian Islands — March 1 - 10, 2022; 12:00pm time stamp

Each day, Freight vessels (red), Commercial bottomfishing vessels (grey), and Oil tankers (black), arrive to commercial goods harbors in Honolulu, O’ahu. Cargo is then transported by tug and barge (green) to the outer islands of Kaua’i, Maui, Moloka’i, Lānaʻi, and Hawai’i.  

In Hawaii, local agricultural production contributes merely 13% to the total consumable food supply. The predominant share of Hawaii's food requirements, accounting for 81%, is imported from the continental United States. An additional 6% is sourced from international markets. As for the distribution of locally produced food, 14% finds its way to the continental United States.

Observations of water
2020 Taos Land Trust Design Research Fellow

At the most southern edge of San Luis Valley, just over the border into New Mexico, Daniel Mutchison, monitors his land and his crops according to the Costilla community acequia water schedule. Here he grows wheat and snap peas. Twice a day he floods his fields. Barley, alfalfa, clover, and other cattle fodders make up the majority share of the neighboring farms around his. Twice daily the neighbors flood their fields too. The association ditch, paralleling the property line from north to south and poured in concrete, delivers millions of gallons of snow melt daily to Daniel’s crops and the crops of the other ‘parciantes’ or shareholders of the acequia community.

I came to know Daniel and work on his farm in the Summer of 2020, as a design research fellow for The Taos Land Trust. That summer I gained insight from Daniel into the art of disassembling and reasssembling a WWII era tractor plough, the economics of farming in a region without processing facilities, and/but pimarily about how someone in Daniels position, not local, has learned to work in accordance with the community-managed water law of the local acequia system. 

The association ditch, the channel Daniel relies on, is one of a dozen other sangrias delivering water to farmers fields. The parciantes are responsible for the maintenance of the ditch system through a cooperative labor union known as a "limpieza”.

To describe this sun kissed fiery place, only a few lone cottonwoods stand to provide any sense of scale for the epic nature of the dusty landscape. Formed by eruptions, the long unbroken valley floor is interrupted only by the carcasses of bygone volcanoes and irrigated fields like Daniel’s. For centuries, only small mostly Spanish farming communities have existed here, dependent on the water their acequias provide for any chance at life.

This is an acequia system, a community-managed network of irrigation channels, designed to . The Costilla Creek diversion, featuring a system of dams and headgates known as ‘presas y compuertas’, directs the flow of Costilla Creek into two main Acequia Madres, or ‘Mother Ditches.’ Gravity carries water through the system before it’s eventually distributed into smaller, secondary canals, or sangrias. These lateral ditches, branching off perpendicularly from the main channels, ensure water reaches individual fields and parcels. Like fingers, these ditches spread out over the desert, causing the landscape to bloom wherever they touch.

Managed for centuries, they work in harmony with natural water cycle. They create beauty and habitat in the landscape where otherwise only sagebrush dominates.

To learn more about acequias and the communities that care for them, I highly recommend reading: Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico by Stanley Crawford