Legislative Committee Includes Acequias in Work Plan

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The Water and Natural Resources Legislative Interim Committee met on Tuesday, June 12 at the State Capitol in Santa Fe.  Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, Senator Phil Griego, Committee Chairman, and Senator Carlos Cisneros all commented that acequias should be part of the committee work plan which defines the agenda items for the committee during the legislative interim. 

Senator Cisneros requested specifically that the issue of water transfers from Taos County to south of Otowi gage be an issue studied by the committee.  Several years ago, he passed a legislative memorial asking the State Engineer to formalize a policy of not allowing transfers from northern New Mexico across Otowi gage, which is the measuring point for determining compact deliveries to Texas.  The State Engineer historically has not allowed transfers from north to south of the gage because such transfers would complicate administration of the Rio Grande Compact.  The gage has acted as a de facto protection of northern New Mexico from demands from the most rapidly urbanizing part of the state in central New Mexico including Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Rio Rancho.  Cisneros asked that the committee study the issues surrounding Otowi gage mentioning that large water right owners in Taos County were considering marketing their water rights out of Taos County to areas south of the gage. 

Cisneros also asked the committee to study the Active Water Management Regulations (AWRM) pointing out that District Court Judge Reynolds had ruled major portions of the regulations unconstitutional.  The AWRM sets forth administrative rules for administering stream systems through priority administration with or without a completed adjudication and allows for “expedited markets,” which allow expedite water transfers by circumventing due process.  The NMAA has opposed the provisions that provide for expedited markets and has raised concerns about the OSE making administrative determinations of water rights.

Senator Griego and Speaker Lujan asked several questions about the status of the Acequia Construction Program of the Interstate Stream Commission.  Lujan asked whether the Irrigation Works Construction Fund would have enough funds to meet the needs of the acequia program over the long term.  Senator Griego asked if there was a way for acequias to receive better services from the program.

State Engineer John D’Antonio and Estevan Lopez presented and responded to questions for nearly four hours.  The highlights of the presentation in relation to acequias were as follows:

  • The OSE has seven priority basis for implementation of AWRM.  In those basins, the OSE has yet to promulgate basin-specific regulations or to complete a water master manual.
  • The OSE received recurring funding to pay for ten (10) new water master positions and intends to appoint them shortly after July. 
  • With regard to compacts, New Mexico has accumulated the maximum number of credits toward the state’s obligations to deliver water to Texas. 
  • The OSE will establish a pre-adjudication bureau in the Middle Rio Grande where they plan to begin issuing licenses for water rights.  It is not clear how the OSE will deal with pre-1907 water rights in the Middle Rio Grande nor how he would proceed to license thousands of surface water rights. 
  • The OSE reported that three major Indian Water Rights Settlements had been signed including the Navajo, Aamodt (Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, and Tesuque), and Taos.  He reported the total cost of the settlements was $1.2 billion. 

The New Mexico Acequia Association in written and oral comments to the committee asked that the following topics be addressed during the interim:

  • An Acequia Perspective on AWRM and Adjudication
  • Implications of Indian Water Rights Settlements for Acequias
  • Water Markets and Water Transfers
  • Acequia-Domestic Water Working Group Recommendations

The next committee meeting in northern New Mexico will be in Taos on August 28th and 29th. 

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