A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Peñasco Students Honor Our Elders By Mark Schiller
The Bison Roam Again at Picuris Pueblo By Kay Matthews
Editorial By Kay Matthews
By Kay Matthews and Mark Schiller
A recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge E.L. Mechem on the Aamodt water suit has once again brought the longstanding controversy over water use in the Pojoaque Valley to the front page. The decision states that the involved Pueblos - Pojoaque, Nambe, Tesuque, and San Ildefonso - are limited to their domestic water use that was established between 1846 (the year the United States seized control of New Mexico) and 1924 (the year of the Pueblo Lands Act which sought to resolve disputes over Pueblo land and water rights).
The more than 30-year old Aamodt case is one of the longest in federal court history. The suit, filed by the New Mexico State Engineer, seeks to force the federal courts to decide how to allocate water among Pueblos and non-Indians in the Pojoaque Valley. In a previous district court decision in 1985, Mechem limited the pueblos' stream water rights to the acreage irrigated between these same two dates. Since August of 2000 the parties to the suit have been in mediation with an Arizona state court judge to try to reach a settlement. Despite Mechem's ruling, settlement hearings continue.
Mechem's decision, if upheld, might seriously impact pueblo development plans, such as the 36-hole golf course at Pojoaque Pueblo or the casinos at Pojoaque and Tesuque. The decision would also impact current domestic water use at all the pueblos because, as San Ildefonso Pueblo attorney Peter Chestnut has pointed out, "1924 was a time not only when the population was smaller but things like indoor plumbing hadn't come to the pueblos." He told La Jicarita that the pueblos feel a negotiated settlement is going to be better for all parties rather than going back to court for a quantification of rights.
In the wake of the decision, Senator Pete Domenici met with both the pueblos and the Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District (PVID) and claims there is consensus for a regional water delivery system, which could potentially supply all domestic water needs within the valley. However, at the February 22 Pojoaque Regional Water Planning meeting valley residents and representatives of the PVID made it abundantly clear that what they want is a waste treatment system, not a water delivery system. They pointed out that while some existing wells have a contamination problem, a water delivery system would benefit new uses at the expense of existing water rights. David Ortiz, president of the PVID, told La Jicarita he suspects that Domenici is being pressured by the city and county of Santa Fe to push the water delivery system so that the plumbing is in place to eventually send water to Santa Fe. Orlando Romero, board member of the PVID, said that it would be "political suicide" for Domenici to promote a water delivery system rather than a waste treatment system. Others at the meeting raised the same concerns and pointed out that the San Juan/Chama water that Santa Fe is looking to divert to solve its future water needs is limited and is "not really going to save them. We're not going to negotiate one drop of water."
The city and county of Santa Fe are currently exploring the feasibility of an infiltration gallery on San Ildefonso land that would divert water from the Rio Grande alluvium to the Buckman well fields via a pipeline. Romero pointed out that this project is fraught with problems, including the difficulty of "dealing with the quasi-sovereign status of the pueblos" and the fact that it has not been determined if water from such a diversion is ground or surface water (this issue is currently being debated in the Top of the World water transfer protest hearing before the Office of the State Engineer).
People at the regional water planning meeting also discussed the issue of whether a water delivery system would facilitate and encourage unwanted growth in the valley. Ortiz pointed out that a water system can serve more people at a higher density. In a conversation with La Jicarita Romero added that Nambe is already suffering from developers exploiting the family subdivision provisions which allow three-quarter acre lot splits. He talked about a twelve-acre lot of formerly irrigated land which is being subdivided into three-quarter acre plots. "I'd like to know where the acequia rights from this land are going, and if they're being sold or leased why aren't the local people being given the opportunity to acquire them?" Acequia water that is lost to the community depletes ground water recharge, so that the water table drops and wells go dry. As someone at the meeting pointed out, "It's all the same water."
"People in the valley are not going to give up their wells," Romero insisted. A well is entitled to pump three-acre feet per year, whereas the State Engineer has been inconsistent in determining what amount of water a community is entitled to use per household when it commits its well water to a mutual domestic association. Moreover, this water can only be used for indoor, household domestic purposes while a well can be used to water livestock and irrigate. The twelve mutual domestics in the Taos area are currently involved in a adjudication lawsuit with the State Engineer to determine the amount of water they are allowed to pump (see side bar on page 5).
Both Ortiz and Romero believe that the State Engineer should file suit on behalf of the state if the pueblos are using water rights that they may not own to facilitate development. The State Engineer has taken the position that its direction must come from the courts because it lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate Indian water rights. Ortiz says he's heard that 37,000 acre feet of water is needed by the four pueblos for their planned developments: "With the ruling from Mechem I hope that the State Engineer will now make the effort to control this expansion or that the pueblos will acquire the necessary water rights."
Peter Chestnut responded that this figure of 37,000 acre feet is well above what the pueblos currently claim is necessary to meet future needs. According to Chestnut, the pueblos would like to see a regional water delivery system within the Pojoaque Valley and support Domenici's efforts to acquire funding for a feasibility study. In response to the concerns expressed by PVID members that a water delivery system would jeopardize their existing ground water rights, Chestnut minimized their concerns: "State law says that the determination of ground water rights is based on beneficial use, and most people don't use anywhere near 3 acre feet. It's closer to a quarter to half-acre foot, so they wouldn't in fact be losing any water." Chestnut acknowledged, however, that because these rights have not been adjudicated, there is no accurate measurement of use.
While the people at the regional water planning meeting were obviously concerned about the burgeoning growth at Pojoaque Pueblo and the attendant water demands, they emphasized that the relationship between valley residents and the pueblo is critical, and are fearful that it is being eroded beyond repair because of these water issues. They also acknowledged that it is developers like those in Las Campanas who are responsible for the even greater threats of poorly planned and thirsty growth that affect the entire county. They fear that rural communities and their water will be sacrificed to urban interests that are unable or unwilling to control this kind of growth and demand for water. As one person at the meeting bluntly put it, "Use of precious water for golf courses is a sin."
While possible solutions were also discussed - tax incentives for preservation of agricultural lands, land trusts, transfer of development rights, water conservation, regional water planning, and water banking to protect water locally - the frustration and fear for the future were palpable.
Taos Valley Mutual Domestics Adjudication Suit
As part of the adjudication of Taos Valley water rights, which has been ongoing since the late 1960s, the 12 area mutual domestic water consumer associations (MDWCA) will begin a hearing April 16 to define the criteria by which their domestic water rights will be quantified. According to a fact sheet put together by Taos attorney Mary Humphrey, who is representing the associations, "Through the years, the State Engineer's Office (SEO) never adopted any standards or guidelines for quantifying the perfected rights [of mutual domestic water associations]. The consequence is that many systems' rights [have been] greatly under-quantified."
Since 1956, when the SEO first allowed 3-acre feet for each well or family use from a ditch, river, or spring, the SEO has continually diminished the amount of water allocated per person per day. In the case of the upper Des Montes MDWCA the SEO has reduced the allocation to 60 gallons per person per day if the allocation is a transfer from a domestic well. Transfers from surface water rights allocate only 15 gallons per person per day. This formula has resulted in gross inequities, such as the case in the village of La Madera, where an entire water system, consisting of 58 people, was allocated only 2.18 acre feet per year
Moreover, the SEO does not apply this formula consistently throughout the state. "Some associations have been given a right based on the pumping capacity of their system," says Humphrey. "Some systems have also been given return flow credits, thus ratcheting their original consumptive use into a much higher diversion rate. Some systems have managed to get their initial quantities upped by contacting the SEO. Other systems have been penalized for the same thing. There is no rhyme, reason, or consistency in which associations' water rights are quantified."
By Kay Matthews
In last month's issue of La Jicarita I talked about the workshop on conservation easements that I attended at the New Mexico Organic Farming and Gardening Expo held in February.The other session I attended was a debate on the genetic engineering of seeds. And when I say debate I'm being generous: emotions ran high in the packed room as audience members quickly took over the discussion. There is no middle ground on this highly controversial topic. The genetic manipulation of seeds is seen as either a technological wonder that will feed the world or as an ecological disaster leading us down a poisoned path toward the complete corporatization of agriculture.
One of the invited panelists, a scientist from Los Alamos, described the thinking behind the development of Starlink, a bacterial gene transferred into corn so the toxin can go after the gut wall of two types of insects. Her defense of this transgenic process is that scientists can then achieve a specificity that they can't get using pesticides, which pollute the soil and water. She also claimed that the genetically manipulated corn can be buffered from organically grown corn to protect seed diversity.
That comment immediately elicited a reaction from other panelists and audience members who argued that these transgenic seeds are not being separated from other seed stock, as proven in the recent recall of products mistakenly using Starlink feed corn, and that the whole transgenic process is being forced on the consumer by corporations like Monsanto without any understanding of its long-term effects. This brought up a discussion of why consumers in the United States are not emulating their European counterparts who have staged huge demonstrations against the transgenic process and have at least forced companies to label all genetically altered products so that the consumer can choose not to buy them.
But the most impassioned argument presented against transgenic seeds is that in reality it furthers the economic stranglehold corporations have on third world countries. The panel moderator used "golden rice" as an example.Vitamin A is implanted into this rice to "save" the third world from starvation and distributed by a huge corporation that has been exempted from bureaucratic regulations. But instead of "saving" the world it increases corporate dependency, breaks down biodiversity, and does nothing to address the real needs of these countries: sustainable regional economies, soil development, and diversity of crops. Essentially, it only furthers economic inequity, the fallacy of the "Green Revolution", and the industrialization of agriculture: In other words, globalization at its worst.
Spring brings the promise of several restoration projects for the Pecos River Watershed Alliance. The alliance, based in the San Miguel-Villanueva Pecos River valley, seeks to protect its agricultural and riparian lands through restoration and appropriate economic development that maintains traditional livelihoods.
A recent grant from Tree, New Mexico has spawned a tree-planting project at Villanueva State Park. During the last two weeks of April - Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays - the alliance will be planting desert willows and New Mexico olives with the students from Valley Elementary and Middle School at the state park to help restore wetlands habitat. The San Miguel Senior Center will also help, and the state park will have interpretive rangers on hand to provide information. Everyone is welcome to participant in the project. For more information volunteers can call 421-2998.
A second project, in collaboration with the Quivira Coalition, will be an on-the-ground assessment of four valley ranches which hope to eventually create a grassbank for area ranchers to utilize when they need to rest their own allotments. The Horse Thief Mesa ranches, which have been owned by local families for hundreds of years, are contiguous and comprise about 23,000 acres. The other two ranches, which have been resold and whose owners have been in the area for about 12 years, are located on what is called the Western Mesa, or the tail end of Rowe Mesa. All of the ranchers are interested in making their lands more productive and ensuring that their ranches remain intact.
A third project, in conjunction with the Sierra Club, is a dryland habitat restoration, which will involve planting in dry arroyos with appropriate native species. This will take place on April 21 from 9 am to 4 pm on Horse Thief Mesa and everyone is welcome to participate. For more information you may call Marcia Diane at 421-2998.
The Pecos River Watershed Alliance meets the first Saturday of every month at 10 am at the San Miguel Senior Center. Everyone is invited to attend. The Partners Land Trust serves as the nonprofit umbrella for the alliance. For more information about any of these projects or the alliance or land trust call Marcia Diane at 421-2998.
As we go to press, Governor Johnson has not taken any action on the New Mexican Acequia Association-sponsored legislation that made it through the 2001 legislature. This includes:
The Otowi Gage Memorial. This memorial is an endorsement of the ongoing policy of the State Engineer to prohibit water transfers across Otowi Gage, located near Pojoaque. The policy serves as a protection for northern New Mexico water rights from demands south of the gage.
The Notice of Water Transfer Applications Bill. This bill requires that applicants seeking to transfer water rights must provide written notice to water managing political subdivisions (including acequia commissioners) in the "move from" and "move to" locations of the proposed transfer. As it stands now, notice need only be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the steam system of the "move from" area.
The Forfeiture Exemption Bill. This bill amends the state statute to protect acequia-owned water rights from forfeiture, making acequia powers more consistent with those of irrigation districts.
Several other important bills passed largely through the efforts of the folks at the Santa Cruz Irrigation District and the Taos Valley Acequia Association. One of the bills stipulates that acequias in irrigation districts are classified as political subdivisions of the state and therefore qualify for New Mexico State Engineer Grants that help pay for acequia rehabilitation projects. The $600,000 appropriation for the Acequia and Community Ditch Fund helps acequia associations pay for their legal defense in water right adjudication suits.
La Jicarita News will take a month off and publish a May/June issue at the end of May. Look for it at the usual locations, and if you would like to subscribe, please send $5 to:
La Jicarita News
Box 6 El Valle Route
Chamisal, NM 87521
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.