A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Editorial: Aamodt Continues to Raise Questions By Kay Matthews
Editor's Note: Michael Wolfson recently retired as a senior executive with Statistics Canada, the Canadian government's official statistical agency. For many years he was responsible for the government's health statistics program and conducted research on Canadians' health and health care. "Medically necessary" health care in Canada provided by doctors and hospitals has been free to Canadians since the 1970s.
La Jicarita News: There is so much misinformation in this country regarding what the Canadian plan really is, so to begin could you give us a general overview of what the plan entails.
Michael Wolfson: Canada does have universal health insurance. We don't have to pay a penny for things that are covered, which includes doctors, hospitals, emergency rooms, and some drugs. One of the things I and other Canadians find astonishing is why there isn't much more political action in the United States to ask for universal coverage. The only reason I can think of is that people in the United States just don't know what they're missing. They don't realize that you can have a society where you don't have to worry about how you're going to pay for your health care. There are some parts of the Canadian system that aren't perfect, but we have longer life expectancy and we pay about a third less for our health care than here in the U.S..
LJN: How does Canada pay for health care?
MW: According to the Canadian Constitution health care is a provincial jurisdiction. So it may be easiest to think of each province as an HMO; it's a single system in which the province pays the doctors, the hospitals, for drugs for those over 65, and drugs administered in hospitals. If you're under 65 and you need a prescription drug outside the hospital then you do have to pay, and dentists also are not covered by public health insurance. The provincial governments raise the needed money from income taxes, sales taxes, corporate income taxes, etc., just like any other government raises money from general tax revenues.
LJN: Does the plan differ from province to province?
MW: On the margins there are some differences. For example, for chemotherapy and some other treatments, some provinces may put a certain drug on the provincial formulary, which means it's paid for, where other provinces may not. Pharmaceutical companies do try to pressure provinces into approving all their drugs for funding. There's been some innovative work in British Columbia with what they call reference based pricing. Pharmaceutical costs are rising faster than doctor and hospital costs because of the continuing flow of new drugs. Unfortunately, some new drugs have a new name and a new patent, but they are not better than a pre-existing drug, and if it has come off patent, is a lot cheaper. So what the provincial drug formularies can say, if you need a drug for depression or stomach upset, these are the drugs we can pay for and we'll only pay up to a certain amount. There is an incentive, then, to prescribe drugs that are on the formulary instead of prescribing something new and more expensive that the pharmaceutical companies have hyped as better. If the evidence from clinical trials and epidemiological studies say there's no significant difference, the province has the clout to say we're not going to fund that. One important result is that the way the Canadians deal with illness is fundamentally different than in the U.S. In the States, it seems that the number one concern when you get sick is how you are going to pay for health care. Canadians simply don't have to ask that question. When someone gets ill in Canada, their first questions are most likely, "what is my prognosis, what are the different kinds of treatments, and which is best for my particular health problem?" The worry about paying for care must be a huge burden on Americans, in terms of psychological stress &endash; and all too often real financial stress. Canadians almost never go bankrupt because they have gotten ill. Maybe one of the reasons Canadians are healthier than Americans, and live longer, is that we don't have to worry about how we're going to fund our medical care if we get seriously ill. Politically, the Canadian health care system is often referred to as a "sacred trust". It's not a question of "socialized medicine" for most Canadians. Indeed, doctors by and large are private businesses, though paid only by the government for the work they do. Rather, Canadians broadly understand that a single payer system is fairer and more practical.
LJN: Another myth that Americans perpetuate about universal coverage is that we're not going to get quality health care &endash; it's going to take longer to get appointments, we're not going to have access to all the new and technologically advanced treatments that are currently available, etc.
MW: The health sector is the only one where technical progress is seen as a cost driver rather than a cost saver. When you have technological innovations in computers or cell phones, the costs go down every year. There's a field of study, health services research, which looks at this rigorously. For example, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared coronary bypass surgery rates in Ontario and New York state. For people under 70 with single vessel disease, the bypass rate in New York was 17 times higher than in Ontario &endash; with no detectable effects on subsequent mortality. A more recent study (the "COURAGE" trial), implies there are over 800,000 unnecessary coronary procedures per year in the U.S. (see http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/356/15/1503). It makes you wonder whether Americans are into medical procedures as a kind of recreation. Of course, there are numerous beneficial and life-saving inventions in health care, and they certainly cost money. The trouble is that there are financial incentives, which are far larger in the U.S. because of the dominance of private interests, to over-sell these innovations. Just because it's the newest thing doesn't mean it's going to be better for your health. There are recent studies using Medicare data, for example the Dartmouth health atlas body of work, that show significant cost variations across the U.S. But the really striking finding was that if anything, the more expensive areas had worse outcomes, such as mortality rates following hip fractures. It's hard to understand why, but Americans don't seem interested even in knowing this. People want "the best care", but they never take the trouble to understand that the best care is not always the most intensive care. Canada, too, is probably spending more than it should on some procedures, but there's no indication that Canadians are getting poorer care than in the U.S. And let me repeat, Canadians have higher life expectancy than Americans.
LJN: What about the claim that you have to wait too long to be seen for care or see the doctor you want in Canada.
MW: The first myth is that you can't see the doctor you want to see in Canada &endash; you can. Statistics Canada, with the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, did a Joint Canada &endash; U.S. Survey of Health in 2003, which interviewed 5,000 people in the U.S. and 3,000 in Canada (see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/jcush.htm). This survey asked what people did not like about their health care system. There was about the same amount of dissatisfaction on both sides of the border. In Canada, it was waiting. Governments in Canada have responded by putting more money into the health system in the last three or four years, and wait times have gone down. There were just as many people who were unhappy in the U.S. with their health care system, but their main reason was they couldn't afford their care. So what you have is two health care systems that are both rationing health care. In Canada, it's been rationed by waiting, though this is diminishing; in the U.S. it's rationed by money, while costs continue to rise. Another interesting thing we found out from the survey was that while the poorest 20 percent of people in the U.S. were sicker than the corresponding bottom 20 percent in Canada, the richest 20 percent in the U.S. reported themselves no healthier than the corresponding 20 percent in Canada. Maybe if we looked at the top one or two per cent we might see a difference. But the idea that money buys you health in the United States is certainly not supported by this carefully done survey.
LJN: Why do you think there's no difference?
MW: I think Americans have a misplaced view of the miracle of modern medicine. They don't realize that a lot of what determines whether you get sick or not happens before you ever get to the hospital or the doctor. Are you eating properly, are you being physically active, are you stressed out &endash; these are the fundamental drivers of health status. Of course, if you have a car accident or a heart attack, the health care system is absolutely essential. Those basic things are handled well in both countries.
LJN: Is there more preventative health care in Canada?
MW: That's a difficult question because the way you phrased it presupposes that prevention happens through the usual doctor-patient relationship. Let's think about smoking. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health, that it will give you lung cancer or a heart attack; that's the way the risk factor plays out. I find it frustrating that people will ask, "well, did your doctor counsel you to stop smoking?" That's what I call a one-on-one intervention; it is the medical model of thinking about prevention. But this one-on-one approach is not effective. There is considerable evidence that having your doctor jawbone you isn't going to change your smoking habits. What we have in Canada, and I must add in many parts of the U.S., is that you're not allowed to smoke in virtually all public places. It has becoming a social taboo. It wasn't by accident that this basic attitude towards smoking tobacco changed. It's the result of 20 years of concerted effort, like banning advertising. It is collective interventions that operate at the community level that have had really powerful effects. Drunk driving is another example where there's been a sea change in public attitudes. The big areas of focus at the moment are nutrition and physical activity. These are going to take longer to play out, primarily because it's going to take a while for the food industry to be persuaded, cajoled, hit over the head, whatever, to change the nature of the products they offer. I'm not familiar with what's happening in this regard in the U.S.
LJN: It's the same thing here but we have a bigger battle to fight in terms of the power that the food industry wields. We have another question regarding the Canadian system. Are doctors salaried?
MW: Doctors are small businessmen or women in Canada just like they are here. You go to medical school, get your certification to practice medicine, and set up a business. Doctors are paid on a fee for service basis. Every time they see a patient, if it's for a general consult its code is xyz and they get a certain amount of dollars from the provincial government.The fee schedule is set province-wide and that's what the doctors get. The amount is set by means of negotiations between each province's medical association, which is essentially a doctors' labor union, and the province's ministry of health. They negotiate every couple of years to set what the fee schedule is. But things aren't quite as simple as that. There's been enough research that suggests that patients will get better care if doctors are in group practices. So there's been some shift, not so much to salaried doctors, although that is happening, but to what's called a capitation type system where the province says, if you want, we'll continue to pay you a fee for service, like you've been paid for the last 30 years, or, if you sign up people on a roster, and if you get together with a group of other doctors, we'll give you so many dollars per person on your roster. As long as they don't go see other doctors outside of your group, you'll get that payment. It's up to you to decide how often you see them or what you do. Each of these systems has different incentives for doctors. For example, my general practitioner is in a capitated group practice with eight other doctors, and I can call in the evening or on a Saturday and I don't have to pay.
LJN: You mean a group practice of general practitioners who can share the burden of more around the clock care?
MW: Yes, if I call at three o'clock in the morning I may not get my GP but if I need urgent care I'll be able to talk to someone.
LJN: Is this only for general practitioner practices? Are they encouraging specialists to establish group practices as well?
MW: No, the key thing is you don't see a specialist unless it's associated with a more serious event. Another thing that's happening with primary care in Canada is that I can't just go see a specialist. If I want to see an orthopedist or cardiologist, my GP has to refer me.
LJN: It's the same thing here.
MW: There's a gatekeeper role that's provided by the GP. More emphasis is also being put on chronic disease management. This is not a one shot treatment. Managing patients with chronic disease is not the job of just one person who is looking at you from week to week or month to month; a variety of different practitioners are involved. To my mind, this is a weak area of Canada's health care system. To provide continuity of care, it's essential that there be electronic health records to develop a system in which the various practitioners who are involved in one patient's care can communicate with each other in real time rather than by pony express, otherwise known as mail or fax.
LJN: Is there a system of patient advocacy in Canada to help patients who don't get continuity of care, don't understand what a specialist is telling them, can't ask the right questions, have trouble negotiating between GPs and specialists?
MW: I don't think there's anything systematic. In some hospitals there are patient advocates to help you navigate the system, but I don't think it's universal. This is an idea that has lots of merit, but it's not been implemented at large.
LJN: How do the Canadian provinces afford national health care? What is the tax burden?
MW: From the point of view of Canadian autoworkers, they're quite happy that the U.S. has such a screwed up health care system, because U.S.-based car manufacturers have to pay premiums to health insurance companies that are far larger than the portion of taxes financing health care that Canadian car makers pay. Our health care system runs at about 10 percent of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] and the American health care system is running at over 16 percent of GDP. So the very first thing you have to look at when you see the numbers is to say, from the point of view of the competitiveness of Canadian auto parts and car manufacturers, keep on being stupid, U.S., it only helps our side of the manufacturing sector. The more serious part of this is that while in Canada health care costs have fluctuated in the 9 to 10 percent of GDP range in the last 20 years, they're now pushing up. Part of the problem is that when we're in a recession like we are now, the numerator, health care costs, keeps on growing, whereas the denominator, GDP, starts going down, so the ratio goes up until the economy recovers and the ratio goes down again. Still, there's a lot of worry because in a number of provinces health care costs are getting to be close to half of the provincial budget. There's increasing concern that growing health care costs are squeezing out investments in education and other public services. So every year there are loud and noisy fights between provincial governments and the docs, the hospital boards, and the drug formulary to negotiate fees or prices. In the United States, the same fights go on, but they're behind closed doors, when an HMO negotiates with an insurance company, or an insurance company negotiates with a pharmaceutical company. The same kinds of contentions about how you're going to contain costs are there in any kind of health care system. The difference between a private health care system and a public one is that in a public one, those fights are out loud and highly visible. Let me add one more point. There is a major concern by people who are well informed about the sustainability of the health care system. Between an aging population and the continuing specter of increasing costs, more expensive drugs, personalized medicine that is going to involve a lot of genotyping, and new technologies that are continually coming down the pipe, how do we deal with this juggernaut of increasing medical costs? My view is that neither Canada nor the United States has done a good job of this, and the key has to be much more rigorous health technology assessment &endash; we need to understand what is generating good health outcomes and what isn't, and only pay for the former.
LJN: We're sure you've heard about all the misinformation here in the states about the so-called death panels.
MW: This business about the death panels assumes that everybody wants or ought to want the latest and most expensive high-tech intervention. What the evidence shows is that often, when people are given the opportunity to be informed, they'll choose the lower cost, less invasive intervention.
LJN: Why are there less expensive drugs available from Canada on the Internet?
MW: It's because of the bargaining power of the provincial governments. They basically say to the pharmaceutical companies, if you want to sell the drug in this province, here's the price. A key idea, with a public single-payer system, is to create a powerful enough purchaser, provincial governments in our case, so you can drive down the price. Wal-Mart does that with its suppliers. In the U.S., in contrast, the incentives are to maximize profits. You have a fragmented market on the drug buying side or the market power to pass on higher costs (the large health insurers), and price discrimination (a bit of economics jargon) on the selling side. What the pharmaceutical companies are saying implicitly is that the Americans are nuts, they've got more money than anybody else in the world, they're willing to pay, and are scared that they're going to die if they don't have the latest whiz bang drug, so we'll charge them the sky. Canadians have decided to give the responsibility for buying our drugs to a provincial agency that can take advantage of the best evidence of what works and what doesn't work and can say, we're not going to give you any more money for your newfangled drug because the evidence shows that it's no better than the generic that costs one-tenth as much. If I can add one more bit, I'm struck by the quote I've heard several times in the media here in the United States, "I don't like government health insurance but I sure like Medicare." It's amazing that people have not put two and two together: Medicare is government health insurance. Government health care can and does work here.
As La Jicarita News reported in the January issue, Carson National Forest has submitted an acquisition request to the Regional Office in Albuquerque for the Miranda Canyon watershed. The money for this purchase would come from the federal government's Land and Conservation Fund. Letters of support have already been submitted to the New Mexico congressional delegation from Picuris Pueblo Tribal Council, the Taos Valley Acequia Association, Amigos Bravos, the Llano Quemado Municipal Domestic Water District, and the El Valle de Los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District. Friends of Miranda Canyon ask that everyone else who supports this acquisition call 575 751-1812 to get a petition sent to you via e-mail, which can be then picked up at your convenience, or copy it from the text below and fax it yourself to the enclosed addresses. Petitions must be sent to Washington by March 31.
To: The Honorable Jeff Bingaman
The Honorable Tom Udall
The Honorable Ben R. Lujan
We the undersigned residents of Taos County support the funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to protect a property bordering Carson National Forest near Taos, New Mexico. An LWCF appropriation of $4 million is needed in fiscal year 2011 for the Forest Service to acquire the first phase of the 5,000 acre Miranda Canyon Property.This land comprises the heart of the pristine Miranda Canyon Watershed. Its richly forested slopes, riparian zones and lush meadows are home to a diversity of wildlife. It contains many Native American cultural sights and the terminus of the historic Camino Real. This watershed provides for the domestic water needs of Llano Quemado and Ranchos de Taos as well as the irrigation water for two acequias. The present landowner is reviewing various development options. If this Watershed were to be subdivided and developed, its ecological, cultural, scenic and recreational resources would be lost forever. There is now an immediate opportunity to protect this land in perpetuity. The present owner is willing to sell and we urge you, our congressional delegation, to obtain funding for this project during the upcoming federal appropriations process.
The Honorable Jeff Bingaman ----- FAX # 202-224-2852
The Honorable Tom Udall --------FAX # 202-228-3261
The Honorable Ben R. Lujan -------FAX # 202-226-1528
Please also send a fax to the Trust for Public Land, our lobbyist in Washington.
Greg Hiner-------------- FAX # 505-988-5967
Trust for Public Land
1600 Lena Street
Santa Fe, NM
By Kay Matthews
The County of Santa Fe recently paid the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico Law School to hold a series of community meetings throughout the Pojoaque Valley "to discuss the Aamodt water rights settlement and what it means to Pojoaque Valley residents."
As we previously reported, in a recent survey 59 percent of Pojoaque Valley water rights owners said they have "negative feelings" regarding the settlement. Santa Fe County representatives responded with the spin that if these residents are unhappy with the settlement it must mean they don't understand it.
However, according to Melanie Stansbury of the Utton Center, who has been meeting with various parties in the Aamodt case for two years, people who continue to question the settlement "seem to have some legitimate concerns over how the settlement was reached and how they were or were not represented. There seems to have been a real disconnect between people doing the negotiations and trying to resolve problems, and the people who are raising questions."
La Jicarita News planned to attend the March 10 meeting at the Santa Fe County Pojoaque Satellite Office but got waylaid by snow. We spoke the next day with Darcy Bushnell of the Joe M. Stell Ombudsman Program at the Utton Center, who has been chairing the meetings, which have also been attended by Judge Michael Nelson and county attorney John Utton. According to Bushnell, the primary concern of many attendees is, "how will this settlement affect me?" In particular, their questions focus on whether or not they should give up their domestic wells and sign on to the water delivery system, what the water delivery rates will be, and if they will be protected against a priority call by the Pueblos. Although the meetings were primarily set up to provide information to non-Pueblo residents, some Pueblo members have also attended, saying they, too, are unclear exactly how the settlement will affect them. I asked Bushnell if some people were also expressing frustration about the settlement at these meetings, and she said people had complained that they felt it was dividing the Pueblo and non-Pueblo communities, a complaint that has come up numerous times at previous meetings during settlement negotiations. People also questioned where the water for the settlement is coming from, and if the settlement would impact native Rio Grande water supplies. Much of the information presented at the meetings is available on the Santa Fe County website, www.saftafecounty.org, under news. Bushnell also encouraged people to call or e-mail her with other questions or suggestions of additional information that should be posted on the website. Her toll free phone number at the law school is 877-775-8333 (leave a message); her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the New Mexico Acequia Association's Noticias de Las Acequias January 2010 issue there is an article on the Aamodt and Taos Pueblo settlements, which had just passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The article gives some background on the adjudications and then states, "Without action on these settlements, the people of the region would face ongoing litigation and uncertain water resources for years to come." It then lays out a long list of all those organizations that support the settlements.
NMAA's position on the Aamodt adjudication settlement has heightened some already brewing criticisms of the organization by various acequia advocates.In a letter sent to NMAA staff and widely disseminated throughout the acequia community, Placitas parciante Lynn Montgomery chided the organization for "refusing to actively and unequivocally support adjudication for all senior water rights," in particular its failure to take a position on the Lower Rio Grande adjudication involving Scott Boyd, an issue covered in the December 2009 and January 2010 La Jicarita News issues. He also objected to the Noticias de Las Acequias article in support of Aamodt: "This settlement sets an extremely dangerous precedent to senior rights, and even kept senior rights holders out of negotiations. Their rights are being treated as an afterthought . . . . When this settlement is finally consolidated with other Rio Grande adjudications, there is a good chance the water that it is depending on will be null and void."
The water the settlement depends upon, which we've discussed in numerous La Jicarita articles, is paper water that could be affected by any number of things, including a decision in the Lower Rio Grande adjudication that could impact all water rights in the Rio Grande basin. The following is an excerpt from an article in the March/April Rio Grande Sierran (web edition of The Sierran is http://nmsierraclub.org/elephant-butte-dam-adjudication), written by Sig Silber, who spent a considerable amount of time researching the LRG case and talking with Scott Boyd:
"A Court decision of a large quantity of senior water rights to the Boyd Family Estate and other farmers combined with other Rio Grande Project obligations might very well exceed the normal release from Elephant Butte. That of course perhaps explains the reluctance of the New Mexico State Engineer and the U.S. Department of Justice to move forward with the Court's request.
Suffice it to say that the matter is so complex that it is not possible to project how this may work out. The extreme results could include one or more of the following:
Dramatic changes in the priority dates and thus priority of water rights all up and down the Rio Grande Rivert that could impact the priority rights of water acquired by municipalities.
The Nathan Boyd Estate could be awarded a large number of water rights. Obviously Scott Boyd could not possibly put these water rights to beneficial use so the water probably would end up back in the hands of the current users with the Boyd Family receiving compensation for these rights, which could be monetary or as Scott suggests, simply an agreement to manage this water in a different way than it is currently managed.
The sequence of events which led to the creation of EBID [Elephant Butte Irrigation District] could be called into question which might have an impact on how EBID is organized and how it relates to the farmers owning water rights who receive services from EBID. This is perhaps more speculative than the first two points in this list."
By Kay Matthews
Workers who have become ill due to their exposure to radioactive and chemical toxins at the nation's nuclear facilities are still trying to improve the Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) to make it more expeditious and fair.
Recently the Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety held a meeting in Española to address several worker issues and deal with administrative issues within the organization. A year ago a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) petition for service workers was submitted to the Department of Labor requesting that sick service workers who were employed at the facilities between the years of 1976 and 2005 be automatically compensated for their illness without having to file claims through the EEOICPA. This is an arduous process that requires "dose reconstruction," which purports to scientifically determine how much radiation the worker was exposed to and the "likelihood" that he or she became ill as a result. The service workers SEC would include security guards, firefighters, laborers, custodians, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, ironworkers, welders, maintenance workers, truck drivers, delivery persons, radiation technicians, and area work coordinators. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended that this SEC be denied, and the Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety assigned a group of five people to review the petition. The full board will convene in October to consider whether to approve it.
Special Cohort Status for nuclear workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory has previously been granted to those employees who worked at LANL between the years 1943 and 1975. However, LANL workers and advocates contend that the government does not have accurate records of exposure levels until the early 90s and should extend SEC status to cover all workers. A bill sponsored by Colorado Senator Mark Udall and New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, called the Charlie Wolf Act, which would reform the EEOICPA by eliminating dose construction for all workers with "specified cancers" and shift the burden of proof for non-specified illnesses from the claimant to NIOSH, still lingers in Congress.
The other issue that was discussed at the meeting is New Mexico House Bill 101, "An Act Relating to the Environment; Enacting a New Section of the Environmental Improvement Act to Create the Nuclear Workers Assistance Fund; Making an Appropriation; Declaring an Emergency," which passed both the House and Senate. The bill pertains to the two-year old State Office of Nuclear Worker Advocacy, currently operating under the auspices of the New Mexico Environment Department, that helps nuclear workers file claims under the EEOICPA. The bill approves a new financing method for the operations of this office (previously funded directly by the state) of charging nuclear worker EEOICPA claimants a fee of one-half percent of an award for an initial claim, and five percent per claim successfully appealed after a denial by the Department of Labor.
While Governor Richardson is prepared to sign this bill into law, one of the meeting attendees objected to it on the grounds that it may be illegal or "double dipping." Dr. Maureen Merritt, a former Public Health Service doctor who has been actively involved in many organizations, both local and national, dealing with nuclear worker safety and compensation, told the group that she believes there is a legal question regarding the state charging twice for services that are already being paid for by taxpayer dollars. She believes it is questionable whether a state employee &endash; the director of the Office of Nuclear Worker Advocacy &endash; can charge a fee for her services. She wrote a letter to the national director of the EEOICPA raising these questions and received a somewhat equivocal answer as to whether a state employee can be a claimant representative and charge a fee for services.
But what Merritt and other nuclear worker advocates are primarily concerned about is that the state, which set up the Office of Nuclear Worker Advocacy in the first place, is not meeting its responsibility to make sure that sick nuclear workers can successfully make compensation claims through the EEOICPA. The Advocacy office has never had the necessary funding to pay not only the director and her assistant, who can help claimants file the necessary paperwork, but to hire the medical experts who can help claimants through the complicated process of dose reconstruction and provide advocacy for denied claims. Advocates also contend that the $175,000 that HB 101 sponsors say could be generated through the fee for service is highly speculative, based on the low number of claims that have been successfully filed and funded (most have been SEC claims).
The former leader of the Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety, Jerry Leyba, is too ill at this time to retain his position, but the organization, with the help of Drew Evaskovitch, who spearheaded the Special Cohort petition for service workers, will act as de-facto chair until the next meeting. He can be contacted at 505-470-5697.
The bottom line for John Hall, José Venito Martinez Acequia commissioner, is that "water should stay with the land." He and his fellow commissioners recently denied a transfer request that raises some troubling issues and pits neighbor against neighbor within the Taos community.
As readers know, acequia commissioners acquired the right to deny water transfers from their ditches with passage of a New Mexico State Statute in 2003. Several transfers that were denied were then challenged in district court, which is allowed under the statute, but have yet to be heard. Another transfer was also appealed to district court but eventually vacated by the applicant.
The proposed transfer on the Martinez Acequia in on the Rio Fenandez has also been appealed in district court, but has yet to be heard. El Valle de Los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District, which serves the Talpa and Ranchos communities, wants to transfer approximately seven acre feet of water from the Martinez Acequia to its district for a new well to serve new and existing homes in Llano Quemado. The original owner of these water rights, James Mitchell, sold the land irrigated with these rights to three buyers in 2006. He sold one of the parcels with one afy of water, but retained ownership of the seven afy of water rights and subsequently sold them to El Valle. Separating the water from the land began the machinations that have now ended up in court.
The water district argues that it would be using water that has already been taken out of irrigation and would be keeping it in the community for beneficial use. The acequia commissioners argue that it is imperative to protect unused agricultural water by banking it, also allowed under the 2003 State Statute, for a time when it can be used by someone else on the acequia. In this time of economic hardship, when more and more people are turning to local food production to not only supplement their income but to improve their health as well, Hall and his fellow commissioners believe it would be a travesty to allow this water to be used for development, even within their own community.
Because the hearing in court is not de novo, or a new hearing, the judge will base his decision on the testimony and records of the acequia hearing when the commissioners denied the transfer. The acequia's attorney, Fred Waltz, believes this information supports the commission's decision that the transfer will be detrimental to the acequia, i.e., it would affect the hydrology of a very small system and impact the remaining parciantes in a negative way. He believes that the statute will protect the acequia and is disappointed that El Valle de Los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District is essentially challenging that law. The acequia and El Valle are currently trying to negotiate a settlement, although according to Waltz, the acequia will not be satisfied unless the water rights stay on the ditch. La Jicarita will continue to follow the outcome.
Copyright 1996-2002 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.