Acequia Water Conflict Coming to Close

By: City of Las Vegas, NM
LAS VEGAS, N.M. - Nov. 3, 2017 - PRLog -- The City's conflict with the acequias, which has dragged on since the 1950s, may be coming to an end.

On October 31, as part of the on-going adjudication of the City's water rights, the Special Master, appointed by the District Court, released a draft report that would provide the City with an equitable remedy based on the New Mexico Supreme Court's decision that the City does not have a pueblo water right. The Special Master's report recommends that the District Court enter a final judgment that provides the City with two water rights-1200 acre feet per year for municipal purposes with a priority date of 1835 and 1400 acre feet per year for municipal purposes with a priority date of 1881. The Report also recommends a payment of just compensation of just over $1.7 million to the members of the Acequias, also known as the parciantes, proportionally, to use for whatever purpose they choose.

Resolving the issues between the City and the Acequias was a key part of the platform upon which the current administration ran. The city administration recognizes that Las Vegas, NM needs water, and  also needs local farmers and ranchers.  A cooperative, collaborative approach is required to ensure water security while developing  food security and growing the agricultural sector of the local economy.    Although the Special Master determined that a sharing agreement, if it were part of the court ruling, would infringe on the authority and responsibility of the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) to administer Active Water Resource Management (AWRM), the City is committed to continued equitable sharing of the water from the Rio Gallinas with the Acequias.

"While past administrations may have made the effort, we've succeeded where no other administration has, over the past sixty years," said Las Vegas Mayor Tonita Gurule-Giron. "The acequias are, and have always been, an integral part of our community. We have shared the water for many years but always under the shadow of litigation. Building a solid partnership with the acequias is paramount to this administration. It is a promise I made during my campaign, and it is a promise I intend to keep.  This administration will continue to remain focused on what is in the best interest of the people we serve regardless of the distractions and challenges we continue to face."

Mayor Gurule-Giron also credited City Manager Richard Trujillo for his expertise in water issues and his extensive negotiations with the OSE and acequias.

City Utilities Director, Maria Gilvarry said that the city has been working with the Rio Gallinas Acequia Association and with the OSE's Water Master for several years to make sure that the City and the Acequias are sharing according to the OSE plan and that there is a positive outcome for all stakeholders.

AWRM, or shortage sharing, was implemented by the New Mexico legislature in 2004. AWRM teams at the OSE include a project manager, hydrologist, attorney, communication manager, personnel manager, and technical support staff.  Water Masters are appointed by the OSE to administer the distribution of water from stream systems on a daily basis, and they are tasked with ensuring that the water is distributed fairly. AWRM plans are developed with input from all stakeholders and with multiple public meetings. With an AWRM plan in place, a voluntary sharing agreement is largely redundant.

In 1956, a New Mexico District Court embraced the pueblo water rights doctrine. This doctrine gave the City of Las Vegas first claim to all water in the Gallinas.  It was the Public Service Company of New Mexico, now known as PNM, which successfully argued for the pueblo water rights doctrine, in response to local acequias suing them for allegedly infringing on their water rights.

The case went up to the NM Supreme Court and the doctrine was upheld.  In 2004, the New Mexico Supreme Court overturned the pueblo water rights doctrine. The court did, however, recognize that the city had relied on the doctrine to its detriment, and hence remanded the case back to the lower court to find a solution that was fair to all parties involved.

In his recommendation, the Special Master sought to balance the public interest issue of water security for city residents with the rights of the parciantes. The 1,200 acre-feet of water rights with a priority date of 1835 provides assurance that the City may sustain itself in times of drought.

The City and the Acequias will, between them, have a larger pool of senior water rights that may serve as a bulwark against claims from municipalities and others further downstream. So long as we share fairly, these senior water rights may benefit the city and the acequias alike. The recommendation also makes extensive note of how expanded storage at Bradner Reservoir will improve the city's ability to divert and store water without negatively impacting the acequias.

The Parties have 30 days to submit comments on the draft report.  The City is reviewing the recommendations made by the Special Master.  The City supports the Special Master's recommendation regarding the City's water rights and is reviewing the recommendation regarding compensation to be paid to the Acequias in order to understand the basis for the recommendation.

This period in local history appears to be coming to an end.  Hopefully the City and the Acequias can move forward in ways that enhance the collective water and food security, strengthen our agricultural base, and make the City known as a community that, by embracing ancient values of cooperation and fair sharing, is creating a more positive future.

You can view the Special Master's report here-

Lee Einer, PIO
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Tags:Water, Acequia, Lawsuit
Location:Las Vegas - New Mexico - United States
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