Update on the Proposed Questa Area Water Transfer

Commentary by KAY MATTHEWS

In Tuesday’s posting, “The Public Weighs in on Proposal to Move Questa Acequia Rights to the Taos Valley,” I ended the piece with this question: Was it administrative conflicts or political movidas that cancelled the Taos County Commission hearing on the recommendation from its Water Advisory Committee to protest this transfer? Guess what? Movidas rule! The power brokers behind the Abeyta Adjudication Settlement, aided and abetted by friends on the commission, will move forward with water transfers from outside the Taos Valley—at this point, from the Questa area— to meet the terms of the settlement even if those transfers are detrimental to the public welfare of the citizens of Taos County.

My request (as chair of the Advisory Committee) to county administrators for a detailed explanation of why the commission had cancelled the hearing was never fully answered. Only when J.R. Logan of The Taos News asked if the commission would convene a special meeting before the protest deadline did Rick Bellis, Deputy County Manager, reply “there is no plan at this time.” Why? Because the commission does not want to interfere with the terms of the Abeyta Settlement; by reviewing these transfers the Advisory Committee has “gotten away from the general concern of the Commission and intent of the ordinance to monitor water rights to minimize or prevent them leaving the county or watershed.” I wrote Bellis back pointing out that the Public Welfare Ordinance stipulates that the Advisory Committee “evaluate the public welfare and conservation of proposed water appropriations and changes in point of diversion, place of use or purpose of use of water from and within Taos County (emphasis added).” I also pointed out that the move-from area, a community ditch in Questa, and the move-to area, a group of 12 acequias in the Rio Lucero watershed in Taos Valley, are obviously not in the same watershed.

With the county commission and administration taking this position the Advisory Board has essentially been stripped of its ability to review proposed water transfers that affect everyone in the county, not just the parties to the Abeyta Settlement. While I have no complaint against the mutual domestics and other water users in the Valley who needed help to secure water for their constituencies, it is the power brokers at the Taos Valley Acequia Association and El Prado Water and Sanitation District (EPWSD) who ran the show, successfully negotiating very sweet deals that are contingent on transferring water rights from outside Taos Valley.

John Painter, manager of the (EPWSD), has long been involved in water marketing to benefit not only the water district but the various other businesses he managers or has been part of. The Abeyta Settlement guarantees the EPWSD 575 acre feet of water per year (afy) (the district’s current use is 25 afy) with transferred water rights from acequias and Top of the World Farm in northern Taos County.

Palemon Martinez, president of the TVAA, negotiated the transfer of water rights to the Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y del Arroyo Seco, of which he is Secretary. The Abeyta Settlement allocates up to $2 million for the purchase of water rights for the acequia. At an Advisory Committee meeting one of the members asked Martinez, “How do you feel about taking water rights from another acequia?” The defender of culture and tradition responded, “They’re private rights.”

County Commissioner Tom Blankenhorn, whose district includes the EPWSD, requested that the commission revisit its decision in 2011 to protest the district’s water transfer based on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee. He also requested the insertion of new language into the amended Public Welfare Ordinance that says: “Taos County recognizes the impact of the Abeyta Settlement on resolving disputes with regard to water rights within the County and watershed and that the transfer of water rights between entities within the County is a necessary mechanism for the implementation of the settlement.”

In 2006 the Taos County Commission passed a resolution pledging to protest the transfer of Top of the World water rights when Santa Fe County and the U.S. Bureau of the Interior apply to move them to the Pojoaque Valley under the terms of the Aamodt Settlement. I have a question for the 2013 commission: Are you going to sit on your hands and let those water rights leave Taos County because the Aamodt Settlement, just like the Abeyta, “shouldn’t be messed with?”