Editor’s Note: This is the final week of our fundraising campaign. We’re thankful for the contributions we’ve received so far, although it looks like we’re not going to make our $5,000 goal. If you still need a little push to make a donation, please read John Córdova’s pitch below and send some help our way. John is a longtime Albuquerque businessman, government employee, and activist in community planning, health, and the arts. And please read the alert about the latest bad bill introduced into the State Senate that would further restrict local autonomy, this time over water rights.
By JOHN J. CORDOVA
We find ourselves at a time where the local corporate media is increasingly politicized by interests that represent authority, uranium mining, oil & gas, water grabs, and land development. The alternative media, as represented by La Jicarita, NM Mercury, ABQ Free Press, and Joe Monahan’s blog are the only places where one can find reporting on issues important to our well being and the future of New Mexico. I support La Jicarita and these other media and urge all readers to do the same. Becoming informed and active requires that we put our money where our activism leads.
By KAY MATTHEWS
Recently introduced Senate Bill 665 is another knee-jerk response to limit local autonomy. Just like the bills (SB 421, HB 199, SB 184) introduced to preempt local control over oil and gas development, this bill, introduced by Senator Ron Griggs, Doña Ana, Eddy, and Otero counties Republican, is a direct response to communities and activists challenging water appropriations and transfers from their areas of origins downhill to money. Water brokers and the Stein & Brockman law firm have long been pushing the Office of the State Engineer to restrict due process for water appropriation and transfer protests. This bill reflects those restrictions.
The bill seeks to amend various New Mexico State statutes that deal with leasing water, drilling wells, the standing of protestants, and beneficial use requirements. Coming on the heels of the Taos County Commission decision to drop its protest of the transfer of Top of the World water rights in northern Taos County to El Prado Water and Sanitation District, and my attempt to make a public welfare protest against the transfer, it reads almost like a direct response. Let me count the ways.
- Amending Section 72-1-9 NMSA 1978, the bill adds “water and sanitation districts” to this statute that deals with the “preservation of municipal, county and state university water supplies.” Who represents El Prado Water and Sanitation District and whose law firm almost entirely represents urban water users? The Stein & Brockman law firm.
- Amending the same statute, this language has been added: “A water right acquired and held unused pursuant to the provisions of this section shall not be automatically lost after forty years, except by statutory forfeiture or judicial proceedings to prove abandonment.”
- Amending Section 72-6-4 NMSA 1978, which deals with water leasing, the bill adds language that allows the State Engineer to approve a lessee’s use of water during a hearing process if the lease is less than three years in duration and less than 200 acre feet per year.
- Amending Section 72-12-3 NMSA 1978, the bill adds language that increases the requirements of protestants of water appropriation and transfer applications. Again, it’s almost as if it’s a direct response to my protest before the State Engineer: (1) Evidence of a protestant’s standing must be provided in the written protest; (2) If arguing that the application is contrary to conservation or the public welfare the protestant must provide evidence that he or she will be “substantially and specifically affected by the granting of the application; and (3) If the protestant is arguing conservation or public welfare, “alleged impairment to the protestant’s water right cannot also be the basis to claim the protestant is substantially and specifically affected by granting the application.” As I described in my previous La Jicarita article, “Dismissed as Protestant: It’s a Lawyer’s Game,” all three of these issues came up in my protest against El Prado.
- Amending Section 72-12-22 NMSA 1978 and Section 72-12-23 NMSA, which regulate well drilling, language has been added to maximize the amount of water in any given transfer application when those water rights have not been put to full beneficial use.
The bill is currently in the Senate Conservation Committee. The New Mexico Acequia Association, Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land, Water, and Rights, and many others are opposed to this bill. La Jicarita will keep you informed of its progress—or hopefully its demise—in the state legislature.
These kinds of legislative actions are happening all over the county. See this recent article in the New York Times: “States Are Blocking Local Regulations, Often at Industry’s Behest.”