Aamodt Settlement Act Signed into Law by Interior Secretary Zinke

By KAY MATTHEWS

On September 15 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took a few minutes out of his attack on our national monuments to announce in the Federal Register that all conditions of the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act have been met and it is officially a done deal. This adjudication determines both ground and surface water rights of the four Pojoaque Basin pueblos, Nambe, Tesuque, San Ildefonso, and Pojoaque, and all non-pueblo residents.

As I’ve laid out in previous La Jicarita articles, these conditions stipulate that 1) the necessary water supply that must be delivered to the Pueblos via the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System—2,381 afy—has been permitted by the State Engineer; and 2) “The State has enacted necessary legislation and has provided funding as required under the Settlement Agreement.”

As I’ve also laid out in previous La Jicarita articles, Taos County has filed an appeal of its protest of the Top of the World water transfer that supplies part of that water to the Pueblos. And the County of Santa Fe passed a resolution in 2015 stating that it will not appropriate its share of the $261 necessary to fund the Regional Water System “until the legal status of County Roads running through the Settling Pueblos has been resolved.” San Ildefonso Pueblo is claiming that county roads that cross through its “external boundaries” belong to the pueblo and is seeking easement payments. The county claims that it has rights of way on all the roads in question. There has been no resolution of this controversy that has pitted the Pueblos against the non-Pueblo residents of the affected county lands.

Dave Neal, an officer of the Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land, Water, and Rights (NNMProtects), a group of Valley residents who have fought both the Aamodt Settlement and to resolve the road easement issue, told La Jicarita that Zinke has extended the deadline for this road resolution from September 15 to November 15, but that the county remains determined that no funds will be released until county residents are assured easements.

Even with this extension, could this mean that the Settlement may actually come up short on its requisite water supply and funding and fail to be implemented (the State also failed to pass a required $9 appropriation in last year’s legislative session)? Another possible roadblock would be the failure to complete the Regional Water System by 2024, the deadline stipulated for completion in the Settlement Act. None of this seems to bother the powers that be behind this 51 year old adjudication who have pushed this controversial project through the legal process with little regard for fairness, cost, burdensome bureaucracy, the abrogation of the transfer protest process, the cumulative impacts of moving paper water from basin to basin, dipping one more straw into the Rio Grande, and most importantly, the changing nature of our environment and climate that could easily render water supply inadequate or even nonexistent.

The legal process does allow for a challenge to the Final Decree, which is being mounted by many of the 300 plus non-Pueblo Pojoaque Valley residents who objected to the terms of the settlement but whose objections were dismissed by the court overseeing the adjudication. They have now filed a notice of appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, represented by Blair Dunn of the Western Agriculture, Resource and Business Advocates law firm. This will be an uphill battle considering the forces deployed against it.

Just one last note about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. While questions should always be raised about how local communities are consulted when public lands are assigned certain restrictions, such as national monument designation, that’s not really what Zinke’s agenda is about. His aim is to aid and abet the movement within the Republican Party to privatize as many public lands as possible in order to turn them over to the extractive industry. As Outside Magazine reported on Zinke’s secret memo to Trump on his review of the monuments, which was leaked to the press, the GOP’s official platform states: “Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.” The American Lands Council, based in Utah, is spearheading the movement, which makes the Bears Ears  and the Grand Staircase-Escalante national  monuments the most vulnerable.

 

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