By KAY MATTHEWS
Implementation of the Abeyta Settlement continues to limp along, which doesn’t bother its critics who see it as a financial and bureaucratic burden they’ll gladly put off as long as possible. At last Tuesday’s meeting in Taos it was apparent that little headway has been made in addressing the inadequacy of the hydrology model used as a basis for development of the deep wells stipulated in the settlement, nor in bringing acequias and mutual domestic water associations (MDWCA) on board as operators of those wells. The agency hired to provide cost estimates for the mitigation wells, Denver Technical Services Center, had no presentation ready at the meeting.
While the agenda allowed for public comment at the end of the meeting (there was none) these implementation meetings do not follow the state’s open meeting law: no public notice is given and no recording devices are allowed (Cultural Energy KCEI’s attempt to record an implementation meeting in December of last year resulted in the meeting being cancelled).
The terms of the settlement call for five deep mitigation wells (I,000 feet) that will be used by the town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation District, and the mutual domestics to offset at least 50 percent of any Taos Valley tributary surface water depletions resulting from future groundwater pumping. An Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) well was assigned to the Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y del Arroyo Seco in the El Salto community to compensate the ditch for a “taking” by Taos Pueblo in 1935. El Prado Water and Sanitation District will drill two deep (1,600 feet) wells—Rio Grande and Midway—near the Rio Grande Gorge.
But a 2016 study by New Mexico Tech Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources scientists Peggy Johnson and Paul Baer, using geophysics mapping, has shown that the hydrogeology of the valley is much more complex than the Office of the State Engineer model upon which the mitigation well system is based. The parties to the Abeyta are now “integrating” these findings into the settlement and reviewing historic pumping data, drawdown, and aquifer recharge. According to Taos hydrologist Lee Wilson, the findings show that the southern area of the valley is strongly faulted and any wells will need to reach the lowest aquifer levels to ensure adequate water sources.
Because of this, all five mitigation well locations are subject to change and test wells will need to be drilled. Well locations are also dependent upon proximity to acequias, domestic wells, and land ownership for the well sites. But the biggest hurtle appears to be that only three of the mitigation wells have been agreed to by their proposed operators: the Rio Grande del Rancho well operated by the Llano Quemado MDWCA; the Rio Chiquito well operated by the Acequia Madre del Rio Chiquito and Acequia del Monte; and the Rio Fernando well, operated by the Town of Taos. The Upper Arroyo Hondo MDWCA and the Upper Ranchitos MDWCA have told the implementation committee they do not want the wells.
There was discussion at the meeting that either the Town of Taos or El Prado Water and Sanitation District could step up and offer to operate the Upper Hondo and Upper Ranchitos wells: without the operation of all five wells the settlement terms cannot be met. El Prado is the only operator that has thus far been awarded funding by the state for at least the first phase of it’s operation and is currently drilling a test well for the Rio Grande well.
The Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y del Arroyo Seco commission is on record opposing the ASR well or alternate reservoir and no application for funding has been submitted.
Before the meeting adjourned there was a drawn-out discussion as to whether the parties to the settlement should develop a Joint Powers Agreement among all the well operators and combine them under the umbrella of one operator who would work on contract, rather than depending on an operator for each well. The town had obviously come up with this proposal faced with the opposition to these wells by Hondo and Ranchitos, but after arguing over whether this would create more bureaucracy or make implementation simpler, the proposal was tabled.
This is going to be a long, arduous implementation that will cost taxpayers many millions of dollars and grave concern over the feasibility of this complex system of wells dependent upon deep aquifer water. It may be limping along but it’s keeping a lot of lawyers on a roll.