By KAY MATTHEWS
At the Aamodt Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, October 30, attorney Blair Dunn asked the large crowd of folks who are parties to the Aamodt Settlement if they were happy with it. One person raised his hand. The next day on the Pojoaque and Española Valleys Forum Facebook site a member of one of the pueblos involved in the Aamodt commented that the “delicate fabric of our community” is being fractured by the discord sewn by the settlement: I suspect most of the people in the room the previous evening would have agreed with that sentiment. Dunn went on to say that in his opinion the pueblos in the adjudication—Pojoaque, Tesuque, San Ildefonso, and Nambe—should have been provided with their adjudicated water via the water delivery system while the non-pueblo water users remained outside of the settlement and thus wouldn’t have ended up in this “bureaucratic morass.”
But that was not to be. The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to the discussion of how the settlement will affect the non-pueblo water users whether they opt into the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System or retain their wells. District 46 Representative Carl Trujillo fielded questions and provided information about several changes in the Rules and Regulations of the settlement. A new election notice allows water users to join the settlement at any time and new rules allow the partial use of wells for outdoor use for those who hook up to the water delivery system and allow for proof of historical beneficial use for additional outdoor use.
The Office of the State Engineer (OSE) will require that well meters be self reported and read every three months, although that requirement may be changed to every six months. The agency will use these readings to assess over diversions.
Trujillo also discussed the regulations regarding the transfer of water rights, which are restricted to pre-basin rights that can be resold through the expedited market process. For more information on this you can contact Trujillo at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the OSE.
District 46 Democratic write-in candidate Heather Nordquist spoke about the status of the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System, which was supposed to begin construction this fall. Because of projected increased construction costs, she contacted the congressional offices to ask if there have been additional funding requests proffered, but the only response she got was an admission from one senator’s office that there is indeed a funding gap. If this is true at the federal level, will this also apply to funding commitments from the state and county? She wasn’t able to get any information regarding increased cost estimates from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the agency charged with the construction of the water system. And Santa Fe County told her the information is not available under the Freedom of Information Act. She told the group she would continue to try and get more information about the project’s status.
The current cost estimates of the project are: Federal government: $404 million; State of New Mexico: $72 million; Santa Fe County: $23 million.
As I’ve previously reported in La Jicarita, the 600 afy of water rights that were transferred (on paper) from Top of the World Farm (TOW) to the water delivery system for the non-pueblo water users have been left for the time being in their area of origin and leased to Trudy and Ed Healy, who bought the land from which the rights were severed by Santa Fe County. The appeal of the entire TOW water rights transfer application of 1,752 afy by Taos County is still in District Court. Representative Trujillo was asked if he knew how many residents had signed up to the delivery system; the last count he was aware of was a little over 200, but he assumed the number has increased since then.
But the surprise of the evening came from Blair Dunn. He represents the approximately 375 Aamodt Adjudication objectors to the settlement who filed a lawsuit in which they argued the settlement should be viewed as a compact between governments that needed to be ratified by the New Mexico legislature, not just signed by the governor. When they lost in district court they appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now that court has said that those objectors who filed the suit don’t have standing because they are not parties to the settlement. Dunn has filed a motion for a rehearing, but this is more bad news for communities already feeling disempowered by the state and federal authorities who run the show. At meetings like this someone always asks, what happens if the TOW transfer is denied or the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System doesn’t meet its 2024 deadline, does the Aamodt Settlement go up in smoke? Would the powers that be allow millions of dollars to go down the drain? You can let that answer ride on the history of how this settlement came to fruition.