The Abeyta Settlement: Parciantes, Patrons, Secrecy

By: Bill Whaley
7 December, 2017

In 2006, as I remember, I attended a photo op hosted by Taos Pueblo for Governor Bill Richardson and representative signatories of the “draft” agreement, formalized later as the Dec. 12, 2012 document called the Abeyta Water Rights Adjudication, a Settlement Agreement Among the United States, Taos Pueblo, State of New Mexico, Taos Valley Acequia Association (TVAA) and its 55 members, the Town of Taos (Town), El Prado Water and Sanitation District (EPWSD), and 12 Mutual Domestic Water Consumer’s Associations (MDWCA).

You can download the 123-page document from the Town’s web site.

Here’s an introduction to what hasn’t happened and the issues at large “From La Jicarita, an Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico,” in an article written by editor Kay Matthews, a local journalist specializing in water issues involving the Aamodt and Abeyta “alleged” settlements. The “alleged” refers to settlements that hang by a thread due to legal challenges, ambiguous sources of funding, challenges and protests from “inside” the very organizations represented by the elected and appointed signatories.

Still Yogi Berra’s “woman” hasn’t quit singing and the $150 million in checks (2006 figures) guaranteeing the costs of the settlement have yet to be issued, despite the approach of a 2017 deadline. According to the Dec. 5 “No Meeting” described below, only one signatory, John Painter’s EPWSD has met the deadline.

The Abeyta signatories have issued no information regarding federal and state funding for the settlement, including predictions of how much drilling, maintenance, and contamination by or remediation from “mediation” wells will cost, costs that will be implemented on the backs of parciantes, members of MDWCAs, and constituent tax payers and members of the Tribe.

The excerpt from Kay’s piece below describes how Abeyta turned off the water when KCEI’s Mike Tilley showed up with cup and mike in hand. After you read excerpts from Kay’s piece, yours truly raises a few issues for the public to consider.

“First There Was a Meeting Then There Was No Meeting”

By Kay Matthews

“It’s hard to shock reporters like Bill Whaley (Taos Friction) and me who’ve followed Taos City and County politics for many years. And it’s even harder to shock us over the shenanigans involved in the Abeyta Adjudication Settlement, but the powers that be let loose a little “shock and awe” the other day.

“The Bureau of Reclamation scheduled a Taos Settlement Implementation Planning Meeting at the Taos Convention Center on December 5 from 9:30 to 12:30 pm. The parties to the Abetya Settlement all sat at a table with their backs to the audience, which largely consisted of parciantes who own water rights on the acequias within the Taos Valley that are part of the settlement.

“After introductions, the lawyers, bureaucrats, and Taos Pueblo representatives left the room for an “executive session.” They came back a few minutes later, declared there was nothing to report on the list of substantial agenda items dealing with the particulars of the Abeyta implementation. At 10:08 they had vacated the El Taoseño Room.

“Why? Because Mike Tilley of local non-profit radio station KCEI was there to record the meeting (Bill and I were there, too, of course) and Taos Pueblo refused to participate in a recorded session. So instead of asking Mike Tilley to leave this “not open to the public” meeting, which is how the attorney Bradley Bridgewater of the Department of the Interior classified it, they essentially cancelled the meeting by claiming there was nothing to report. There may have been another reason as well, which I will discuss a little later in the article.”

“These [Abeyta] negotiations resulted in the proposal to drill deep mitigation wells to compensate for any surface water depletions in the future; to drill two deep wells near the Rio Grande to supply El Prado Water and Sanitation District; and the transfer of groundwater and surface water rights to compensate for aquifer mining.

“Once the parciantes on the affected acequias began to learn the details, they expressed their concerns: cost and maintenance of the wells; the unknown chemical composition of the deep well water on the river; and the potential drawdown on the aquifer and domestic wells. According to the settlement, the mitigation wells, which reach a 1,000 feet or more into the deep aquifer, 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.

“After the meeting I [Kay] spoke with Chris Pieper, a commissioner on the Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y del Arroyo Seco, where the two Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells are supposed to be drilled. His ditch has long expressed its concerns regarding the costs and chemical risks of these wells and he told me of a recent conversation with a New Mexico Environment Department official who confirmed their fears.

“According to this official, treatment costs of water from these 1,000-foot deep aquifer wells will be prohibitive; the only way to meet state standards is through reverse osmosis, a multi-million dollar expenditure. Chris believes that the meeting was also cancelled because the technical team that was supposed to address agenda item #1, “Follow-up on OSE [Office of the State Engineer] model ‘update’ discussion,” had no follow-up to report. Would newer, more informed hydrologic models also confirm parciantes’ doubts about the efficacy of these mitigation wells?”

The Shell Game: Who’s Got the Shovel?

By Bill Whaley

1. The “deep well” mediation project ignores the complex conjunctive connections between surface and ground water, acequias and aquifers, connections which are dependent on some of the most fragmented and complex geology in the world. Current studies depict hydraulic engineering information that was not available prior to 2006. Since 2006 extensive magnetic aquifer mapping has been carried out but must be verified by drilling test wells, according to New Mexico Tech representatives, who were under contract to the state.

2. While the agreement was drafted by attorneys, based on incomplete underground hydrological engineering analysis, and elected and appointed political representatives advised and consented, the latter did not fully inform their constituents, especially voters, the Town or members of EPWSD, Parciantes of TVAA, members of Taos Pueblo or the 12 MDWCAs at large of the ramifications due to, what they claim was necessary secrecy. But now they expect said constituents to absorb “speculative” expenses associated with implementation.

3. Just as the “macro” and “micro” expenses are ambiguous, none of the signatories have “shown us the money.” Signatories claim both Congress and the State must approve and allocate the money. Where is the money for implementation?

4. Parciantes, members of MDWCA and hydrologists have identified underground contamination, as probable, meaning expenses to filter and clean the water are “known unknowns.” There may be some “unknown unknowns” as well because some of most complex geology in the world exists aqui en Taos. We’re not third or second in this area.

5. Local disputes on ditches among the parties can’t be adjudicated in local or state court because the parties to the agreement signed prohibitions against filing lawsuits against fellow signatories. A “traditional” water master with jurisdiction over “regional disputes,” whether ditches or interpretation of the settlement between signatories, has not been discussed or implemented as part of the settlement that we know of. If a parciante in El Prado disagrees with a Pueblo parciante, do they take the conflict to a federal judge?

6. One casualty of the above internecine disputes has already reduced the number of acequias, signed off on Abeyta, to 54 because the “Spring Ditch” parciantes refused to sign off due to a lack of support from either TVAA or the Town of Taos, regarding “the taking” of its water and water source. For more casualties, Google “La Jicarita” and see the summary of the spreadsheet handed out at the “non-meeting” and how many alleged participants are ignoring or refusing to acknowledge the “Settlement.”

7. Politically speaking, The Town, EPWSD, and Taos Pueblo are hierarchies and organizations with the ability to tax and raise money or apply for grants. But the TVAA parciantes and MDWCAs have no sources of income other than marginal fees and democratically adjusted dues and little access to expertise.

8. Taos Pueblo leaders treat the “Settlement” like a secret Kiva issue while the TVAA patron, and attorneys (the big financial winners) have proscribed residents from receiving the information necessary to make informed decisions, as evidenced by the recent “no meeting” approach, barring the public and the press.

9. The lack of transparency on the part of the “Settlement” attorneys and leaders leads to rumors, charges of conspiracy, and extant self-dealing, according to parciantes, who are avoiding either participation or actively oppose the agreement, all of which threatens to derail the “Settlement.”

10. The Settlements, both Aamodt and Abeyta have stimulated “water markets,” the acquisition and potential sale of Taos County “water rights” to downstream municipalities and other users. Abeyta and Aamodt signatories have raided northern Taos County watersheds, water sources, and acequias. The dangers of imposing endless expenses on the Mutual Domestics and various acequias threaten the very land water culture of Taos County. Maybe you’ve got to kill the culture to save it. Remember “Indian Camp,” the inspiration for Milagro Beanfield War or Chinatown, the story of how the LA urban juggernaut killed the Owens Valley in California.

11. We live today in a vicious capitalist age wherein the institutionalized privatization of public resources is trending nationally under Trumpism. Generally speaking politicians and elected officials base their decisions on past experience and education but past experience no longer applies because of the present upheaval aimed at the retrograde practices of the late 19th Century gilded age. The New Deal is over.

12. If the signatories want to finish this agreement and implement the Settlement prior to “losing” almost fifty years of hard work and negotiating, the next step will require either a change of heart and rules or a mediator. A mediator needs the stature of a George Mitchell, who helped the Irish find peace, failed in Israel, but ameliorated the Major League Baseball scandal. Neither Ron Gardiner of Questa is coming back nor is Jesus coming back to Palestine. Closer to home, Bill Richardson has dealt with worldwide bad guys and knows all the local players. I’ m just saying. Bill looks all updated on TV.

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