Beauty (Posters) and the Beast (Abeyta)

By: Bill Whaley
29 March, 2018

Good News on Beauty

Ok. So, I’m wrong about my predictions re: the “Poster Art” reproductions hanging from lamp posts in Taos. Taos is now a four-letter word for Art. I love the posters except for the “safety” factor. It’s difficult to read some of the names (except Zoe’s) on the horizontal sides of the images, while driving by oneself. Congratulations to Janet Webb and her coterie of supporters. Now how about the clutter beyond the posters?

The Beastly Bureaucratism of Abeyta

For the antidote to Magical Thinkers and Science Deniers I offer into evidence the driest winter I have seen since I first visited Taos in 1965. Now comes the Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Water Settlement Agreement, which threatens to further demoralize farmers and parciantes as the pen replaces the shovel. The real work today of preserving and protecting the acequia culture comes down to bureaucrats.

Ironically Abeyta also participates in the “commodification of water markets” i.e. separating land from water rights: it ain’t shovels but “computer models” that are taking over the culture. Though some parciantes and MDWCAs are learning, few tax payers in Town or members of the EPWSD (the district) or residents of Taos Pueblo know that the “Abeyta” agreement officially “bureaucratized” the aqua.

Can you even say it? Bureaucratization.

Last week I downloaded hundreds of pages from the Town’s web site and highlighted the water shockers in Abeyta for my Monday night culture class at Manzanita Market. We’d just finished reading Sylvia Rodriguez’s “Acequia: Water Sharing, Sanctity, and Place” which should be mandatory reading along with R.C. Gordon McCutchan’s “Taos Indians and the Battle for Blue Lake” for politicos and parciantes et al.

Here’s some news from the document that Abeyta signatories have kept secret or otherwise ignored. Through the proposed use of “mitigation” wells (pump water up and out and back upstream from wells out on the west mesa to fill acequias) and/or “Aquifer Storage Recovery” systems (pump winter water into the ground, pump up and recover in summer) in El Salto (which parciantes have rejected), so the signatories (attorneys, geo-hydrology engineers, and alleged “community leaders”) have transformed a fairly ingenious and centuries old system, based on gravity flows and enduring cooperation into something so complex and expensive that it appears ultimately impractical.

Agent red drips from the pens of bureaucrats i.e. requirements for expensive audits, NEPA requirements for pipelines, mitigation wells, i.e. the codification of custom: instead of handshakes and shovels, volunteers must double up as engineers, accountants, attorneys, etc. or pay professionals to secure the water necessary to satisfy the “right of thirst.” Mitigation wells are used as offsets against water diverted upstream. Pens are used to offset the use of shovels, which you don’t need if there’s no water in the ditch, thanks to Mother Nature or Bureaucrats and Los Signatories.

How much will the Mitigation wells deplete underground aquifer flow to the Rio Grande? Eh? That’s a question my late friend Ron Gardiner always used to ask.

To wit:

1. (Taos Pueblo Water Rights) Section Marketing: allows Taos Pueblo to lease or make available San Juan-Chama Project Water within or without Taos County. (Editor: we hear TP and EPWSD already lease water rights to downstream users.)

2. (TVAA) Section (TVAA). Makes provision for Arroyo Seco Arriba Project: acquire water rights, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), Surface storage, water rights acquisition etc. Post agreement, the parciantes already voted against the ASR but their leaders acquired water rights from parciantes in the Cabresto area of Questa, impoverishing the water shed and acequias in northern Taos County. After due diligence and studying the requirements, parciantes on the Acequia del Madre Rio Lucero y del Arroyo Seco say they can’t afford the maintenance etc. required under the agreement.

3. (Town of Taos, EPWSD) 6.2.1. et al: The Town, like EPWSD, is required to stop using wells near Taos Pueblo’s “Buffalo Pasture” i.e. close to Town. The Pueblo’s concern for “recharge” is driving a major portion of the agreement. In turn the TT and EPWSD will drill and pay for mitigation wells, miles west on the Mesa, toward the Rio Grande and pipe the water back to town and district for use. While the Town and EPWSD have sources of revenue, these costs continue to escalate. El Prado plans on spending some $15 million alone. The Town, according to the latest news, is appropriately “clueless” about costs except for the cost of a single shovel wielded by a wily councilor.

4. (Pipelines)Section 7 gets down to figures and constraints for the Town, EPWSD, MDWCAS, mitigation wells, offsets for depletion of surface and groundwater,

a. The Rio Grande del Rancho well requires a “7000” foot pipeline.

b. The Rio Chiquito Well requires a “4000” foot pipeline.

c. The Rio Lucero/Rio Pueblo well requires a “6000” foot pipeline.

d. The Rio Hondo well requires a “3000” foot pipeline.

The Abeyta’s complicated language focuses on engineering re: mitigation, depletion, shifting and translating Mother nature’s surface and ground water into the three-dimensional mindset of “CAD-like” knowledge per digital graphics using endless legal mumbo jumbo.

The Cash Flow?

In Section 9.6 et al, the agreement speaks of “$15,000,000” available upon appropriation. In Section 10 “in general,” the agreement speaks of NEPA costs which shall not exceed “$36,000,000,” EPSWD costs of $15,000,000, of $2,000,000 from NM DFA for MDWCAs, of $10,000,000 for Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y Arroyo Seco, etc. Who’s counting?

Then in 10.2.3. the total “Construction Funding,” according to the agreement amounts to $48,000,000 and includes all the above-mentioned mitigation wells and pipelines etc. but there is also mention of “match.” The dreaded “match” and continuing “maintenance” frightens what amounts to historic “shoestring” operations of acequias and Mutual Domestic Water Consumer Associations i.e. voluntary dues and fee-paying organizations.

Codification and Bureaucratization

During my newspaper years at Taos County I saw how commissioners and staff struggled to come to terms with the modern era of Federal and State guidelines i.e. DFA-LGD codes and requirements during the last decade of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st. But the County had cash flow, tax income, with which to hire employees and experts and a perceived willingness to come to terms with the business of government.

In terms of local Hispanic “customs” or Taos Pueblo “doings,” think of the distance between the bureaucratic codes of contemporary administrators and the Acequia culture, the MDWCAs, and the secretive nature of Taos Pueblo day to day ways of conducting business. (I hear Taos Pueblo just bought the Kachina Lodge!)  The Town of Taos and El Prado have income streams as does the Pueblo but the costs seem unpredictable, the demands posed by the agreement are so great and so complex.


The Seco/Salto and Hondo members and parciantes have made the most noise about their dilemma but there is a kind of seething unrest generally. If the signatories—good old boys, alleged community leaders—expect this agreement to work then they need to “show their hand” to constituents and “open up the process” to the community. They need to hold bi-monthly technical and administrative meetings in Taos (not Santa Fe) to educate the public.

Here are some questions.

Where have all the millions gone so far? Where did the money come from?

Why has TVAA allocated $10 million to Seco and Salto for storage, wells, and pipelines, which the parciantes say they don’t want and can’t afford? And will the rejection of same sabotage the balance of mitigation and depletion in this chess game with Taos Pueblo et al?

Why did the County allow the Abeyta signatories to run rough shod over northern Taos County parciantes, depleting water rights?  Will Abeyta signatories continue to practice mayhem against the rest of the county?

Is Abeyta an opportunity for El Prado and Taos Pueblo to market water profitably downstream? Should they use the profits to pay for projects the parciantes and members of MDWCAs can’t afford?

How the heck are MDWCA members and parciantes going to pay for pipelines and well maintenance when initial federal and state funds are depleted?

When you hear tales of El Valle de los Ranchos’ difficulties in acquiring easements for sewer lines, how difficult will it be to acquire more easements for pipelines re: Talpa and Llano, Rio Chiquito and Rancho del Rio Grande”?

Do they mitigation wells and pipelines meet the claims of “custom” and fit with the “doings?” Why is the Town of Taos missing in action?

On Monday, April 2, I have invited a few experienced water users to my Culture Class, 5:30 to 7:30, at Manzanita Market to discuss Abeyta effects first hand. We are a quiet group. If you’d like to come email me The deal ain’t done till the singing stops. But, as we know, water flows uphill towards money.

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