TVAA Water Settlement Meeting Friday at 6 PM

By: Bill Whaley
11 September, 2013

The Taos Valley Acequia Association has called for a meeting on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 at the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Building to discuss the Abeyta—Taos Pueblo Water Rights Settlement, prior to more public meetings on Sept. 17 and Oct. 8, to be held at Rio Grande Hall in Taos. Acequia (ditch) parciantes (members with water rights) as well as those with wells, who hold junior water rights, should attend and raise questions. The State of New Mexico per the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) has notified affected members that they have until Oct. 28 to “object to the proposed decree” that “may affect your legal rights.”

The settlement purports to represent Taos Pueblo, 55 acequias, Town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation, and 12 Mutual Domestic Water Consumers.

Although a copy of the draft has been available since at least 2006 and much ballyhooed with photo opportunities at Taos Pueblo and the Town of Taos, attended by Gov. Richardson and a variety of notables, few parciantes and affected water rights’ holders have read the settlement, a settlement complicated by the language of the legal and engineering professions.

The settlement purports to affect only the litigants mentioned above–all residents of the Taos Valley watershed, which includes the Rio Grande, Arroyo Hondo, Rancho del Rio Grande, Rio Pueblo, etc., streams, and tributaries, as well as surface and ground water use, not to mention the mountains. Indeed, the settlement is funded by millions of dollars from the state and federal governments, which money is to be used for the purchase of water rights and for drilling mitigation wells since there is not enough wet surface water available to satisfy the settlement.

So, as has been reported in the news, underserved acequias like the Rio Lucero of Arroyo Seco and community water systems like El Prado Water and Sanitation are seeking to purchase water rights in northern Taos County and move the “paper water rights” to Taos Valley, so the principals and purchasers can drill deep water wells for purposes of storage and recovery in deep underground aquifers or as an alleged new source of water.

Rather than create new “wet water,” the settlement changes sources and moves water sources around the valley in an effort to satisfy the legal obligations of the parties. But water only comes from Mother Nature in the form of rain and snowmelt. The first question one might raise concerns the notion of underground sources, the rate of recharge for deep aquifers and the geological nature of the underground storage and recovery aquifers.

(The settlement itself was agreed to prior to extensive magnetic aquifer mapping, funded by the Healy Foundation under a contract with New Mexico Tech.)

In general there are several variations on the theme of aquifers: shallow aquifers of a couple hundred feet or less, perched water (a limited amount of water trapped in fairly shallow rock caverns, masquerading as aquifers), deeper aquifers of a 1000 feet, or even deeper aquifers of 2000 feet or more. Conjunctive management or the management of the relationships between riparian areas on ditches, streams, and rivers, as well as the relationships between shallow and deep aquifers requires knowledge and stewardship.

Water can be stored in natural watersheds—the forests and mountains and wetlands—if carefully nurtured (by imitating nature). But there is little in the settlement that acknowledges the need for watershed management. More troubling is the settlement’s reliance on what appears to be a shell game, drilling mitigation wells, pumping water into or out of underground aquifers for future use in irrigation.

In a publication from the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources for the Decision-Makers Field Conference 2005 Taos Region titled Mining in New Mexico: The Environment, Water, Economics, and Sustainable Development, the authors write about the complex geology of Taos Valley.

First the geologists say, “Taos is located in one of the most dynamic and stimulating geologic settings on the planet. Buried beneath the plateau is an enormous fissure in Earth’s crust (the Rio Grande rift) that is six times deeper than the Grand Canyon and thirty times larger than the Rio Grande gorge.” It’s a wonder!

Taos Valley is situated in “The Rio Grande rift [which] is part of a global system of fractures in Earth’s uppermost rigid layer (the lithosphere) that have formed in order to accommodate relative movements of the lithospheric plates.” The plates are broken and subject to tectonic forces or movement: “For the last 30 million years, plate tectonic forces have slowly begun to tear the North American continent apart along the Rio Grande rift.” See you later, Jack.

The Rio Grande formed as water began following the lower levels in the gorge at the top of the rift, “cutting down into the plateau sometime after 2.8 million years ago, which makes it younger than the Grande Canyon in Arizona.” We’re catching up.

According to studies as of the year 2000, the authors say “The Rio Grande brings an annual average of about 325,000 acre feet across the stateline from Colorado, but almost all the water used in the region is supplied by the tributaries, which also contribute to the Rio Grande. The annual outflow from the region, as measured at the Embudo gage, averages 601,700 acre feet, Thus, the Taos region contributes an average of 276,200 acre feet each year to the Rio Grande, which is more than two-thirds of New Mexico’s maximum annual allocation of water under the Rio Grande compact. “

And now in 2013?

Taos Friction has not seen the latest studies but climate change and continuing drought suggest the Rio Grande Flow has been reduced. In addition to ignoring what the authors characterize as the four watersheds, Taos Valley, Sunshine Valley, Costilla Creek Valley, and Red River Valley, the settlement risks much on the unknown unknowns and known unknowns as well as the knowns beneath the surface of the valley in the rift. Donald’s back.

The geologists say, “The complex hydrogeological conditions adjacent to the mountain front give rise to complicated interactions between water flow in streams and water flow in aquifers.” And, finally, “As the region increases its reliance on ground water, withdrawals from the shallow aquifers via wells will eventually reduce stream flow by intercepting water that would otherwise maintain the streams or by drawing water directly from stream channels.” Caveat Emptor.

The geological complexities are compounded by the arts of human relations or politics as the signatories—political movida makers—go looking for water and water rights. One acequia in the Town of Taos has already been kicked out of the TVAA because another Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Water Settlement signatory, the Town of Taos, has absconded with its water source and blocked its historic ditches, forcing parciantes to file a lawsuit and object. People in the Questa area are crying foul as the newly-empowered wealthy signatories of TVAA and El Prado raid the north (as has Santa Fe) looking for water rights to the satisfy federal settlement (s). Throwing money around on a water deal is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

And you can bet that the 101-page agreement is almost as complicated as the tectonic plates that are shifting beneath the Rio Grande rift. As life imitates nature, expect the battles for water in Taos County to continue even as the really big downstream users from Albuquerque come calling, especially when the San-Juan-Chama water, diverted  from the Colorado, dries up, due to calls by Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It’s Chinatown, Jake.

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