Commissioner Responds to Abeyta Issues

By: Contributor
7 October, 2013

Letter to Constituents by Tom Blankenhorn

The Abeyta Settlement is strongly supported by all of the parties to that settlement, which include over 60 major water rights stakeholders within Taos County including Acequia Associations, Mutual Domestics, Water and Sanitation Districts, the Pueblo and the Town of Taos. The New Mexico State Engineer’s Office strongly supports the agreement, and it is funded by State and Federal Governments. Implementation of the Abeyta Settlement requires the transfer of water rights from some properties to others. This does not require physically transporting any water.

All paper transfers of water rights raise legitimate concerns about how such transfers affect traditional water uses. Each of them has to be considered on their own merits and I support the work of the Taos County Advisory Board, which keeps the County informed about all transfer applications. But I have disagreed with their assessment of the first two applications for transfers under the Abeyta Settlement, which seek to transfer water rights from north of Questa into the El Prado Water and Sanitation District and the Arroyo Seco Acequia.

The area north of Questa has an abundance of water rights. These water rights give landowners the right to tap the aquifer for the purpose of commercial agricultural irrigation. Very few of those landowners have used those water rights for many years. As a result, many of those water rights have been for sale for many years. A large chunk of them were purchased by Santa Fe. Taos County Commissioners are unanimous in their opposition to transfers of water rights outside of Taos County because such transfers endanger the availability of those rights for our own citizens.

One of the current proposed transfers from the area north of Questa would benefit the El Prado Water and Sanitation District. El Prado needs those rights to satisfy their current deficit with the State Engineer, and without them, they are in danger of eventually having to cut those services. The El Prado Water and Sanitation District replaces individual wells and septic systems in a high water area with a centralized system that uses the deep aquifer as its source. This system clearly benefits the water quality of El Prado by eliminating hundreds of individual wells and septic systems, and it clearly benefits those hundreds of families that are hooked up to the system. The proposed transfer has no effect upon the Questa Acequia, and it actually could benefit the wells in that area. If all of the water rights north or Questa were used to grow corn or soy, it is very likely that nearby wells would be affected.

I do not take these issues lightly. I have read extensively and talked for many hours with reasonable and well-informed people on many sides of these issues, and I look forward to doing so in the future.

Tom Blankenhorn, Commissioner, District 4

Editor’s Note: The continuing discussion of water rights and water resources is important and healthy for the county, communities, and constituents in general. Agriculture and food security, watersheds and water supply are at issue.

How does one satisfy state engineer mandates for water rights—a legal principle—resolve the issue of providing “wet” water to satisfy thirst and agriculture? The commodification of water rights, the separation of water rights from agricultural land and watersheds, introduces an element of “mining for water” as in mitigation wells and consequently raises the question of “recharge rates.”

How long does it take to recharge deep aquifers and how will deep wells affect the Rio Grande?

Aquifer storage and recovery—via deep mitigation wells—depend on the underpinnings of the geological formations below the surface of the land. Conjunctive management, the management of the relationships between surface, shallow, and deep aquifers, as well as the origin of water i.e. the health of watersheds, raises questions.

In effect, the Abeyta—Taos Pueblo Water Settlement, fueled by state and federal money to purchase water rights and drill deep wells, is a well-intentioned political solution but one dependent on human intervention in an attempt to change the ways of Mother Nature. Dam building or “expert” solutions regarding water storage, due to the increase in population and demand throughout the west, has led to unintended consequences.

When it comes to “relocating” water rights and access to water sources in Taos County the dialogue among experts, community leaders, and citizens about Abeyta confronts nothing less than a “grand experiment” in sustainability. The grand experiment in Taos exemplifies in microcosm the macrocosm confronting society on earth: climate change, a growing population, and the demands on the limited resources of the planet.

(All this tension, no wonder tempers are short.)

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