Thursday, August 02, 2012

U.S. government sues New Mexico for damages in groundwater case

Clearly, it was jolting news the New Mexico Legislature's Water and Natural Resources Committee wasn't prepared for. During Monday's committee meeting, in the Barbara Hubbard Room at the Pan American Center Annex, lawyers representing the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, and the city of Las Cruces, told the committee that a state Water Court hearing will be at 9 a.m. Wednesday, at the Third Judicial Court Complex, 201 E. Picacho Ave., and the future management of state's water supply could hang in the balance of the hearing's outcome. "Why hasn't this been front-page news?" asked a surprised Clinton D. Harden Jr., a state senator from Clovis. "This is one of the biggest things ever. Frankly, what we're looking at is under the camel's nose. This is an unprecedented legal claim to water." The lawyers told the committee the U.S. government is apparently trying to take over legal management of the state's water supply. The federal government has asserted claims for damages to groundwater in a natural resource damage case in New Mexico involving Chevron/Molycorp. The claim seeks for those damages to be awarded in the form of future water rights management. The federal government's lawsuit has caught the attention of the Western Governors' Association. "Claims by federal trustees of this nature are unprecedented and are of great concern to the Western states," said Pam O. Inmann, executive director of the Western Governors' Association, in a letter to Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. "...The ramifications of such legal position extend to the very heart of the Western states exclusive ownership and/or management and control of the groundwater resources within their respective boundaries."...more

Let's see what the City of Las Cruces says:

Jay Stein, a lawyer representing the city of Las Cruces, who has filed as an intervener in the case, said the outcome of the hearing could potentially affect the city's water supply. "In the pending water rights adjudication in state district court, here in Las Cruces, the court has turned to the United States' claims. Foremost among these is the issue of the United States' claims to "groundwater' or to "project water in the ground,' as they have termed it. These claims are not supported by any actual beneficial use of groundwater. Nor are they supported by state law which governs proceedings in the adjudication."These water claims are unqualified but potentially could amount to hundreds of thousands of acre-feet per year." City Utilities Director Jorge Garcia later added, "If the feds end up owning the groundwater, it would negatively affect any future water planning the city would want to do."

Let's see.  According to the Mayor and City Council its great for the feds to own over 80% of the land in the county, but its bad for the same folks to own or control the water?

They've assured all of us in their support of a 600,000 acre National Monument that we'll have plenty of input into a management plan but federal ownership of the water would "negatively affect any future water planning" of the city?

They've passed resolution after resolution asking the feds to protect the land but they are opposed to the feds protecting the water?

Come on Mayor, what's wrong with "democracy at work" when it comes to water?

They shouldn't worry.  I'm sure the NM Wilderness Alliance can produce a study showing federal ownership and protection of the water would bring us jobs and "a more robust economic future."

To be consistent, we need an Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and a Steinborn-Miyagishima Water Wilderness.  

I'm that will bring us a bright future!

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