Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Water issues on tap for New Mexico legislators

Lawsuits over water deliveries and water rights, the potential impacts of drilling for oil and gas, and a steady decline in stored water at New Mexico reservoirs are a few of the issues scientists and state officials outlined for state lawmakers Monday in a joint committee hearing. Providing water for agriculture, energy development, businesses, endangered species and households is an endless challenge for the state's water managers. An ongoing drought has increased the challenge. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering a range of bills this session that address water issues. The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows 93 percent of New Mexico in a severe drought or worse. A few more good snowstorms might elevate the level to moderate drought, said John Longworth, chief of the Water Use and Conservation Bureau of the New Mexico State Engineer's Office. The ongoing drought over the last several years has lead to water flows periodically disappearing on some stretches of the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers. Interstate Stream Commissioner Estevan Lopez said such dry times impact water New Mexico must deliver downstream to Texas and Southern New Mexico farmers under interstate stream compacts. New Mexico has three major Indian water rights settlements to finish involving the Navajo Nation, Taos Pueblo and four pueblos in the Pojoaque River Basin. The largest water rights settlement is the Navajo Nation's claim in New Mexico to the San Juan River. The tribe has a separate case for water rights on the San Juan in Arizona. The settlement cost is an estimated $1 billion, with the state paying a $50 million share. The 2006 Taos settlement finalized the water rights of Taos Pueblo, the Taos Valley Acequia Association, the town and a dozen mutual domestic water associations. The cost of the settlement is $144 million, with the state picking up $20 million of the tab...more

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