Friday, June 13, 2014

Lawmakers spotlight massive Texas-New Mexico water dispute

Debate flared again Wednesday over massive water lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court that has big implications for thousands of Doña Ana County water users. Lawmakers who belong to the interim New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, which met in Las Cruces, heard from top officials and experts on multiple sides of the dispute. The case in general pits Texas against New Mexico over groundwater pumping in the Lower Rio Grande Basin. But it's unusual because the irrigation district that's central player in the dispute — the Las Cruces-based Elephant Butte Irrigation District – is taking a middle-ground stance, declining to side with either. Sarah Bond, lawyer for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, contended that eight "myths" exist about the Supreme Court case, including that Texas "has a strong case against New Mexico." "New Mexico has many important factual reasons for knowing that that's not true," said Bond, whose office represents New Mexico in the case. "Texas has made its case based on a number of claims that the Rio Grande Compact does this or that, but the main claims it raises are simply not stated in the compact." Bond referred to the historic, 1938 water-sharing agreement that spells out how Rio Grande water should be divvied up among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Local irrigation officials have said the compact left New Mexico irrigators in an awkward place because though they're geographically in New Mexico, they share in the water released from Elephant Butte Lake and Caballo Reservoir that's bound for Texas. And Texas users are alleging that Doña Ana County water users have overused the water over the course of decades. While the Rio Grande Compact is the basis for Texas' lawsuit, another smaller-scale water-sharing document, called the 2008 operating agreement, also is wrapped up in the debate. It spelled out how EBID would split Rio Grande water south of the reservoirs with a neighboring irrigation district in El Paso County. Attorney General King challenged that lawsuit in federal district court. EBID officials have alleged that King's action opposing the operating agreement, which pledged to deliver a guaranteed amount of water to El Paso County, sparked Texas to then file a U.S. Supreme Court action...more

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