Thursday, June 22, 2017

New Mexico Water Official Moves to Clarify Ranchers' Rights

New Mexico's top water manager has fired the latest salvo in a battle with the federal government over the protection of an endangered mouse and the barring of livestock from certain streams and watering holes on national forest land. State Engineer Tom Blaine is offering licenses to ranchers that clarify their water rights and allow them to use all sources of surface water on their grazing allotments. Access to watering holes on the Lincoln National Forest has been an issue since federal managers began ordering closures and installing fences in the Lincoln and Santa Fe forests in 2014 after the mouse was listed as endangered. That spurred criticism that the federal government was trampling on property and water rights in New Mexico as it had in other Western states. Forest officials have maintained that they have a responsibility under the federal Endangered Species Act to protect the jumping mouse, which is found in New Mexico, Arizona and a small portion of Colorado. In an order issued earlier this month, Blaine recognizes livestock watering rights that are more than a century old but were not considered when the stream systems on the Lincoln National Forest were adjudicated decades ago. The state engineer's office has granted only one license so far, but New Mexico ranchers say they're encouraged. Regional forest officials say they have been reviewing Blaine's order but they have not commented on how the state's move might affect the closures on the Lincoln forest. According to the order, ranchers who want a license must own what are called stockwatering water rights that were established before 1907, when New Mexico's comprehensive water code was adopted. They also must prove beneficial use through documentation of their historical ranching practices...more

The order is embedded below:

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