U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE -- A federal judge overseeing a 38-year-old water
rights lawsuit says she expects lawyers in the case to work out a
settlement agreement by the end of the month and present it for her
signature by summer.
U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez issued that timeline in a court
She inherited the case when the previous presiding judge, Edwin
Mechem, died last year. Mechem had assigned the lawsuit to a federal
magistrate to try to hammer out a settlement agreement behind closed
The proposed settlement calls for building a regional water system
in the Pojoaque Valley.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has prepared a draft study of the
costs of building such a system but the study has not been released.
The case, known as the Aamodt lawsuit after the first name in
alphabetical order among the plaintiffs, began in 1966 when the state
engineer sued all water users in the Rio Pojoaque, Rio Tesuque and
Rio Nambe watersheds to determine the extent of Indian and non-Indian
water rights. The complex lawsuit involves 2,825 individual
claimants, 51 acequias and Pojoaque, Tesuque, Nambe and San Ildefonso
Previous court rulings have found the four pueblos have first
water rights, which predate New Mexico statehood and are protected by
Mark Sheridan, lawyer for the Rio Pojoaque Acequia and Water Well
Users Association, a group of non-Indians involved in the lawsuit,
said the court's confidentiality order prohibits him from discussing
the case. However, he said he believes the parties are optimistic
they can reach a settlement.
Some details of the proposed settlement have become public,
including the key plan for the federal and state governments to build
a regional water system to supply the area.
Most non-Indians covered by the lawsuit currently rely on
individual wells. In exchange for them giving up those wells, Indian
pueblos would give up their right to a priority call against the
non-Indians when water is in short supply.
A priority call asks that people whose water rights were obtained
more recently be cut off so those with older water rights get their
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