U.S. Water News Online
LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Two El Paso, Texas residents have
appealed a water permit issued to Dona Ana County and an El
Paso-based development group, contending there was a conspiracy
involving the developer and the governor to take water that belonged
to the El Paso residents.
The appeal by Charlie and Phyllis Crowder, filed in state district
court here, adds an obstacle to efforts to resolve decades of legal
battles over Santa Teresa water.
A bankruptcy court in late December approved a deal to transfer
$6.4 million of water rights from Crowder Investment Company to Dona
Ana County and the Verde Group. The water rights had been tied up
since the Crowder family, which owned the Santa Teresa Service Co.
before Sunland Park condemned the utility, filed for bankruptcy court
protection in the early part of the decade.
El Paso-based Verde Group and the county received permits earlier
this summer to use 19,000 acre feet of water in the Santa Teresa area
for a cross-border development, an idea proposed by Charlie Crowder
Crowder, who once owned large tracts of land in the Santa Teresa
area, claimed the water rights in the 1970s when he drilled wells in
the area. The Crowders once claimed about 110,000 acre feet of water.
The appeal does not directly challenge the permit, but rather the
state engineer's cancellation of the rest of Crowder's declaration by
issuing the permit for less than the full water claim, said the
Crowders' attorney, Peter B. Shoenfeld of Santa Fe.
State Engineer John D'Antonio denied canceling any water rights.
He said a former state engineer, Eluid Martinez, ruled in 1994 that
the Crowders' claim was only about 29,000 acre feet.
D'Antonio said the dispute was not over water rights, but rather
over a permit that grants the right to use water.
The state engineer is not permitting the use of any additional
water rights in the basin surrounding Santa Teresa.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver recently denied
the Crowders' appeal of the bankruptcy court's approval of the water
Charlie Crowder has alleged a conspiracy involving Gov. Bill
Richardson, the Verde Group and others to take his land and water.
State and county officials denied the accusations. The Verde Group
declined comment, saying it does not talk to the media.
The governor acknowledged that early last year he supported a
proposal that would have granted the water rights permit to the state
Border Authority, a plan Crowder backed. When the Verde Group's
proposal came up, the Border Authority idea died.
Richardson said he opted to support the Verde Group because of the
financial backing and reputation of those involved.
Crowder called the Verde Group's backers a group of well-heeled,
out-of-state players. Its principals are from Texas, Massachusetts
and Chihuahua, Mexico.
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