U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE -- Lawyers in a long-running lawsuit over who owns
water around the Pojoaque Valley say they will continue talks rather
than move ahead with a settlement proposal that has sparked
U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez, presiding over the case, said
negotiations will continue until next spring.
Talks began in 2000 to reach a settlement in the case, known as
the Aamodt lawsuit after the first name in alphabetical order listed.
The proposed settlement, released in February, calls for the
federal government to pay most of the cost of building a $280 million
regional water system to serve the Pojoaque Valley and Tesuque.
Non-Indian water users would have to disconnect their wells and
transfer their water rights to a private, nonprofit water agency. In
exchange, they would get service from a regional system.
The four pueblos involved in the lawsuit, who hold the oldest
water rights, would secure additional water supplies and in turn
would agree not to try to cut off the water supply for the regional
However, Bennett Raley, assistant U.S. secretary of the interior
for water and science, said the federal government has not identified
a source of water rights on the Rio Grande to supply the proposed
The non-Indian water users have raised significant opposition to
being forced to cap their wells. They've also complained that
negotiations went on behind closed doors and that the settlement was
presented to them as a done deal.
Vazquez agreed to let two representatives of the non-Indian
opponents sit in on continuing discussions. Santa Fe attorney Bob
Sena and Paul White of Chupadero will represent the non-Indians who
"We have a lot of people who are affected, and they didn't know
what we were doing, and they need to know," Vazquez said.
But she also stressed that non-Indians must realize the case will
go to trial if no settlement agreement is reached.
"If the case goes to me, the issue is not 'How do we be good
neighbors and share the water?'" but rather enforcing water law,
New Mexico law recognizes those who put water to use first -- in
this case the pueblos -- have senior water rights. Only when those
senior rights have been satisfied may those with junior rights have
State officials and lawyers involved in the case have emphasized
that accepting the agreement is the best chance for non-Indians to
secure a long-term water supply. They warned that a lack of an
agreement could lead to the pueblos' seeking to cut off those with
junior water rights.
The case began in 1966 when the state engineer, New Mexico's water
czar, sued all water users in the Pojoaque, Tesuque and Nambe
watersheds to determine the extent of Indian and non-Indian water
rights. The lawsuit involves more than 2,800 claimants, dozens of
acequias and the Pojoaque, Tesuque, Nambe and San Ildefonso pueblos.
Pojoaque Pueblo Lt. Gov. George Rivera said it's a good sign that
Vazquez decided to let talks continue. Everyone will lose if the case
goes to trial, Rivera said.
"If more people need to get educated about what the real water
issue is and what the legal posture of the case is, that's all
positive," he said.
Rivera said he didn't expect a huge turnaround in the case but it
would be good "to hear everybody out and see if there are
accommodations that can be made on all sides."
New Mexico's congressional delegation has said no federal money
for the proposed regional water system will be available until a
settlement is approved.
While negotiations have been behind closed doors so far, U.S.
Magistrate Leslie Smith, who works on the case for Vazquez, said it's
possible the court will consider lifting or modifying the secrecy
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