U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE -- A settlement of water rights along the Pecos
River was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.
The court, in a unanimous ruling, said the settlement did not
violate the state constitution's "anti-donation" clause or the legal
doctrine of prior appropriation, which calls for those with the
oldest water rights to have priority in times of shortage.
Estevan Lopez, director of the Interstate Stream Commission, said
the court's ruling was important because the settlement is critical
for the state to meet its interstate compact obligations to deliver
certain amounts of water to Texas.
"The state made a policy decision to fix a system that was out of
balance. This vindicates that everyone was correct," said Lopez.
The 2003 settlement between the state engineer, the Carlsbad
Irrigation District, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Pecos Valley
Artesian Conservancy District resolved long-standing litigation over
Under the settlement, the state is buying thousands of acres of
land and its associated water rights along the Pecos River to help
ensure that certain amounts of water flow downstream to Texas.
The settlement was challenged by the Hope Community Ditch
Association, an acequia association made up of 42 family farms, and
Carlsbad area farmers known in the lawsuit as Tracy/Eddy Trusts and
Paul Bloom, a lawyer for the challengers, said he could not
comment on the ruling because he had not seen a copy of the court's
42-page opinion. He said a decision would be made later on whether to
appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.
The court rejected arguments the settlement violated the doctrine
of prior appropriation, which if implemented during shortages on the
Pecos River could mean cutting off junior water rights around
The court also disagreed with arguments the settlement violated
the anti-donation clause by using taxpayer money to buy land and
water rights to substitute for enforcement of water rights
The state plans to purchase irrigated farmland around Roswell and
Carlsbad, then halt the irrigation and transfer water to well fields,
which will be pumped to boost New Mexico's delivery of water to
The Legislature has approved millions of dollars so far for water
rights and land acquisition to carry out the settlement.
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