U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE -- Permanent contracts have been signed that
ensure future river water supplies for five cities and two counties
in northern New Mexico.
"This is a milestone achievement," Gov. Bill Richardson said.
"This is about securing a water future for New Mexico."
The San Juan-Chama project contracts were signed recently by
officials from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the state,
Espanola, Los Lunas, Santa Fe, Taos, Taos Ski Valley, Los Alamos
County and Santa Fe County.
The contracts were years on the making, said Santa Fe Mayor David
"Ever since the '70s, the city has sent a delegation to
Washington, D.C., asking for permanent contracts," he said.
Espanola Mayor Joseph Maestas said the permanent contract is
crucial for his city.
"The city is 100 percent reliant on groundwater, and our
groundwater is increasingly polluted," he said.
The San Juan-Chama project, authorized by Congress in 1962,
diverts water from San Juan River tributaries through a series of
tunnels and structures across the Continental Divide to the Rio
Chama, which joins the Rio Grande.
The bureau contracts with 15 counties, cities and tribes to
provide 96,200 acre feet of water a year from the project.
Most of the water goes to Albuquerque and the Middle Rio Grande
Conservancy District, which signed permanent contracts in the 1970s.
Albuquerque receives 48,200 acre feet annually, and the district gets
20,900 acre feet.
Permanent contracts give Espanola 1,000 acre feet, Los Lunas 400
acre feet, Santa Fe and Santa Fe County 5,605 acre feet, Taos 400
acre feet, Taos Ski Valley 15 acre feet and Los Alamos County 1,200
The state and Bureau of Reclamation have analyzed historic water
flows and believe the San Juan-Chama system can consistently meet
terms of the contracts, said Estevan Lopez, Interstate Stream
But in cases of prolonged drought, all those that have signed the
contracts would have to share in water shortages, he said.
The Navajo Nation water rights settlement also could affect San
Juan-Chama water deliveries, Lopez said.
The deal, signed last year by the state and the tribe, guarantees
the tribe's water rights while protecting other water rights-holders,
such as the San Juan-Chama contractors, he said.
The tribal deal still requires the state and federal governments
to come up with an estimated $850 million during the next 15 years,
Lopez said. The federal government's share would be about $700
"The settlement has timelines," Lopez said. "Given the federal
budget situation, it's making everyone nervous."
If the settlement is not funded and the parties withdraw, the
Navajo Nation could potentially claim all the San Juan River water,
and then there would be a legal battle to determine final water
rights, he said.
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