U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE -- Northern New Mexico's irrigation ditch
associations fear that an auction of water rights by a private
company threatens efforts to keep water rights attached to the
traditional ditch system.
"Our view is that water is so essential to all life, it should not
be viewed as a commodity," said Paula Garcia, executive director of
the New Mexico Acequia Association. "And traditionally, water could
not be severed from the land."
She said the water rights up for auction were established through
generations that maintained irrigation ditches and used the water for
farming and livestock, Garcia said.
"It is unthinkable to some traditional people that you could cash
that out," she said.
However, some people with generations-old water rights are selling
and hired WaterBank of Albuquerque to handle the sale.
Water buyers had to bid on irrigation rights in the Pojoaque and
Espanola valleys, with the minimum bid set at $25,000 an acre foot.
Hydrologist William Turner, who heads WaterBank, said 700 acre
feet are for sale north of Espanola and about 25 acre feet are for
sale in the Pojoaque Valley.
A letter offering the water rights for sale described them as
proven, pre-1907 water rights, according to the state engineer's
Garcia said people are allowed to sell water rights. But she also
said other ditch users should be told about such sales so they can
comment on potential water rights transfers. A 2003 law allows
acequia associations to protest such transfers.
Turner, a trustee for WaterBank and for Lion's Gate Water, a
Canadian firm seeking New Mexico water rights, has sued the U.S.
Department of Interior over his bid for 18,000 acre feet of water
rights in the Gila River. He also has filed applications for
thousands of acre feet of water that evaporates annually from
Turner has been sued by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
over his water brokering activities.
Turner, a member of the conservancy district's board, sent out
thousands of letters to landowners in the district offering to buy
pre-1907 water rights at up to $14,000 an acre foot.
His letter tells people that if they sell, they have to stop
irrigating under the state engineer's rules. However, the conservancy
district maintains that people can sell water rights and still lease
water from the district's water bank.
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