DULCE, N.M. --An historic step towards the final resolution of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe's water right claims was taken recently when Chief United States District Judge John E. Conway signed an order to finally adjudicate the water rights of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe in the Rio Chama Basin in northern New Mexico. The order, called a Partial Final Judgment and Decree, determines the Tribe's water rights on the east side of the Reservation.
The proposed decree was the subject of a 1995 motion filed jointly by the tribe, the federal government, and the New Mexico State Engineer. Numerous public meetings were held throughout the Rio Chama Basin in 1996-1997 to ensure that water users were fully informed of the terms of the tribe's water rights settlement. All objections to the entry of the decree were addressed by the tribe through additional settlement negotiations, enabling the judge to sign the decree without the need for a trial.
"Recognition of our water rights is a crucial part of our status as a sovereign nation," stated Acting President Rodger Vicenti. Tribal Councilman Hubert Velarde echoed similar sentiments. "The signing of the decree is indeed an important achievement for the Jicarilla Apache people. I have been working to secure the Jicarilla Apache Tribe's water rights for over 25 years, so this is a very gratifying day for me.
The decree adjudicates 65.14 acre-feet annual diversion/40.32 acre-feet annual depletion (whichever is less) of reserved water rights for all historic and existing uses within that portion of the original Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation that is in the Rio Chama Basin. Those water rights have an 1880 priority date. The decree also adjudicates 1,492.93 acre-feet annual diversion/1,095.01 acre-feet annual depletion (whichever is less) of historic water rights acquired under state law. Those water rights, which have priority dates ranging from 1907 until 1985, cannot be lost for non-use and cannot be subject to defeasance by operation of state taw so long as the tribe retains an ownership interest therein.
The Rio Chama decree is one of two final decrees which must be entered in two general stream adjudications before the tribe may use the 40,000 acre-feet of future use water to which it is entitled by the 1992 federal law, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act. The other decree, which will adjudicate the tribe's water rights in the San Juan River Basin, is pending in a state court expedited "inter se" proceedings in San Juan County.
Return to the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water News Homepage