U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE, N.M. -- A New York company wants to move water
from Catron County into the Rio Grande, a plan that has upset
residents in southwestern New Mexico.
Augustin Plains Ranch LLC proposes to pump billions of gallons of
water into the Rio Grande. Its drilling application with the state
engineer's office said that could help the state fulfill interstate
water compact obligations to Texas, alleviate pressure on farmers to
sell water rights and provide a new source of water to New Mexico
The company has applied to drill 37 wells, each about 2,000 feet
deep, in Catron County and pump 54,000 acre feet of groundwater a
year into the Rio Grande.
Water could go for agricultural or municipal uses, and Augustin
Ranch has suggested the state could buy it to meet delivery
requirements under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact.
About 300 residents of Datil, Quemado, Magdalena and Pie Town
turned out for a meeting on the proposal, and about 200 protests had
been filed against the application. The state engineer's office said
it was receiving protests at the rate of 40 a day.
Protests include ones from the U.S. Forest Service and the
Interstate Stream Commission.
"There's a lot of unanswered questions about what this water will
be used for," said Rep. Don Tripp, D-Socorro. "It's considered a
water grab by most people."
Most residents in the area rely on shallow wells, and are worried
the deep wells and large amount of pumping the company proposes would
drain the aquifer and dry up their wells, he said.
Wells would be drilled in an area that is mostly ranching country
on the Plains of San Agustin. Tripp said the area is attracting a
growing number of retirees and tourists.
Interstate Stream Commissioner Estevan Lopez said his office
protested the application because it wants to be sure pumping won't
hurt flows in the Rio Grande or the Gila River basin.
"We don't really have interest in purchasing that water for
compact compliance, at least not in the near future," Lopez said.
The commission in 2002 filed a similar application to pump about
90,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Salt Basin in southeastern
New Mexico and pipe it to the Rio Grande or the Pecos River to meet
compact requirements, Lopez said.
State Engineer John D'Antonio said approving Augustin Plain's
application could take more than 18 months, and the company would
have to put the water to beneficial use within four years.
"What makes this different is it's an application for a new
appropriation for water," D'Antonio said. "Most requests we see are
for a change of use or transfer of water rights. And it's a large
amount of water."
The application implies the state is a potential customer, but "no
one in the state as far as I know has said they're interested," he
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