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State Sues To Block Water Release

Long-term drought has kept water levels low for years at Elephant Butte Dam in southern New Mexico. (Journal File Photo)
Long-term drought has kept water levels low for years at Elephant Butte Dam in southern New Mexico. (Journal File Photo)
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SANTA FE – Attorney General Gary King waded into an ongoing New Mexico water dispute Monday, filing a lawsuit that seeks to prevent water from being released from Elephant Butte Reservoir for delivery to Texas.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe, claims the federal Bureau of Reclamation reclassified 65,000 acre-feet of reservoir water last month so it could be sent down the Rio Grande for the benefit of Texas irrigators.

“This action is inappropriate and must not be allowed,” King said Monday. “I believe it is only prudent to file this lawsuit to protect New Mexico’s water.”

Talk of lawsuits has swirled even before a 2008 agreement between the federal government and lower Rio Grande irrigators changed the formula for dividing up water held behind the Elephant Butte and Caballo dams.

New Mexico water users had previously received a majority of the irrigation water. That changed under the 2008 agreement, which was prompted by threats of a lawsuit from Texas.

Farmers in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District got 57 percent of the available water from the reservoirs before the agreement was signed but now receive just 38 percent of the available water, King’s office said.

Gary Esslinger of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which represents New Mexico farmers in a 90,000-acre area, said Monday that he was unaware that King’s office had filed the lawsuit.

However, Esslinger, the irrigation district’s treasurer and manager, acknowledged widespread discontent with the new arrangement, saying, “There’s a lot of concerns about how the water is accounted for.”

New Mexico is in the midst of a drought that has made the water situation more pressing.

This year, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District released the last of its yearly water supply July 5 and the district’s board subsequently turned down a subsequent water loan offer from the state of New Mexico over concerns that it could affect next year’s available levels.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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