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Bill Would Allow Water Leases

By Dianne Stallings
Ruidoso News
          RUIDOSO — U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce has introduced a bill that would allow the Mescalero Apache Tribe to lease water rights granted to the tribe by a 1993 New Mexico court decision.
        Pearce, a Republican representing the 2nd Congressional District of New Mexico that includes the counties of Lincoln and Otero, said the bill aims to promote economic growth and would honor the right for Native American communities to exercise self-determination. If passed, the legislation would permit lease or transfer of water rights for a term of up to 99 years, provided the lease or transfer complies with New Mexico law.
        Ruidoso officials were aware of the pending legislation, said Mayor Ray Alborn.
        "We are familiar with that situation," he said Monday. "We've had conversations with Pearce's aide about it. As a matter of fact, I have felt all along that the tribe is a neighbor of ours, and we needed to have a working relationship with them in a lot of ways. ... We certainly are interested in working with them any way we can, but I emphasize, it has to be a win-win for both parties. That's the only way it makes sense. President (Mark) Chino also has to work with his Tribal Council."
        Pinpointing new avenues to obtain water rights became more important to the village in the past few months as it faces a threat of losing the ability to use some of its rights at the North Fork well field on Eagle Creek. Because the wells are on U.S. Forest Service land and pumping is opposed by downstream landowners who sued to stop the possible depletion of the underground water supply, the village may be subject to a huge cut in pumping, down to 300 acre-feet per year, under a new special use permit.
        Pearce's bill is identical to legislation introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in the Senate. The measure has received bipartisan support.
        Tribal President Mark Chino commended Pearce for his work on this legislation.
        "This will provide the tribe with a valuable economic opportunity and the ability to provide water to people in the area," he said.

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