But the Rio Gallinas Basin irrigation system that predates the 18th century is on the verge of extinction as a result of the kind of native politics that handicaps so many northern New Mexico communities. The City of Las Vegas has chosen to ignore the 23 acequias with an 1835 priority in favor of addressing the needs of the much less senior Storrie Project Water Users Association.
Like many rural New Mexico communities, the valley enjoys a unique time-honored symbiotic relationship with the river that stems from its hydrogeology, subsistence farming and generations of native culture. The only way to impede this design is to allow disingenuous politicians to manage it. When PNM transferred the management of the Gallinas watershed to the City of Las Vegas, it was no longer protected by the private sector and state supervision. It became a vulnerable asset subject to the prevailing political “greed” associated with government.
The city has long exploited the duplicitous narrative of drought and the need for storage in order to mask the vulgar transfer of wealth that has absolutely nothing to do with water. It is difficult to determine how many water, lease and storage agreements (typically with a 2.83 evaporation clause) have been paid with thousands and now millions of our tax dollars.
The expense and feasibility of pumping the water miles back up to the Montezuma treatment facility, coupled with the turbidity associated with treating the water, is prohibitive. The city refuses to repair another storage dam at a fraction of the cost that is adjacent to the treatment facility, but that would make their agreements with Storrie Project mutually exclusive. The useful evaporative depletion life of water is 17 months. Repeatedly paying for the same water and storage we have never used or needed during the worst periods of 100-year drought history is an insane alternative. A rational person would never expect to realize any benefit or water from those expenditures.
The disheartening reality is that the prior and current administration is obsessed with the illogical notion of taking water of beneficial use to the greater community and riparian environment out of the Rio Gallinas irrigation basin to a state park lake where it can be indiscriminately diverted for the profit of a few seemingly unrelated speculative individuals.
This is a premeditated condemnation initiative designed to disrupt the growing season and siphon water from the acequias that cripples orchards and stifles the local hay grower in a manner that has eliminated the traditional family cow/calf operation, and subsequently closed the three slaughterhouses and the weekly stock auction.
Recent city councils have spent millions in tax dollars in a court remand lawsuit against the acequias that would ignore seniority and allow the city to divert water to the “highest bidder.” The last disbursement was done during a typically covert special meeting on a Sunday. At the very least, it appears to be a form of money laundering and a gross misappropriation of public funds.
Acequia members are protesting the remand and $4 million storage agreement. The membership pays opposing legal fees with their personal income, while the city and Storrie Project use tax dollars. The revolving door of employees between the State Engineer’s Office and the City of Las Vegas makes it impossible for the acequias to be treated impartially.
The acequia membership questions the procrastination of the State Engineer, Auditor and Attorney General to investigate this chronic behavior. I am astonished at how much collusion, corruption and misappropriation northern New Mexico communities are willing to tolerate.
Ray Gallegos is a horseman, rancher and retired educator.