SANTA FE – The New Mexico congressional delegation has introduced new legislation to bump up federal funding for the planned landmark settlement of the decades-old Aamodt litigation that sorts out water rights among four Native American pueblos and non-Indians in northern Santa Fe County.
A news release from the U.S. senators and House members said the measure is intended to ensure that the federal Bureau of Reclamation has sufficient funding and time to implement its obligations under the 2010 Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act, which was intended to bring that litigation that started in 1966 to a close.
A detailed description of the legislation was not available from the members of Congress Friday, as the a news release issued late in the day only had quotes from various public officials celebrating the bill without including any specifics about what the bill would actually do.
A new regional water system, with costs shared by the feds, state government and Santa Fe County, has always been a crucial part of the settlement, which quantifies water rights for Nambé, Pojoaque, Tesuque and San Ildefonso pueblos and sets out rules for non-Indian well users to either tie onto the new system or continue to use their well water.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office provided some information about the measure Friday evening, saying it is the final step to complete the regional water system. Federal funding could go up by $150 million, from $106 million to as much as $256 million. The bill also allows more time for construction.
The wording of the bill available on-line appears to push back a deadline from 2024 to 2028.
“Without an agreement to increase the federal cost share for the System, the Bureau of Reclamation would not commence construction of the System and the settlement in a timely manner, likely increasing the costs,’ said the information from Udall’s staff.
The U.S. and the settlement parties have reached an agreement in principle “that will allow the four Pueblos to realize their bargained-for benefit, prevent potential water calls, bring to an end over 5 decades of litigation, and provide certainty to the Pojoaque Basin,” said the statement from Udall’s office.
In a statement in the news release, the congressional delegation said: “Access to water in New Mexico is rooted in hundreds of years of traditions, cultures, and heritage. We commend the Settlement Parties on their efforts to find a path forward to ensure we bring an end to over a half-century of litigation to resolve water rights in the Rio Pojoaque Basin and provide certainty and predictability to all water users in the Basin, and we expect robust community outreach and transparency moving forward. This bill will help bring us closer to providing a clear path to construct a Pojoaque Regional Water System that will provide the security of clean, reliable water supplies in the Basin.”